I used to be asked occasionally when I was a lot younger — think about the days when you’d get Green Stamps and your windows washed when you bought gas at 60 cents a gallon — if I wish I didn’t wear glasses.
The question was never asked out of concern. It was either uttered by someone who had a tendency to taunt others or by someone who felt people who weren’t perfect like them should be the subject of their pity.
I was sitting in the exam chair in Dr. Michael Lavieri’s optometry office on Friday when the memory of being asked popped into my head.
I should have told all of those that ever asked me that question that I love wearing glasses.
I remember what it was like before I had glasses and a series of events that happened after I was lucky enough to be able to see the world a lot clearer. I have fairly severe astigmatism with one eye worse than the other. Essentially it means neither eye can focus at any distance. On top of that I had lazy eye as a kid. It’s a condition that if it isn’t treated by patching therapy before you turn 6, the chances of a successful treatment plummets.
My eyesight thanks to have a lazy eye I had a hard time judging distances on top of not seeing anything in focus. This resulted in running into a lot of things such as the rail to the back steps. It is a miracle that I didn’t develop a permanently broken nose.
My hand-the eye coordination was a mess. I never liked watching cartoons as a young kid because the images were mostly smudges on various levels of the gray scale even if I was a foot away from our black and white TV.
I remember being admonished by a neighbor who was babysitting me at 4 that I’d go blind if I continued to sit as close as I was to a TV. Luckily she shared her observation with another neighbor by the name of Catherine Gates who talked to my mom and said I might have a vision problem.
After a screening I was sent to an eye surgeon as there was a concern my atrocious vision could require muscle surgery. Three months before my fifth birthday I started wearing an eye patch and glasses.
The combination — plus the fact I was more than pudgy — made me an instant target for jerks young and old. Being called “fatso four eyes” got to the point where it seemed I couldn’t go a week without being taunted with those three words.
I started out wearing bifocals. When the patch came off permanently before the end of kindergarten, prescription for the lazy eye that had the severest astigmatism made my lens for that eye so thick it literally was borderline Coke bottle.
By then between my vision and the fact good meaning people — including teachers — were doing a full-court press to break me of being left-handed, I was will on my way to being a klutz of sorts.
You may think this is nuts but I consider my bad vision a blessing. That’s because Catherine Gates, the next door neighbor who suggested my mom have my vision screened, was a teacher.
My eye sight issues by the time I got glasses at 4½ years had kind of ostracized me with neighborhood kids who were all four or so years older due to my being a klutz. For what every reason I ended up spending a lot of time that summer at Catherine’s house. She made it a mission to help me enjoy my eyesight by teaching me to read. And she did it using three newspapers that she had delivered to her house — the Sacramento Bee, the Sacramento Union, and the Roseville Press-Tribune.
She did not use the comics or the sports section. She used the front pages.
After getting the basics out of the way of pronouncing letters after a month or so, she started reading front page stories and then having me try to tackle them. Most of the words didn’t make sense to me at the time.
I should also mention for those that have never talked to me, that back then I was really hard to understand as I tended to talk a mile a minute. How fast I talk to day is almost a slow country drawl in comparison. For someone to have the patience to teach me to how to read in earnest before I entered kindergarten let alone listen to me chatter is definitely a candidate for sainthood. It also spoke to the type of teacher she was as Roseville City Schools eventually named an elementary campus in her honor.
She continued to help me learn to read after kindergarten started a couple days a week after school and then again during the summer before first grade. I remember the coolest thing in the world that year when everybody else was out playing hide and seek, the now politely incorrect games of cowboys and Indians as well as army or else were trying to build a raft emulating Tom Sawyer in nearby Dry Creek was being at Catherine Gates playing with her cats and reading the newspaper.
I ended up in accelerated reading in the first grade and was subsequently in future years often judged to be smarter than I was by teachers mainly because I didn’t just read, I lived to read.
I’m sure I was more than an irritant when still in primary grades as I would listen in when adults talked about politics and such and added my own two cents when I could based on what I read as much as well as what I heard.
I honestly never read the comic section or comic books until the fourth grade. That was short lived as I was able to spirit away my older brothers’ copies of Mad Magazine at an age when my peers were hooked on Archie and Superman.
After we moved from Roseville to Lincoln, I wrote Catherine once a week for two years before it started fading back to once a month then just Christmas cards before I stopped writing as an 8th grader.
My penmanship was almost as hard to follow as me talking. My first grade teacher — completely frustrated that someone in her accelerated reading program was trying to be left handed — made it her goal to break me of my habit of picking up pencils and scissors with my left hand. Each time she saw me do that after warning me for a few times, I’d get a whack across my left wrist with a ruler and be admonished for using the wrong hand. She succeeded and my handwriting reflects the fact she did.
That was back in a much different time in 1962. I remember being told by my mom how lucky I was because my teacher had been selected as a teacher of the year for the state a few years prior and she was retiring at the end of the school year.
So to answer the real question: do I hate the fact I wear glasses and does somehow it make me feel less than whole?
The answer is a resounding no. I know what my life would be like and how limited it would be without them every time I take my glasses off. And because I was lucky enough to be the kid with horrible vision living next door to someone like Catherine Gates, I don’t take the ability to read for granted.