The Hand Me Down Glasses

by Specs4ever

“Can you see if that is your Daddy and your brother Morley in the wagon coming up the road. All I can see is the cloud of dust.” I said to my 2 daughters.

“I can’t see that far mama.” Marsha the 15 year old replied.

“Neither can I.” Lizzy, my 12 year old said also.

“Let me have your glasses Marsha, and I will put them on over mine.” I asked.

“Can you see now mama?” Lizzy asked.

“No, it still isn’t clear enough.” I replied.

“Let me have Marsha’s glasses. I can see pretty good with them.” Lizzy said.

“If Lizzy takes my glasses can I try yours mama?” Marsha asked.

So, I gave Marsha my glasses, and I gave Lizzy Marsha’s glasses.

“Oh yes, I can see now. That is daddy’s wagon.” Lizzy said.

“Everything is so much sharper with your glasses mama. I can see daddy and Morley clearly now.” Marsha said.

Marsha had been wearing my old glasses for about a year now, but I hadn’t realized that Lizzy couldn’t see very well. This was bad, very bad. I had needed new glasses since forever, and my eyesight had been getting worse and worse every year. About the only things I could do anymore were my needlepoint and embroidery, and even then I had to bring things up fairly close to my glasses to see properly. And, I could still read the bible, and some of my novels, but again I needed to be uncomfortably close to see the printing properly. Lately I had been having a lot of trouble seeing my way around my own house. But Gordon, my husband wouldn’t like it when I told him that we all needed new glasses. This had been a good year on the farm. The corn crop was excellent, and the winter wheat had provided a bumper crop. But, when crops are good prices decline, and our income wasn’t going to be as good as we had hoped. So, a trip on the railroad to Chicago, and 3 new pairs of glasses would probably break the budget

My mother had died in giving birth to me, and my father had taken me to my Uncle Walter and my Aunt Stella’s farm before he had disappeared. Aunt Stella, my mom’s youngest sister had raised me as if I was her own daughter. After Uncle Walter passed away at the age of 70, my husband Gordon and I had worked the farm, and had looked after aunt Stella for 10 years until she passed away at age 60 from some sort of internal problem. My Aunt was 20 years younger then Uncle Walter, and she had come down from Chicago on her own to marry Uncle Walter, who was a bachelor friend of my godfather’s. Aunt Stella had left Gordon and I the farm, and Gordon was doing his best to bring in a good income, but even with the farm being free and clear it was still a very hard way to make a living, especially with a wife and 3 children to support.

I went upstairs to the guest room, which was the same room that Aunt Stella had died in. Her old glasses were still in the dresser drawer. I opened the drawer, and took out 6 cases containing her old glasses. I opened each case, looking for the pair I remember Aunt Stella wearing when she was about my age. It was the last pair I opened, and there in the case were the gold wire frames with the thick biconcave oval shaped lenses. I took them out and carefully put them on my nose, curling the cable temples beneath my hair and over my ears. They were very strong, and I felt they were a lot stronger than I needed, but they were better than no glasses at all. If I focused hard enough I could see quite well.

I took my old glasses with the –6.50D lenses downstairs and gave them to Marsha. Then I took the glasses from Marsha and gave them to Lizzy. This pair was my very first pair that I had gotten when I was 17, and I knew the –4D prescription was probably too strong for Lizzy. But if I had to make do with glasses that were too strong for me then Lizzy would have to as well.

Gordon and Morley came in from the barn. Supper was ready and we all sat down. Gordon prayed over the food, and then looked over at me. I saw his quizzical expression as his gaze went from me to Marsha, and then to Lizzy.

“So Lizzy lizard now needs glasses as well does she?” Gordon asked.

“Don’t call me that daddy!” Lizzy exclaimed.

“It’s just a name sweetheart. I wouldn’t call you that if I didn’t love you so very much.” Gordon replied.

“I can see everything really clearly now daddy. It is wonderful.” Lizzy told him.

“How about you honey? Were those an old pair of your Aunt Stella’s glasses?” Gordon asked.

“Yes, they were. They seem a little strong, but I can get used to them, and we can save the money for new glasses for another year.” I replied.

The expression of relief on Gordon’s face was unmistakable. I knew that money was going to be tight, so I was determined to struggle for a while if I had to so I could grow accustomed to wearing these glasses.

