Saturday, January 29, 2011

Musings on Being Nearsighted

In 2005, I totally acted out of character and made the "elective" choice to have lasik surgery to correct my poor vision. Encouraged by my eye doctor who said it would change my life, I signed, with one eye closed, the paperwork presented to me by Wolfson Eye Clinic. I ignored words on the contract about the possible "whoops" of surgery like "blind" or "paralysis."

I also paid no attention to what exactly "lasik" involved -- again phrasing like "cuts" and "lifting flaps" and "burning sensation" I just chose not to comprehend.

Scheduled for August of that year, I assumed I would be in top seeing shape to head back to work at my high school teaching job, but instead, the surgery was postponed because my eyes were not "ready," and I returned to school wearing my two inch thick glasses. [One of the preparations for the surgery was to be without my contact lenses for six-weeks, so I had to wear glasses -- and the six turned into eight -- since the surgeon determined after six that I would need more time for my eyes to "heal" from the callouses worn on them because of the wearing of hard contact lenses for close to forty years.]

The lasik surgery is one of the weirdest experiences I have ever had.

To go from being so myopic that I had to put on glasses or wear contact lenses to do anything except sleep ----- the first action by me in the morning was feeling around surfaces in search of my glasses --

to being able to "see" without assistance was a miracle to this girl who has only memories of being unable to see and always wishing to be able to see like others.

When I returned to the classroom after my out-patient lasik surgery, I told my students -- the procedure was like being taken by the mother ship, physically altered, and then returned to Earth knowing that things had changed -- really changed, but that nobody else knew the difference. { too bad they couldn't also alter the size of my waist -- but that's another story}

I couldn't believe that I was released from the world of nearsightedness -- I could live in the world free of fumbling with the containers, the fluids, and other paraphernalia associated with corrective lenses?


It seemed impossible, but here it was and is.


Wearing glasses had been a way of my life for so long that I have few memories of the time before.

That's what I did from forty years -- I wore glasses or contact lenses.

My glasses were thick [perhaps I was legally blind] --- unattractive -- and mostly uncomfortable.

I was blind as a bat without some sort of correction; I was dangerous --- I couldn't see anything unless I was two inches from it.

I pulled books, watches, items from the refrigerator, small children and sometimes rather large people close to my nose and eyes and peered at it or them to determine what it was or who it was. They were like bugs under glass as I examined them so closely.

Nothing. I mean nothing is the least bit attractive about that.

I didn't know that my vision was poor until , I think, the second grade when my teacher, Mrs. Simpson, asked the class on the first day if "we could see the board."

Truthfully, I couldn't, and she promptly moved me to a front row seat -- one of two tragedies that I would endure that year --- not only did I have to sit on the front row, but that meant that I was seated with the other "nerds" who wore glasses or squinted at the board. The "in crowd" seemed to be behind me, and as I imagined, giggling at my defectiveness.

Second grade.

Hard year.

Not only did I sit on the front row, but in the middle of the year, Mrs. Simpson's husband died unexpectedly, an event that took a favored teacher from our second grade classroom for a month and saddled us with another teacher, one who paced the aisles like Colonel Klink, made the poor readers read out loud in class [with my whispering and pronouncing words for them] and at recess, she stood behind the kindergarten door and sneakily smoked cigarettes.

Was that against the rules at the time?

The smoking not the making poor readers read out loud. :)

Amazing, what the memory chooses to record.

Ironically, except not, my poor vision escaped the notice of the stranger from Atlanta city schools who appeared once a year with an eye chart and a wooden spatula to check every student in every grade's vision.

She moved from classroom to classroom like a scary invader, black heels clicking down the wooden hallways and carrying her instruments of testing, the pointer, a round spatula, and chart; students were afraid that she would label them defective. In she'd come into the classroom, demanding that we orderly line up, and then covering one eye and then the other with that wooden, round spatula, she'd use her pointer and randomly identify letters on the chart that she wished us to see. While the students answered "F" "C" and maybe "V," as I recall, she was slightly deaf, and we exhorted louder that it looked like a "B," and she'd respond, "did you say "T" or "E?" We giggled and snorted and repeated the letters for her ears and used our fingers to point to the right or the left if the letter was turned.

She never changed the chart. By the time she got to me, I had usually memorized the chart, never wanting to be someone who failed a test in so public of a manner.

Actually, I didn't want to fail any test.

She was deaf but not blind. Is that some kind of funny or what?

By fifth grade, I began borrowing Lynn Smith's glasses, the only girl in Mrs. King's class who wore glasses, when I had to read the board, or I copied whatever was there from others. Lynn also loaned them to me at recess. It was then that I noted the individual leaves on trees, but the clear vision allowed me to see boys I admired from across the playground ... without screwing up my face with a squint.

