Whenever I find myself in the frustrating task of untangling a necklace chain, a memory from my childhood immediately appears in my head. Tangled necklace chains happened often, and whenever they did, my mother’s reaction was always the same, “Your father will fix it.”
I would then find my father, sitting in his recliner in the living room, and hand over my necklace to him. He would smile, then he would take off his glasses, and methodically, untangle the mess of knotted chain. This always amazed me, because my father’s eyesight was so poor.
When he was a young man, he loved to play baseball and football. He told me that he had a nickname in those days, they used to call him “Primo”. He must have been pretty good at sports to be given that name. But what was really amazing is that in order to play football, he would put these thick glass contact lenses in his eyes. I’m not talking about the contact lenses that most of us are familiar with these days. Those contact lenses looked like the bottom of a glass bottle, heavy and thick. I don’t know how he was able to keep them in his eyes! He was born in December of 1918 and, therefore, was the perfect age to serve in WW2 at twenty-two years of age at the beginning of the war. But he didn’t serve. I assume it was because of his eyesight. In the 1940 census, he was recorded as a laborer with a high school diploma. He worked on a WPA project at LaGuardia Airport as it was being built; digging ditches during the depression. He did this to help support his parents and his younger siblings. One of his younger brothers, Thomas, born in 1923, did serve in the army during the war. I’ve heard that, at first, only one son per family was required to serve. But as the war progressed, they took more men from the same families. But again, my father’s eyesight was very poor, so I don’t think he passed the physical.
But back to the necklace, I would be amazed that he could see the knots and the little chain links as he performed his magic and untied my mess. When he finished, he would hand the chain back to me and, satisfied, put his glasses back on his face. Now forward about 52 years or more, and I have a whole new understanding about what was happening. I too wear glasses, but most of the time I wear soft, comfortable contact lenses. When I’m wearing my glasses or contact lenses, I can see objects in the distance perfectly. But I can’t see anything up close. When I put reading glasses on over my contact lenses, I can see close objects better; but when I take them off, I can thread a needle without any difficulty.
My father also loved to read. He once belonged to a book club and our attic was filled with dusty hardcovered books from the 1940s that he had received each month. He also wrote poems to my mother and I have always felt that my love for reading and writing came from him. In fact, one time he told me that the worst thing that could happen to him would be if he lost his eyesight, because he loved to read so much.
So, in hindsight, I get it now. He was nearsighted, and when he took off his glasses, his eyes were sharp when reading and untangling my necklaces. When I take off my contact lenses and glasses, I can feel the personal satisfaction he must have felt at being able to efficiently perform a task that required keen eyesight. We are lucky that we have so many options to compensate for our weak eyes these days. But there is nothing as gratifying as being able to see well, to read and to untangle chains, with our unaided eyes.