I parked my car near the base of the mountain and changed to my hiking boots. I put on my hiking belt and put my water bottles in the pockets. I made sure I had enough sunscreen on, and I put my wide brimmed hat on my head. A pair of sunglasses completed my outfit, and I felt I was now prepared to hike into the mountains.
It took about 3 hours before I reached a point where I could see into the valley below. I had heard that there was a village there, but no one I had talked with seemed to know much about it. What I had found out was that near the late 1800’s a wagon train of 10 family’s had found their way into the forested valley. The location had seemed like a good place to spend the winter, so they had created a winter camp. By spring they had scouted around only to find out that the valley they were in had only one way in or out, and they all decided that the valley would be a nice place to settle in. So for many years these 10 families remained isolated in the valley. They had many children, and they were very careful that they did not inbreed too soon.
I hiked down the other side of the mountain into the town. There were probably about 100 houses and a few stores. From high in the mountains I had seen evidence of a number of scattered farm houses around the valley as well, so I surmised that the total population of the area was likely somewhere around 6 to 8 hundred people. There was a café on the dusty main street, and there were hitch rails for horses and buggies down both sides of the street, with a few horses tied to the rails. Sitting outside the café on a stool was a heavily bearded older man wearing bib overalls. My quick glance took in the fact that he wore glasses, and I managed a closer look. His glasses appeared to be quite thick, and the lenses had very small circles in the centre that held the prescription. I walked past him and into the café. The attractive young lady behind the counter wore a similar pair of glasses to the ones the old guy outside wore, and although she looked too young I suspected that she might be his daughter. I ordered a cup of coffee to go, and took it outside with me where I sat down on a chair next to the man.
“I don’t see a sign for a hotel or anything here. Is there anywhere in town that I could stay overnight?” I asked.
“Widow Short takes in overnight guests and boarders. Her place is the 4th place on the left.” He said.
“This place is pretty isolated. I see there are no cars, just horses and buggies. Is there no way into the valley for a car?” I asked.
“There is a gravel road in through the only entrance that can take cars. But here in the valley there isn’t any need for a car. Anyway, there probably isn’t anyone that lives here who could see well enough to drive a car.” He told me.
This piqued my curiosity. I have always been more than a bit interested in vision and eyesight, and I had been dying to ask about his, and maybe his daughter’s eyesight, but didn’t know how to bring up the subject.
“What do you mean? Are there more people who have poor eyesight like you and the lady inside?” I asked.
With that the old man started to tell me the storey of the valley.
“I guess the first settlers came here in the fall of 1880. There were 10 families, and only a couple of them had children before they arrived. They scouted around to see if they could find a way through the mountains that would take them further west, but found that there was no way to get a wagon train over the hills. So they logged much of the forest over the winter and in the spring they built houses from the logs. Once the houses were built and everyone settled in they started to have kids. The original settlers knew that they were going to have to have a lot of children in order to populate and farm the valley. One of the original 10 settlers, Jonas Burke and his wife Etta already had a girl, and they went on to have 11 more, for a family of 12 girls. Henry Stone and his wife Sadie had 3 boys and a girl. Mathew Fischer and his wife Emily had 2 boys and 2 girls. His brother Brent and his wife Millie had 3 girls and 2 boys. Peter Jacobs and his wife Matilda had 3 boys. Paul Daniels and his wife Martha had 2 boys and a girl. Luke Edwards and his wife Lola had 3 boys, and George Smith and his wife Evelyn had 2 boys and a girl. Alvin and Jeannie Short had 2 boys and a girl, and Carl Tracey and his wife Rose had 3 boys and 2 girls, one of which was older than the daughter of Jonas and Etta. So, they were the first of the younger generation to marry. The older folks were very careful when they went about selecting who to have the kid’s pair up with. For some reason there were exactly the same number of boys and girls, and when all the children had grown up to the age where they could marry they were all paired off. Jonas and Etta had by far the greatest number of grandchildren because they had a total of 12 girls. So a lot of the boys married into the Burke family, but in doing so the Burke name was lost. But one thing that was not lost was the poor eyesight that all of the Burke girls had. Jonas and Etta seemed to have pretty good eyesight, but somehow or another every one of their daughters grew up to be extremely myopic.
This caused quite a problem for Jonas and Etta. By the time each of their girls reached the age of about 5 it was obvious that none of them could see their hand in front of their face. So Jonas and Etta had to take their children to the closest town where they could have the girls eyes examined, and then they had to buy them glasses. It was a good thing that Jonas was also a miner, and he found a fair amount of gold in the mountains around here because it must have cost him a small fortune keeping those 12 girls in proper eyewear. And some of the other families didn’t want their kids to marry girls with such bad eyesight, so it must have been a chore getting everyone married off. I suppose that people who allowed their sons to marry the Burke girls didn’t think that the poor eyesight that the Burke girls were afflicted with would pass on to their children.