Once when Lynn was over to spend the night at my house, I looked out our front "picture" window and admired the streetlight's defined shape, instead of the burst of white light with jagged edges that I was used to seeing.

Wow. The lights look like that?

At some point, my parents determined that I needed glasses, even though I dragged my feet about getting a pair.

I didn't wish to be different from others. I wanted to just be able to see.


My mother made an appointment with Dr. Gershon, an eyes, ears, and nose specialist located across the street from Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta. He was already familiar with my throat as I had chronic tonsillitis as a young child.

When Gershon examined my eyes and read the eye chart, he turned to my mother and said, "my goodness, this child can't see at all." He wrote a prescription for glasses and my life's fate was sealed.

The other thing I remember about that exam was the dilating of the eyes. At that time, the drops that dilated the eyes seemed to affect the vision all day. The worse part was the effect of light --- it was painful for the light to hit the eyes. Even though Gershon gave me a "handsome" pair of paper sun glasses to cover my eyes, I practically had to be led from place to place. If light accidentally hit the eyes, I yelped in pain.

I blame the dilation of the eyes on the first pair of glasses that were chosen for me... white framed cat glasses -- complete with fins like a '57 Cadillac. Perhaps they were "fashionable" at the time in some kind of "twisted" way -- but frames weren't cheap, and with my parents limited budget and the fact that my lenses had to be changed each year because my eyes disintegrated quickly -- I wore that pair for three years -- maybe longer.


My life ruined and scarred by that pair of glasses that allowed me to be teased and tormented by my peers.

Ah, childhood. Good times. Good times.

When I wore my eyeglasses to school for the first time, other students stared, and so I kept them in my pencil case and sneaked them out to see when I thought no one was looking.

If I had my picture made, I took off my glasses.

If I thought someone was looking my way, I took off my glasses.

If I dressed up, went to the pool, played outside, went to the grocery with my dad, I removed my glasses in case I ran into someone I knew.

I knew that wearing glasses removed points from my cool factor... until, I became so near-sighted that I couldn't not wear them.

*shakes head at silly self*

By high school, I begged my parents for contact lenses, a gift for Christmas of my ninth grade year. This gift not only made me feel better about myself, but it totally upped my "cool" rating because then "dropping my contact" caused my friends to freeze in place and finding it as much fun as a mystery.

But that's a blog for another time.

BTW: If you'd like to see me "sporting" lose lovely glasses, just go back a few blogs. You'll see them. :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"The heavens declare..."

We rarely get snow at our mountain house -- something about the mountains where our house is being east of the system.

*rolls eyes at self for not knowing why*

So for the last nine years since we have been blessed
to own a second home,

we have only seen snow up there twice....
once on Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend
and another time on a random November Sunday.

This year -- we have had snow fall three times --
and the most recent was this past weekend.

*twirls at thoughts of weekends in the mountains*

This snow was what my mom would have called "gentle but magical" in the way it draped and dressed the natural surroundings.

Have a look. Enjoy.

We did.

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of His hands."
Psalms 19: 1

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Peabody Sisters

When I asked my local library to reserve a copy of The Peabody Sisters by Megan Marshall, I had no idea the delight that the book would bring me. Retired from reading books that might add side stories and interest to my American literature classroom, I picked up the biography and intended to read for pleasure.

And pleasure it was.... [but I found myself wishing that I had a group of students to share the tidbits and wonderful facts that came from reading this book]

Born to Elizabeth [Eliza] Palmer Peabody and Dr.Nathaniel Peabody, Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody grew into young women who would not only marry men who shaped the culture of the age but influence them as well.

Eliza Peabody determined early on that her daughters would be bright, well-read, fluent in reading and writing more than one language, and be able to make their own way -- in an era where women made their ways as wives or if they had careers, as school teachers. All three of Eliza's daughters would surpass her goals for them and become women who moved in powerful circles of men and yes, had influence over them.

Elizabeth, the eldest, and possibly the brightest, wrote essays, edited magazines, books, sermons, and novels, held one on one conversations with theologians, writers, politicians, and educational reformers, and also used teaching methods that are still imitated in "gifted" classrooms today.

The second sister Mary, considered the "beauty," was an equally gifted teacher but found her passion in reform. She married the mover and shaker of public education of the time, Horace Mann.

The youngest sister, Sophia, an exceptional artist whose landscapes, pencil drawings, and sculpture rivaled the great male artists of her time, suffered greatly as an invalid but fell in love and eventually married Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Twenty years in the writing, Megan Marshall's biography reads like the best kind of literary and historical novel. Having done her homework [there are over 150 pages of notes at the end], Marshall interwove the personal letters of the three women and their contemporaries with the history and cast new light onto perhaps America's greatest time of intelligent thought.

Excellent book, but only for the American literature nerd like me.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Nothing. Seriously.


Gosh, I love it.

