Like all the mothers and grandmothers I knew when I was a child, my grandmother had a purse that was more a small suitcase, from which she pulled any number of essential items: tissues and mints, powder and lipstick. For reasons that puzzled me — I was only 4 or 5 — she also carried two pairs of eyeglasses, one of which she used for distance, the other for reading. As far as I was concerned, eyes were eyes and glasses were glasses, and having to search for certain glasses for a specific activity made no sense. Yet whenever she misplaced her reading glasses, a frenzied search would ensue. Without them, she could not teach me to crochet or read me a story, play cards or follow a recipe. I hoped I’d never need two pairs of glasses. It seemed a confusing way to live.
When I was in my late 20s, my mother started to have trouble seeing print on a page. Soon she was at the drugstore purchasing $10 reading glasses; for a while, hoping to keep them corraled, she wore these glasses on a string around her neck. We teased her that she looked like an old woman (she was in her mid-40s), and eventually she bought several pairs, which she placed at strategic locations around the house: on her nightstand, near the kitchen sink, next to the television. I remember her fretting over needing the glasses, how she equated it with aging and what lay ahead. I thought it was silly.