That didn’t really take me as long as I thought it might. It was only a matter of a few weeks before I felt that these glasses were just perfect. What a relief it now was to be able to see my way around the farm without tripping and stumbling over every little thing on the ground that I could not have previously seen. And now it was a pleasure again to be able to sew, and read without bending my neck to get my eyes closer to what I was trying to see. I had gone for far too long a time without new glasses, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t do this again.

Winter turned into spring, and the planting was finished. Again it looked like it was going to be a good year in our region for the crops. August was a perfect harvest month, and when the fields were bare, and Gordon and Morley were about to do the plowing I announced that the girls and I were going to take the train this summer and go up to Chicago to visit my cousin Ruth. I had noticed both the girls were again having trouble seeing things clearly. I had tried my old –6.50D glasses on Lizzy, and she seemed to find them very acceptable, but I couldn’t give Marsha’s glasses to Lizzy without having a new pair for Marsha. And this year we had the money for at least 2 pairs of glasses. I felt I was all right for another year, and I was probably going to give Lizzy the –6.50D ones. So if I bought a new pair for Marsha, then I could save the money until the next time one of us required new glasses.

My cousin Ruth was the only daughter of my Aunt Opal. Opal had been a few years older than my mom, and Aunt Stella had been about 10 years younger than mom. Opal and Stella had both worn very strong glasses, but my mom had never worn glasses, although she died when she was 20 or 21, so she might have needed glasses later on in life. Ruth was 10 years older than I am, and her daughter Eileen was 12 years older than Marsha. I hadn’t seen Ruth or Eileen for a number of years, as the only contact we had was by letter since Aunt Stella’s funeral 5 years ago. I remember Ruth wore glasses that seemed to be quite strong, and Eileen also wore glasses. I wrote Ruth asking if we would be able to stay with her for a few days, and she wrote back saying that she was enthusiastically waiting for our arrival. So, I packed our bags and had Gordon take us to the train station. We traveled on the overnight into Chicago, and once we arrived we took a cab to Ruth’s home in the northwest suburbs of Melrose Park.

It was a wonderful reunion. Ruth now wore the same type of glasses that Aunt Stella had worn. I still had 4 pairs of these myodisc lensed glasses back at home that were too strong for me. Before I left I had tried the last remaining pair of regular biconcave-lensed glasses, and they were still too strong for me, but I wasn’t going to spend any money on myself when I would be able to wear them in a couple more years.

Ruth was thrilled to have us visit. I had written to tell her that we were coming so I could get Marsha new glasses, and one of the first things Ruth had done was to collect all of her old glasses and set them out to see if any of us could wear them.

“I still have lots of Eileen’s old glasses, but you or the girls wouldn’t be able to wear any of them. Eileen has bad stigma’s in her eyes.” Ruth said.

“Mother, the word is astigmatism.” Eileen, a pretty young lady of around 25 with strong-lensed wire framed glasses corrected her.

“Whatever, but with the stigma’s no one else can wear Eileen’s glasses.” Ruth went on.

“What is astigmatism Eileen?” I asked.

“That is where you see one line really clearly, but another line on a different angle is blurry. Here, take my glasses, and look through each of the lenses at that cabinet over there. Then rotate the lens, and you will see.” Eileen replied as she handed me her glasses.

I did as she told me to. When I looked at the highboy through the lens the highboy appeared short and squat. Then I rotated the lens and the highboy appeared really tall and skinny. Both lenses gave the same reaction.

“Oh, that is strange.” I said. “ Do you know your prescription Eileen?”

“I am –12.50D for my one number, and I am –6.50D in one eye and –5.00D for the other eye. It takes me about a month to get a new pair of glasses.” Eileen replied.

Ruth had set her old glasses out on the table, and while we talked I was idly opening different cases and looking at the glasses. I came across one pair that was definitely too weak for me, but I handed them to Marsha, who tried them on, and told me enthusiastically that she could see very well with them. Ruth then looked at the case.

“Oh, those are –9.00D in each eye. I wore them when I was 25.” Ruth said.

“I don’t understand this myopia thing Ruth. I read somewhere that usually myopia manifested itself around the ages of 13 to 17, and then by the time a person is in their mid 20’s their eyes are usually set, and don’t get any worse. It seems that in our family our eyes keep getting worse and worse and worse the older we get.” I replied.

“I talked to my doctor about that Sharon. He said there are no hard and fast rules about it. Our family just seems to be an exception to the rule. Although it appears that your kids started off myopic at a pretty early age.”