However, when the children of all 12 of the Burke girls reached the age of 4 or 5 it was discovered that they were all as nearsighted as their mothers had been. So now all these children had to be taken to the city and fitted with glasses. Fortunately there was lots of money in the Burke family to pay for these glasses, because there were about 50 grandchildren. At the time this was about half the children in the town. And over the years everyone in the valley ended up marrying an offspring of the Burke girls so now the entire population of the town is highly myopic.
Over the years we have had some specialists come to town, and do a lot of testing. It was discovered that the children all had a very mild form of Stickler’s Syndrome, and while there are a lot of side effects normally associated with Stickler’s, a common one is very high myopia. Now everyone in the town here has extremely high myopia, but we are fortunate in that none of the other side effects have manifested themselves. For instance my own glasses are -45D. The young lady who works here in the café has a prescription of -42D, which around here is pretty much normal for her age. If you go over to the school you will find that there isn’t even one child who isn’t wearing thick glasses from before the time they start school. We even have one of our own grown up kids who is now the Ophthalmologist here in town and we have a lens lab here that can make a new pair of glasses for me in about an hour.” He told me.
“That is really something. I have never heard about this happening before.” I said.
“It is not as uncommon as you might think. There are whole areas in Europe where there are large numbers of people who have a common malady. Jonas and Etta must have both been carriers of a mild form of Sticklers.” He said.
Just then a young lady walked into the café. She wore strong glasses, but they were not early as strong as the glasses that he had made me believe all the children wore.
“What about that young lady? Her glasses are strong, but not that strong.” I said.
“Now that is the strangest thing. Over the past few years we have had a number of men come to this town that have not worn glasses themselves – or if they did they wore very weak ones. They have all courted and married young ladies from our town. Some of them have settled here, and others have taken their wives back to live in the outside world. I have been lead to believe that these young men have been attracted to our girls strictly because of their very high myopia. And Cindy, that young lady that you just saw – well she and a group of her friends have come here to attract and marry some of our menfolk just so they can have babies who need to wear strong glasses. Me, I think there is something sick about that, but as long as the guys are ok with it I guess it is all right.” He said.
It had been a real coincidence that I had happened to have hiked into this valley. I wondered if it could maybe have been a sign to me that I should look around very carefully and possibly see if I could find myself a girl from the valley to marry. I did have a bit of a thing for girls who were myopic, and this was the perfect place to find myself a very myopic lady. If there were other men from outside who had come here and married girls from the valley there was no reason why I wouldn’t be allowed to court one of these highly myopic ladies. But of course I didn’t want to appear to be too anxious. I would probably do better trying to court one of the ladies who had come here looking for a very myopic man to father their children. I knew that I would be rejected as a possible suitor, but at least I would appear to have less of an interest in the highly myopic valley girls.
“Since you are staying in town, if you are interested there is a dance at the school gymnasium tonight.” The old gentleman said.
“Man, I just hiked over the mountains from the West. I hadn’t intended to stay here overnight, but is is getting so late I don’t dare try to hike back to my car. I do carry a change of underwear with me, and a toothbrush, but I don’t have a clean shirt or a clean pair of jeans. I really can’t go to a dance wearing what I have on.” I replied.
Just then the door to the café opened and the young lady working there stepped outside.
“Do you and this gentleman want another coffee Grandpa?” She asked.
“I could use one Leah. How about you son?” He asked.
“Sure, I could stand another cup. My name is Curtis though Sir.” I said.
“Well Curtis, my name is George Tracey, and this here is my granddaughter Leah. Leah, Curtis doesn’t think his clothing looks good enough for him to wear to the dance tonight. What do you think?” George asked his granddaughter.
Leah looked at my clothing carefully before she gave an answer. “He isn’t dressed any worse than some of the guys around her Grandpa. He looks perfectly acceptable to me.”
“So would you go with Curtis if he asked you?” George asked.
“He hasn’t asked me Grandpa. Stop trying to find me a husband please.” Leah said sharply.
“I promise to shower and change my underwear so would you then consider accompanying me Leah?” I asked.
“In that case I would be happy to accompany you Curtis.” Leah replied with a laugh.
She went inside and came back in a few minutes with 2 cups of coffee.
‘I get off work at 8, and it will take me at least an hour to close up, go home and get ready. But the dance doesn’t start until 9, so if you pick me up at 9 we will be there in good time.” Leah said.
