My grandparents, my father, and two older brothers attended the one-room West Head School. When it was my turn to start school in 1962, the school was no longer in operation. I rode the bus to the brand new K-6 elementary school just a few miles away in Osborne.
I loved school so much that I wanted to attend seven days a week. When I reached Mrs. Garnet Williams’ Grade four class, I realized I could not see as well as other students. Unfortunately, the teacher did not notice. Each day, Mrs. Williams would choose a student to copy afternoon lessons on the chalkboard. When my turn came, I printed letters and numbers that were about a foot tall, and nobody questioned why. The truth was, I desperately needed glasses.
Then I moved on to Grade five with Miss Ann Giffin. She was a no-nonsense disciplinarian who meant business. The strap that sat in plain view on her desk and she was not afraid to use it.
Miss Giffin was always impeccably dressed with never a hair out of place. She looked as if she had just stepped out of the pages of Vanity Fair. Even now, almost fifty years later, I can close my eyes and picture her beautifully shaped and painted nails. Her coral lipstick was the final touch that tied everything together.
Although I was in Grade five and as blind as a bat, I had advanced reading skills. At Language Arts time I joined the principal’s Grade Six class. I could hardly see past the end of my nose.
Day after day, I told Mom I could not see the chalkboard, but she would not believe me. My mother was not famous for this. It is possible I had told one too many lies.
Our conversation went something like this, “Mom, I can’t see the blackboard at school. I think I …” Before I could finish, she interrupted, “No you don’t. You just want glasses because your cousin has them. I suppose next you will want your tonsils out too.”
My pleas for glasses fell on deaf ears, but I refused to give up. I knew there was more than one way to shear a sheep. One night I hatched a scheme that I thought was foolproof, at least in the mind of an eleven-year-old. I took control of the situation and penned a note that read something like:
March 10, 1966
Dear Mrs. Roache,
Melda cannot see the chalkboard.
You should take her to the eye doctor in Liverpool.
I think his name is Mr. Wild.
Miss Anne Giffen
Thinking my scheme could not go wrong, I marched into the house and handed Mom the note. I had written it in pencil on a scrap piece of lined newsprint. I had done so much erasing, to make it look just right, that the paper had worn through in places. I don’t think I even used an envelope. The note looked anything but professional. It certainly was not the kind of note a teacher as particular as Miss Giffin would have written to a parent. That boo-boo could have given me away, but the universe was on my side. Mom wasn’t one bit skeptical. She had fallen for my brilliant scheme — hook, line and sinker, as they say.
Eureka! Shazzam! Woohoot! Hooray! Yippee! Hallelujah! Bingo!
Mom looked up Dr. Wile’s phone number right away. She booked an eye appointment for the next week with Dr. Wile, a Liverpool optometrist. He confirmed my story. I was as blind as I claimed — so blind I could not even read the big “E.” Dr. Wile scolded my parents for neglecting my eyesight.
After the eye exam, I chose my first pair of glasses. There were so many choices; which ones would I pick? I was certain I had chosen the most beautiful glasses in the world. We returned to Dr. Wile’s office a week later to pick up my glamorous glasses. Mission accomplished.
I spent the trip home from Liverpool reading aloud every word and number on every road sign.
Shelburne 45 miles. Ferry Service from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to Bar Harbour, Maine. Birthplace of Hank Snow. Welcome to Port Mouton. Do Not Litter. Maximum Speed 30 miles per hour.
That should have been the end of the story, but it was not. My eleven-year-old problem-solving skills had not looked far enough ahead. I had not given any thought to what would happen if Mom discovered that I was the one behind the infamous note.
Everything was hunky-dory until Mom decided to call Miss Giffin to express her appreciation. At the end of the conversation, Miss Giffin insisted there must be some confusion. She had not written the note. It must have come from Mrs. Verna Thomas, my reading teacher. Mom said thank you and hung up. She distinctly remembered that the note was signed Miss Giffin. It did not take long to put two and two together.
I was outside playing with some friends when Mom appeared at the door. She yelled in her shrill voice, “Melllllll-daaaa, get in this house right now!”
I crept toward the house, shaking in my boots. I was desperately trying to fabricate a convincing little white lie to cover up the first lie. “Melda Jean Roache, I was just talking to Miss Giffin, and she did not write that note. It was you, wasn’t it?”
Shaking in my boots, I admitted that I had indeed written the note. But only because she refused to believe that I needed glasses.
I have been wearing glasses ever since that fateful day. The styles have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous:
Grade 7 and 8: Brown Cat’s Eye Glasses
Grade 9: Dark Brown Rectangular Glasses
Grade 10 and 11: Wire-rimmed Rectangular Glasses
Grade 12: Dark Brown Tear-Shaped Glasses
Teachers’ College: Huge Dark Brown Square Glasses
For my Wedding: Huge Light Brown Glasses that had the arms/bows at the very bottom.
And a bunch more between 1979 and today.
To this day, glasses remain a big part of my life. I have regular bifocals, but I just cannot hold my head in the right position to read. I have added a pair of prescription reading and computer glasses with magnetic sunglasses. And that is not all. I also have prescription sunglasses. I need a big ole bag just to drag all of them around.
If Mom were still alive, I know exactly what Mom would say, “It serves you right for pretending to be Miss Giffin when you were in Grade Five.”
And who knows? She could be right.