My Parents Kept Almost Every Pair of Glasses They Ever Owned

by Becky Tipper

They peer out at me from drawers and decades – round and owlish from the eighties, stern and glaring from the seventies, slight and wiry from the nineties. The newest pairs have barely any frames at all. And of course, they almost are their faces because it’s only sometimes, isn’t it, that you see your parents without their glasses on. Lately, my baby girl has taken to pulling my glasses off all of a sudden – as if to discover who I really am underneath – and then, clutching them like a demented professor, she chews on the ends and waves them around wildly.

My parents’ old glasses are broken and scratched. Most are missing an arm. I don’t know why they kept them, so many of them, except I suppose it always seemed a shame to throw them out, and maybe they would come in useful eventually. So my mum kept them, and my dad kept everything she had ever kept, and now here I am.

I take them to Halesowen, to the shabby shopping centre built twenty-five years ago that no-one’s impressed by anymore; the rest of the town full of charity shops where people leave the things they have no use for. They don’t have a collection box at Specsavers and they tell me to try Boots around the corner. So I step outside the ambient warmth of the Cornbow Centre, back into the day too grey to be afternoon and too cold to be summer. As I walk across town – past the charity shops, through the slow-moving crowd of young mothers and pensioners, around a man circling on a street sweeper – the glasses chatter in my bag like a tangle of one-legged birds.

The woman at Boots says yes they do take them. She says they send them off to Africa where she’s sure they come in useful, although when she sees my bagful she’s surprised that I have brought so many. She takes them from me and carries them out to the back of the shop, complaining that they’ll fill up her bin.

Afterwards, I see on the internet that it was probably a waste of time giving them away, since most prescriptions are too specific to be reused. Even so, back in the silence of their house, I close my eyes and imagine that there are people who will wear the glasses. In the sub-Saharan town of my mind, there are clanking-belled goats, markets with sacks of millet and piles of mangoes and melons, and women dressed in colours as vibrant as birds. I picture them, these people who see exactly as my parents saw, who wake up blinking into the sun with the same myopia or the same astigmatism, who see up to that same point where everything blurs just out of reach. I think that if I ever saw them, hurrying through the dusty, bustling market with its jumble of fruits, I would know them immediately and it would be all I could do not to reach out to touch them and say: Don’t you know me? And then they would turn and look at me through their new glasses, and surely they’d know my face, and they’d smile with recognition.

Becky Tipper writes little things to make sense of the big things.

  1. #1 by John Ritchie on March 3, 2014 - 12:44 pm

    I liked this. A nice bit of social comment on how we are encouraged to re-cycle, but how nobody seems to want the bother of dealing with what with so diligently collect.

    Thanks for the read.


  2. #2 by Becky on March 4, 2014 - 5:33 pm

    Thanks for your comment, John. It’s true and I’m often fascinated with where things end up when we think we’ve got rid of them.

  3. #3 by tilth on March 7, 2014 - 2:43 am

    Beautiful! I love the clarity of place and the sharp imagery. The piece touches the frail heart of life connected across the ages by passing bodies and passing things and makes it sing for the joy of this calamity. I am moved. Thank you for sharing.

    • #4 by Becky on March 7, 2014 - 12:55 pm

      Thank you, tilth!

  4. #5 by Linda on March 10, 2014 - 12:43 pm

    Been there, done that, this piece touched a lot of chords. Loved the image of the one-legged birds.

    • #6 by Becky on March 12, 2014 - 5:14 pm

      Sorry to hear you’ve had to deal with this strange sad task too, Linda. Thanks for your comment.

  5. #7 by Kate Fereday Eshete on May 2, 2014 - 5:13 pm

    I live in the remote Ethiopian Highlands and when tourists visit they sometimes hand me bags of spectacles. As you point out, “most prescriptions are too specific to be reused”, so I do wonder if it’s worth the trouble of arranging for these spectacles to be delivered to the Eye Department at Gonder Hospital, 70 miles away. I hardly ever go to Gonder so the spectacles usually end up being used in my school, where they are drama accessories for the children. Not quite the scenario you envisaged!

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