Too much braggin'?

Monday I met two ex-students for lunch at Panera. Emily and Erika were members of the last group of students I taught at KMHS. We got together to catch up, but mostly for them to try and figure out what their old English teacher was doing with her time.

Me: Nothing.
Them: No, seriously?
Me: Seriously? Still nothing.

That night, David and I went to the Hawks game at Phillips Arena. One of David's clients had fabulous season tickets, and he generously gave David two tickets as a Christmas gift.

David and I arrived an hour before game time [we're nerds!] and watched as that huge facility pulled everything together to prepare for the game. Both of us amazed at the courteous staff from waiter to security, all dressed in gray suits.
The arena went to great lengths to make sure that the crowd could never be bored.

There was always something to divert your attention --- it was crazy, crazy the frenetic level Phillips Arena went to for entertaining their crowds.

Since our seats were on the floor right behind one of the goals, we were two rows behind the camera.

David and I made the Kiss Cam.
Twas embarrassing.

And hilarious.

We were featured several times on the big screen. This was not humorous since I was never lookin' at the screen, I was staring at other things [heh, people], and David poked me in the side each time to get my attention. Then I would catch myself on the big screen, looking like a deer in headlights -- and then laugh and show too much gum.

Not attractive.

BTW: What was I looking at, instead of the big screen? ---
Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons' tight end, born the year I graduated from college, who was sitting nearby. Six foot five, he is fabulously handsome, but his wife is ugly.

Except not.

Well, I wasn't staring.
The whole time....
- just some of it.

On Wednesday, ABC daytime announced that my favorite female character [Rebecca Herbst] on General Hospital had been fired. I have spent the rest of the week online reading all the scoop around her firing and chatting and mourning this legacy character's demise with my virtual friends from the General Hospital message board to which I belong.



But I'm retired.

What else do you want me to do?



*apologizes to those who read this blog and thought it might be about something*

BTW: I loved this guy's shoes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Day is Done in Pink, White, and Blue?

Neither David nor I could believe the colors of the setting sun reflecting on the snow.

*le sigh*

6:10 PM, Atlanta, Georgia

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Preach it, Leonard Pitts, Jr.

I taught, pretty much successfully, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to many classrooms of students with diversity.

Note: I spent 33 years in the public school classroom.

When students are given the proper historical and literary context for works of fiction as well as biographical information on authors, the reading of a work can bring lively discussion as well as insights into history and humanity.

*holds back mini rant*

The thought that someone comes in 126 years later and alters that work of literature in "order not to offend" highlights the lack of confidence we have in teachers to present material as well as a lack of confidence in our smart, young people to determine how the author intended it -- my students usually concluding that Twain clearly showed the runaway slave Jim to be one of the only redeeming adults in the novel; heck, he might have been the only one.

Preach it, Leonard Pitts, Jr., Mark Twain is chuckling.

BTW: Thanks to my friend Laura for bringing the editorial to my attention. I don't get out much.

*tee hee*

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

it goes on....


the buds of the dogwood

snow build-up on the bird's nest

snow still piled on the deck

that silver thing on the table -- a watering can, showing only its handle and tip of its spout

one fat, but cold, bird

btw: I can never, ever, spell rhododendron correctly.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Once again here in the deep South, we had a snowstorm.


I think this is our third round of snow this winter.


Is this global warming?
Nuclear winter?
The effect of too many I-Phones on the atmosphere?
Is this still El Nino?

Meanwhile, Keats looks at the snow.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bye, Miss Lois, bye.

Just as our Christmas festivities were coming to an end, our family received the phone call letting us know that the last of my mother's siblings had passed.

As the news was told to family, we had our sad moment ---- but with "this generation" having never met her, the collective sadness was brief, and they were on to other things, and we, distracted, were as well.

My sister and I waited until my brother and his family left to fly to Connecticut to share the rest of the holidays with his wife's family before we packed a bag and drove to Virginia to see to the arrangements for her interment.

The thought of just directing a funeral home to "put her in the ground" seemed callous -- even if we hadn't seen Aunt Lois in years, she was my mother's sister, the sister they had all worried about who would care for after they died, the sister my dad said "would out live them all."

Daddy was right. He was right most of the time.


My Aunt Lois was 90 -- she had just turned that age on Dec. 15.

I hadn't seen her in over twenty-five years as she had retreated from the family circle and moved to the outside, residing in group homes, taking small jobs as a companion, and then finally living in a care facility run by the Virginia Veterans' administration. Fifteen years ago, we called her to let her know of my mother's death and then sixty two days later, my dad's. She received the news and asked for few details.

As a W.A.V.E. in WW II, she served her country, but when she returned from that war -- something was different. She had changed, and the rest of her life she would spend unable to live by herself or maintain more than menial jobs. Not that there is no dignity in that -- it was just that my mother and her sisters had concerns about Lois.