“If your grandfather will give me directions to your house I will be there at 9.” I replied.
“Oh, he will give you directions all right. He would just love for me to find myself a decent boyfriend.” Leah replied and returned inside.
So George gave me directions to Leah’s house. He then suggested that we go into the Café and have supper.
“Cindy, that young lady who you saw going into the Café earlier, is one heck of a good cook, and she is cooking pot roast tonight. It should be ready by now, and if we don’t get in there quick the café will get really busy and we might miss out.” George said.
We went in and had a fantastic meal. George was right and Leah was soon run off her feet with customers. Cindy came out of the kitchen and helped Leah serving and clearing tables. Cindy was a pert little blonde, and I thought her glasses were nice and strong, but compared to the rest of the customers in the café her glasses wouldn’t have helped any one of them out of a jam, as everyone else wore the same double myodiscs that George and Leah wore. I watched Leah as she worked. She was absolutely amazing in the way she didn’t waste a move. And I could also see now how nice a figure she had and how darned attractive she was. This could be interesting.
After supper George walked me over to Widow Short’s boarding house. I thanked him for his company and his help, and I rented a room for the night. Then I showered, shaved and put on my clean underwear and socks. I would have rather had a fresh shirt and a clean pair of jeans, but that wasn’t an option. I hadn’t ripped my jeans or anything hiking is, so I did look fairly presentable. I could have used a short nap, but I was afraid I might oversleep, so I went down to the parlor and looked over some of the books in the bookshelves. I found one that interested me and I started reading it. Mrs. Short came into the parlor, sat in what was obviously her chair, and picked up her needlepoint. I watched her as she worked with her strong glasses quite close to her work. If Leah had to hold things that close to see I knew it would excite me. Finally it was time to pick up Leah and walk her to the dance.
We had a great time together. Leah was as nice a person as I could ever want to meet. And she was a very good dancer, so we were on the floor most of the night. By the end of the evening I no longer was staring at everyone with their strong biconcave double myodiscs, and was starting to accept that I was the one who was strange looking without glasses. Actually there were a couple of other guys on the dance floor who didn’t wear glasses either, and I figured that these were a couple of the men that George had told me about. Cindy, who I had met at the café, was there with another girl who wore glasses similar in strength to hers, and they were both dancing up a storm with any of the guys that would ask them to dance. But I did notice that they avoided the 2 guys who didn’t wear glasses like the plague.
After the dance I walked Leah back to her house. We stood on the porch talking, as I didn’t want to leave. I really liked this girl.
“I have to hike out in the morning, but I would really love to see you again. I wonder how hard it is to find the entrance to this valley.” I asked.
“I don’t have to work tomorrow. I could hike out with you and then I could show you how to get back here by car.” Leah said.
“I’d love that. Maybe I would even stay here another night. I am sure I could leave from here and get to work on time.” I replied, forgetting that I didn’t have any more fresh clothing.
So we agreed to meet at the café for breakfast. Leah was there before I was and she introduced me to her two sisters, Missy and Allison. The 3 sisters owned the café, and took turns working there. Breakfast was great, and after we finished Leah and I set off hiking up the mountain. It had taken me 6 hours to hike in. Coming down the mountain had taken 2 hours and 30 minutes, and I had stopped for 30 minutes at the top to have lunch and look over the valley. And climbing the other side had taken about 3 hours, as hiking uphill always takes a bit longer. But Leah seemed to know a better path, and we reached the pass in a bit over 2 hours. Then we were a little over 2 hours going down to my car. Fortunately, after our 5 hour hike the car was still where I had parked it, and it started right up.
We had to drive back to town, so I was able to slide by my apartment to get a change of clothing. Leah came up with me and looked around. I was happy that I wasn’t a messy person, and I think my neat and tidy apartment made a good impression on Leah.
We stopped for a quick lunch at a place I often go to near my apartment, and then drove north on the other side of the mountain. There was no sign to indicate the road to the valley, but Leah spotted the turn off, and we turned West on a road that was tar and chipped for most of the way into the mountains. We ran out of pavement just as the road reached the pass, and we continued on through the pass into the valley. It looked every bit as pretty approaching it from this side as it had looked from the top of the other side of the mountain.
By now I was quite comfortable being with Leah. I had worried that her eyesight might not be very good, but she seemed to be able to see everything I could. I didn’t want to ask her what she could, or could not see, but the thick glasses that she needed appeared to correct her vision quite well. And that was the important part for me. As long as she had good eyesight when wearing glasses I didn’t care how strong they had to be.
We went back to the Café. Missy and Allison were no longer on duty, but Cindy and her friend Sheila were there. Cindy was cooking and Sheila was waiting on tables.
“Why would you and your sisters hire Cindy and Sheila to work for you? Wouldn’t it be better to give the jobs to girls from the valley?” I asked.
“Most of the girls here have their own lives to live. By the time a girl reaches the age of 20 she is generally married and has started a family. Both Allison and Missy are married and have children, and some of the younger girls around town are looking after their kids while they work. The balance of males to females in the valley has gotten a little out of sorts in the last few years, and we have a few more females than we have males here. So the folks here really haven’t minded having a few men come from the outside to court the females, but there has been a bit of resentment against the outside girls. My sisters and I decided that we would give them a chance to fit into the community, so we have hired them.” Leah said.
“But it seems that you are cutting your own throat. I am pretty sure that I heard your grandfather say that you were not married,” I replied.
“I am not. I was engaged to a guy from here for quite a while, but we never married, and he found another girl. I liked him, but I knew if I married him I would spend the rest of my life in the valley, like my mother, my grandmother, and even my 2 sisters. I want to see more of the outside world.” Leah said.
“So if we dated for a while and we decided to marry you would not want to live here?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t mind coming back to the valley to live and raise a family. But I want to see more of the world first.” Leah replied.
“That could be quite possible. I never told you what I did for a living. I am a geologist and I work for oil and mining companies around the world. We could travel together, and it wouldn’t cost you a penny.” I replied.
Leah liked the sound of that. She told me that if we went out together for 6 months and we both wanted to get married she would travel with me for 5 years and then we would have children if we wanted to. Once our children were of school age she did want to return to the valley to have them attend school here. I liked the idea of that, and I agreed that this is what we should do.
For the next 6 months I spent as much of my free time in the valley with Leah. I had suggested that we experiment to see if we mated well together, but her response was that this wasn’t going to happen until we were married, so I didn’t press any further. And, I found that the wait had been well worth it on our wedding night.
We did travel the world together for the next 6 years. We spent time in Africa, and Asia, South America, Canada and Alaska searching for oil sometimes and for minerals at other times. We spent the last winter huddling together during a cold winter in North Dakota, and I think that is why Leah became pregnant. I didn’t want to spend any more time in the cold together either, so as Leah became heavy with child we returned to the valley for the birth.
Leah had not had any problems with her eyes, or her eyesight, and I had taken her in for a vision exam. Her vision was a little better than 20/30, and the examiner gave her a pass to obtain her drivers license, so now Leah could drive. She didn’t drive very often, but just the idea that she could get behind the wheel of a car made her very happy.
We purchased a nice original log house from one of Leah’s elderly relatives who had lost her husband and was going to live in the village nursing home. When the baby was born we were thrilled to have a beautiful baby girl. I was a little sad thinking that by the time Bailey was 5 she would be wearing very strong glasses, but since her mom hadn’t had any problems with being severely myopic I hoped that the same would hold true for Bailey.
Jonas Burke had originally mined a few spots around the valley, but for the most part everything he had found had been surface gold. I wandered around the mountains looking to see if there was a good place to drop a shaft, and I found a couple of likely spots. These spots hadn’t been claim staked as far as I could see, so I staked claims and went to the county seat to check them out and record them if possible. I was able to record both claims, so I started to drop a shaft. Actually dropping a shaft is more of a terminology than what I really did, as I was just tunneling into the mountain to see if I could find the source of some of the gold nuggets I had already found.
It took a while before I reached a fairly rich vein of quartz. But by mining it slowly and extracting any gold myself I was able to accumulate a reasonable amount of money in a fairly short period of time. I wasn’t greedy, and when the vein ran out I was satisfied with what I had taken out. Sure, I was still working the other tunnel, but if I didn’t find any gold there Leah and I would still be quite comfortable.
By the time Bailey was 2 Leah was pregnant with our second child. And Bailey was already showing signs that she was very nearsighted. So Bailey and Leah went to see her second cousin, the town’s ophthalmologist.
It turned out that Leah required a slight increase, and now her prescription was -43D. Bailey was started off with a prescription of -15, and we were told that this was a low prescription as some of the kids her age in the valley had started off with much stronger glasses. Bailey was a pretty happy camper when she got her glasses, and she didn’t seem to mind wearing them right from the start.
Jarrett was born a few months later, and he was also a perfect baby. Again I was saddened to know that his eyesight would be very poor without very strong corrective lenses, but I knew that with glasses he would be able to see just fine.
I often thought back to the day when I chose to walk over the mountains into the valley of myopia, and I was still very pleased with how everything had transpired.