“And I hope that they also slow down with their myopic progression at a very early age also. I hate it that my eyes keep getting worse and worse every year.” I replied.

“How strong is your prescription now Sharon?” Ruth asked.

“I don’t know. These were an old pair of Aunt Stella’s glasses. The last prescription I had of my own was 3 years before Aunt Stella died. It was –6.50D, and those were the glasses I just gave to Lizzy.” I said.

“Well, I see you have tried a pair of my old glasses on. How do they feel?” Ruth asked.

“Wonderful. I see perfectly with them!” I exclaimed.

Ruth looked at the back of the case. “They are –13.50D. So that means that Aunt Stella’s old glasses were somewhere between –12.00D and –13.00D.”

“How can you tell?” I asked.

“Just a close guess. You were squinting quite a bit when you came in, so I knew you were wearing a few diopters less than you needed. If you had felt that it had been too much lower than you needed then you would have been going to have your eyes examined as well. And, if you notice I have marked the date I got the glasses and the prescription of them on every case.” Ruth advised me.

“What is your prescription now Ruth.” I asked.

“I am right at –24.00D for these myodisc lenses. Up until you reach –20D they can make your lenses biconcave if you want that. After –20D you need myodiscs. But you can also get myodiscs after you are around –15D if you are willing to pay for them.” Ruth told me.

Ruth and Eileen and the girls and I had a fantastic visit. Ruth wanted the 3 of us to see her eye specialist at the hospital, so we all went to have our eyes examined. The doctor said that the prescriptions we were all wearing would be perfectly fine for us to wear for the next while. I was pleased with the improved vision that Ruth’s old –13.50D glasses gave me, and I know that Marsha was thrilled to be able to see through Ruth’s old –9.00D lenses. Lizzy should have had –7.00D for her glasses but the doctor told me that she would be all right with my old –6.50D glasses for a while.

We went back to the farm. Soon summer turned into fall, and fall turned into winter. The children all went to a little one-room school down the road. Lizzy and Marsha were 3 years apart in age, and Morley was right in the middle of his 2 sisters. Marsha was 16, and Morley had just turned 15 when Gordon noticed that Morley couldn’t see him across the fields anymore.

“Have you any glasses in that collection of yours that might fit our son here?” Gordon asked me one day as the snow was gusting around and sneaking though the cracks in the chinked logs of the house.

“I threw off the blanket I had been huddling under, and said, “I think the weakest pair I have are the old pair of –4.00D ones that Lizzy wore last year. I’ll fetch them and we can try them on Morley.”

I don’t know if they were too strong for Morley or not. He grudgingly admitted that he could see better with them than he could without them, so now there were four of us in the house wearing hand me down glasses. When I was going through the collection that Ruth had given me I found one pair with –7.50D written on the back of the case. Lizzy had been screwing up her eyes, and pushing her glasses closer to the bridge of her nose for a while now, so I also fetched these glasses and gave them to Lizzy. She was thrilled once she put them on.

“These are way better than my other ones mama!” Lizzy exclaimed.

It looked to me that Ruth had gone up in prescription strength about –1.50D every year. The next pair had been the pair of –9.00D ones that Marsha was still wearing. Then there was a pair of –10.50D, one of –12.00D and the pair of –13.50D ones I had on my face. The next pair was marked –15.50, so there had been a –2.00D jump. I had noticed that my own eyesight had been growing dimmer, so I tried the –15.50D pair on, and I found that I couldn’t wear them yet. I remembered Aunt Stella’s other pair of biconcave-lensed glasses, so I got them. When I put them on I knew that I was going to wear them for the next while, because I saw perfectly wearing them.

Over the next few years the girls chased me up the staircase of ever increasing myopia. Morley finally broke the old –4.00D glasses that had been handed down from me to my daughters to him, and he went for a new pair of glasses for himself. His myopia had remained right at –4.00D, and I was thankful that my son hadn’t joined our high myopia club. I was now wearing a pair of Aunt Stella’s myodiscs, the prescription of which was unknown. Marsha had just begun to wear the pair of –15.50D glasses that we had gotten from her Aunt Ruth. Lizzy’s eyes had gotten much worse than her sisters. She had found that a pair of –21.00D myodiscs from Ruth’s collection seemed to suit her eyes perfectly. So here we were still wearing hand me down glasses, and fortunately we still had a few more pairs to grow into.

Specs4ever March 2007