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Large print edition

July 10, 2010

This large print book is a little strange. As I turn the pages, I keep feeling like I’m reading a book designed for an early-elementary school reader. You know how 3rd grade chapter books have like 48 point font?

One thing is for sure: Even though this gigantic hardback runs close to 600 pages, it sure does read fast! My carpal tunnel is acting up with all this page-turning. Carpal Tunnel? Large print books? Constant complaining about the weather and those damn citronella buckets from Wal-Mart that ran me $2.50, but lived up to their price by acting as a neon sign to every mosquito in our yard to come bite me. I’m sounding like an old lady. Maybe the large print is rubbing off on me. The whole large print thing is interesting to me — I discovered that amazon.com sells the kama sutra in large print.

Wait. Did you hear that?

Yeah, that’s the sound of someone breaking a hip.

I did buy a large print book for my great great aunt Neva (Elliott is named, in part, to honor her) — who was in her nineties at the time — during an extended hospital stay. She didn’t give me many criteria, so I picked up “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” When I went back to visit her, I asked her how the book was. And she told me that she was unimpressed by all the sex and latent homosexual themes. “When you get to my age, reading about younger people have sex is remarkably unappealing. And furthermore, I’m too old and too well-seasoned to get riled up by all the gay stuff. I have three homosexual men living in my basement; I’d rather spend time with them than suffering through this tripe again.” She gave the book back and I’m confident it ended up in a Goodwill bag — I mean, seriously, after that glowing review?

I realize that it isn’t just old people who buy large print versions of books. Some people have bad eyesight and seek out large print books to ease the burden. My mom has particularly bad eyes. She will tell you that she didn’t know trees had leaves until she got her first pair of glasses in elementary school. She thought trees were these green fuzzy things — her trees were perpetually the shape of a child’s watercolor picture: A nondescript green blob. My childhood best friend Alicia also had glasses and (she might find this strange) I was envious of her four-eyedness. Yes, I tried to draw glasses on myself with a permanent marker once. However, in hindsight, the most egregious childhood antic I committed in the quest for glasses, was to simply fail my routine eye-exam.

It started during that day in junior high school where kids lined up in the hallway by class and were checked for scoliosis, followed by an eye exam. This particular public health event happened in the sixth grade. Standing there, waiting for my turn, I realized that if I wanted glasses, all I needed was bad eyesight, and if bad eyesight was determined by reading off all those letters on the charts, then I simply wouldn’t read them well. This was not a problem for a little actress like me — I could read every letter perfectly — but I decided that I “couldn’t see” the bottom three rows and that the next row up would have to be difficult for me. I did things like guess the letter was a ‘B’ when it was really an ‘R’ and substitute an ‘O’ for a ‘Q’. There were some truly epic pauses, “Oh. I don’t know. Hold on. Wait…a ‘C’ is it a ‘C’?”

Sure enough, I was sent home with a note stating that I failed the school eye-exam  and should be retested by a family practitioner. I know my mom took one look at that note and internally filled with skepticism. But she obliged and, sure enough, I struggled through that eye-exam too — landing me with 20/40 vision. The doctor called my mom into the office and explained that I needed glasses — I still remember that feeling of absolute glee: I had done it! I had tricked the stupid optometrist! We walked into the area, my fake-glasses-Mecca: the frame store. There, with my mom, I tried on frame after frame. I gravitated toward the librarian look — skinny lenses, thick frames. I tried on every pair of red frames — or bright neon green frames — frames with rhinestones. This choice, these options, surrounded by people attending to my every shopping whim. It was like out of a rags-to-riches movie, with a girl buying her first pair of heels. Or a bride hunting for the perfect wedding dress.

These were my GLASSES! My status glasses. The glasses that would catapult me into a whole new realm of coolness. They had to make a statement.

But my mom was opposed to all statement glasses. “You’ll be wearing these all the time,” she warned me. “You want something that can go with every outfit.”

“Then, I should get TWO pairs!” I offered up. “One sensible pair and one…fun…pair!” This suggestion came with a smile, an eye-twinkle.

This was met with a sigh, “We can’t afford that.” And that was that. Slowly, like a deflated balloon, I realized that my “oh-so-cool-amazing-kid-with-glasses” persona was slipping away. I knew in that instant that I wasn’t walking out of that store with the sparkly yellow glasses. No, we settled on a simple silver frame. And…to my even greater dismay…I would have to wait for those glasses! A few days. When we finally picked them up, I touched the green leather carrying case protectively and then put them on my face. The round-lenses, the simple-silver frame. Placing them on my face did not suddenly catapult me to coolness. Instead, it catapulted me into massive headaches and a warped-bendy view of the world.

I had not factored into this dream that actually ordering prescription lenses for a person with 20/40 vision and placing them on 20/20 eyes would not exactly work. But I forced it — I wore those glasses to church on Sunday and strutted into Sunday School class, eagerly awaiting my friends to say, “Oh. Did you get glasses?” But they didn’t get the welcome I had wished for. Why not? Because my 7th and 8th grade friends had moved on from glasses. They all were wearing contacts. There was no “glasses-team” I could join. And my simple-frames were already outdated.

Sure enough, after a few months, I was over the love affair and the glasses remained unworn unless my parents said something. “Shelbi, take your glasses to school! Or we’ll have to tell your teachers to sit you up front so you can see!” (Do you think they were just making me anxious on purpose? I do.)

Even when I went to get my permit at 15, I was too embarrassed to admit to my mom and dad that I had lied about the eye-exam. So, when my dad said to me, “Don’t forget to take your glasses to your permit test. You’ll need them to pass the vision test” I grudgingly took them to the DMV, donned them long enough to squint my way through the vision test (this time — it was quite the effort to PASS the test with my glasses), and took home a shiny new permit that had a “Corrective Lenses Restriction”. It wasn’t until this last licensee renewal, (when I was 8 months pregnant with Elliott and the DMV man asked me if I cared to change the weight listed to my current weight and I merely glared at him until he shrank back away from the computer screen where he had been lightly tapping my 15 year-old-self weight with annoying dubiousness) that I asked to re-take the vision test, sans corrective lenses.

The guy asked, “Oh. Did you get LASIK?”

There were less syllables in the answer “yes” than any other explanation I could muster.

I feel guilty for making my parents pay (too much) money for an unnecessary accessory. If I were a better human, I’d pay them back for each pair of glasses they bought for me. As it stands, perhaps a public apology can suffice for now. And…of course…God has a sense of humor, so, I’m sure my own children will pay me back in some capacity.

Of course, when the time comes and I really do need large print books and glasses, the joke will certainly be on me. At least I’ll be able to go with the bright red rhinestone pair this next time around.

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