In the early 1950s, my grandmother would make several bus trips to "rescue" Lois who had wild ideas about moving to California or Colorado or Nevada, leaving her home with little money in her pocket and calling from a pay phone from some where needing "help."

They worried about Lois.

When I visited my aunts and grand-parents in Virginia as a child, Lois was my primary baby-sitter. She tried to teach me to paint, to play the piano, to think about being a vegetarian (way before it was cool), and she wished me to be "good" to my mother, her closest sister in age.

When my mother first went back to full time work when I went to kindergarten, Lois lived with us here in Atlanta and helped my mother care for four, young children with two working parents, but I barely remember it.

What I do remember about Lois is that she washed dishes, cut radishes and cucumbers for salads, swept the floors, and took long walks up and down the street where they lived. I also remember that she talked loudly, a reciprocal effect of having to communicate with her deaf father, whom she cared for in his last years.

The photos we have of her -- she seems to be behind the scenes, ducked into the shadows, unsmiling. She was kind. She was caring, but she was different.

She was my mother's sister -- and the last of her siblings to die.

I sat at the graveside service for her last Thursday in this little country church yard in Appomattox, Virginia, the church my mother's family attended, the church where my parents were married; I looked at her gray casket draped with an American flag, the wind lifting the corners, and I thought -- "why is this so moving?"

My sister and I and the ordained minister, provided by the funeral parlor, and two other funeral parlor directors were the only ones present. The two gravediggers helped carry her casket to the platform above the burial vault; no pall bearers, no "old" friends, only her two nieces in attendance.

The minister did not know her -- he did not know how to eulogize her, but he read good scripture, praised her veteran status, and gave it his all. He brought along a "ghetto blaster" where after he had his words, played "Amazing Grace" and "Taps."

I noted the beauty in the scene -- yes, I said beauty.

As these words of "Amazing Grace" were sung, "Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease/ I shall possess within the veil, a life of joy and peace...," the tears slid down my cheeks.

I cried for all of them -- my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles ----my Aunt Lois who was the last of them -- the last of them all.

The service on that quiet country road, in that old churchyard, with the cold wind rustling the surrounding evergreens, the patches of snow on the ground -- it was sad in a lovely way.

As we departed the service, the man who drove the hearse to pick up the body stopped my sister and me. He said, "when I arrived to pick her up, many people who worked in that care facility were gathered around her, some with their hands touching her, some tearful. One of them, an elderly black woman, touched her face and whispered 'bye, Miss Lois, good -bye.' They loved her there."

My family had, in a way, said a type of "bye" to Lois a long time ago.

At her earthly end, I am glad that there were others who loved her to say "good-bye" again.


That's I in the "cat glasses," my mother behind me, Aunt Eleanor, Aunt Lois, and Aunt Ava.
July 1966

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Brooklyn and The Weight of Water

I have been MIB.


Shortlisted twice for the Booker Prize, Brooklyn by Colm Toibin recounts a year in the life of Eilis Lacey, a young woman who makes the leap from Ireland to New York in the early 1950s. With the miserable Irish economy, Eilis accepts the offer of an Irish priest from Brooklyn to sponsor her in America where if she gets the right education she can get the "right" job.

Eilis finds work in a department store, lives in a boarding house with a intrusive landlady, and takes classes at Brooklyn City College. She meets a nice Italian boy from a big family, who takes her to Coney Island and Ebbets Field, and talks to her of "their" future. Just when Eilis becomes comfortable, she receives news from home -- she and her Italian take a huge risk, and....

What makes this book work is the writer. The story is hardly original, but the prose is --- some how different. Toibin holds back -- as one reviewer calls it "superbly controlled" -- the emotion, and this detachment, this reticence makes the story more moving and beautiful.

Lovely book.

Anita Shreve's The Weight of Water surprised me. Published in 1997, this book had been on my reading list for a long time. [Since then, it has been made into a movie with Sean Penn and Elizabeth Hurley -- didn't know that -- didn't see it -- doesn't matter.]

Jean, a photographer, arrives on Smuttynose Island, off the coast of Maine, in 1995, to research a century-old crime. With her on this trip are her husband, her daughter, her brother-in-law, and his girlfriend. As Jean immerses herself in the murder case, including the pocketing of some old letters from the archives of the local library, she becomes obsessed and has trouble distinguishing the present from the past -- and her delusions become reality when she lets her jealous emotion run amok. In the end, what she sets in motion has tragic consequences.

What I loved about the novel were the letters that she pilfered from the library -- letters from the lonely wife of a fisherman. Shreve expertly captured the misery, loneliness, and isolation that must have been the day to day of women of the time. The letters were haunting.

I think of Anita Shreve as pop fiction -- but she was better than that in this novel.