My academic career got off on the wrong foot when I was placed on the dumb side of the room in Mrs. Vandenberg’s first grade class.
The smart kids sat on the left side of the room. The dumb kids on the right. After the first semester Mrs. Vandenberg reshuffled the seating chart. I was moved from the smart side to the dumb side.
I protested after class.
Mrs. Vandenberg first denied a seating arrangement based on scholarly achievements. Then why was I moved?
She finally fessed up that my theory might be true and that she was surprised at my sluggish start to first grade. She heard that I was a bright kid that worked hard. Then Mrs. Vandenberg did something that changed my life.
She told me to sit in my seat and she wrote a sentence on the blackboard.
“What does this say,” she asked me.
I squinted and stood up to get closer to the blackboard.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t see it.”
“Oh baby,” she said. “You need glasses, that’s all.”
I thought everybody saw the world in fuzzy tones. My life was pretty normal. I played basketball and baseball with no problems. I always got a front row seat during television viewing.
A week later the entire school was treated to a free eye exam at Pattengill Elementary School. Mrs. Vandenberg said doctors would exam my eyes and make recommendations on glasses.
But something traumatic happened. Some of the older kids said doctors surgically removed your eyes during the eye examination. I bought it. I became terrified during the days led up to testing.
We stood in a long line leading into the first floor auditorium. Every step we took I felt like a kid walking toward his death. Removing your eyes had to hurt. By the time my turn came I was near tears.
“Please don’t take my eyes out of my head,” I said to a guy wearing a white lab coat.
I did not know what an anxiety attack was at such a young age, but I’m sure I was having one.
The man laughed.
“I promise I won’t remove your eyes,” the man said. “We have new ways to look at your eyes.”
I was so happy about modern technology. We went through a quick, painless examination where my eyes were not removed. He gave me a piece of paper and candy and told me to give it to my parents. I lived with my grandmother and aunt and gave them the slip of paper when I got home.
“Oh my God,” my aunt screamed. “The boy is blind as a bat.”
The next day we sat in a DOC office across from the University of Detroit on Livernois. They examined me again, without removing my eyes, and fitted me with a pair of brown glasses.
Oh my goodness. So this is what the world really looks like. The images were so sharp and colorful. It was one of the happiest days of my young life. I didn’t even mind the taunts of “four eyes” from friends. I could see.
Two weeks later Mrs Vandenberg stopped class and in front of everybody moved me back to the smart side of the room.Find Terry Foster Podcast here: