It was early summer of 1949 in Hawaii and I was sleeping like a hibernating bear when my Dad woke me up about 6:30 in the morning.
"Please come help me son," he said. "I've got several phone numbers I need to look up and you know I can't see them even with my glasses on."
He had just been examined, tested and fitted for bifocals and he was extremely annoyed with the whole thing. If there was ever anyone that really despised glasses it was Frank Owens, my father. Since we lived on Oahu and there were no factories to manufacture the glasses, there was about a ten-week wait ahead of him since the prescription had to be sent to the mainland to be filled. In the meantime he made do with the inadequate reading glasses and a large magnifying glass. Even those two items weren't sufficient because the print in the telephone book was so small.
So I reluctantly pulled myself out of bed and went into his little office in the back of the house. I read all the numbers to him and he wrote them down, got dressed and left for the studios downtown. I threw my shorts and a shirt on, grabbed my bike and headed on down to the Outrigger Canoe Club where I stored my surfboard. It was only four long blocks away so I got there in a very short time. I guess I spent a couple of hours surfing out in front of the Moana Hotel and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel where my uncle, Harry Owens, performed for so many years with his orchestra, "The Royal Hawaiians".
That night my Dad and Mom went out to play bridge with Bill and Peg Meyers in Kailua, on the other side of the island. The next day my Dad was so excited that even though he was only 49 I thought he was going to have a stroke. This is where the story gets really good.
Bill and Peg Meyers had four big six-foot sons who were the picture of health with one exception. David, the youngest, had one eye that was completely crossed. Other than that he was in fine shape being a champion swimmer. In those days since they had no operation or treatment that would reverse a crossed eye it was considered a permanent affliction.
During the course of the bridge game my Dad mentioned what a really annoying thing it was that he was going to have to use bifocals. After he got through with his mild tirade - he never did raise his voice very much - Bill told him that they had found an eye doctor in Chicago who had cured David's crossed eye. When my Dad really perked up and wanted to know the details Bill proceeded to tell him about their attempts to find an eye doctor for David that might be able to help him. Bill was a very successful stockbroker so had the money for them to travel around the country visiting different eye doctors. They went to the mainland every summer and had been doing so for several years.
In 1948 they had heard about a doctor in Chicago by the name of Harold M. Peppard, no relation to the movie star. So they had made an appointment and flew to Chicago to see him. That was no small task in the late 1940's as the Pan American amphibious Boeing Clipper took 17 hours to get from Honolulu to San Francisco Bay.
From there it was another day to get to Chicago. When Dr. Peppard examined David, the doctor said that there was nothing organically wrong with David's eye, it just had a very weak muscle. He then proceeded to tell them about the eye exercises he had developed and documented in his book "Sight Without Glasses". David was about 16 in 1948 so the doctor showed him how to do the exercises and told him that it would be about three months before he saw the final results. However, the eye should start straightening out within a couple of weeks.
By now my Dad was extremely suspicious because he and Bill were constantly pulling practical jokes on each other. My Dad said that was so far out there was no way Bill was telling the truth. "C'mon Bill, " said my Dad. "You're just pulling my leg!"
Bill didn't say anything, he just turned around and hollered "David, come here!" In the back of the house they heard David's voice saying he was coming. When David got into the living room Bill told him to go over to my Dad and show him the eye. My Dad was astounded and said "Good Heavens! It's not crossed any more!" and David smiled and said "Dr. Peppard's exercises really work. I still have to keep up with the exercises for another couple of months but then ordinary eye shift should keep it in shape".
My Dad turned to Bill Meyers and said "Bill, where can I get a copy of that book?" Bill went over to the bookshelf and looked for a minute or so and brought the book out and handed it to my Dad.
"Here Frank, you can have it. I don't think David needs it anymore".
The next day my Dad, knowing the value of daily exercise (practice) started doing the eye exercises. His eyes improved to the point that he never again had to wear glasses. The bifocals that he had ordered and paid for showed up at the house and he put them into the top drawer of his chest of drawers in their bedroom. They stayed there for the next 31 years and he never used them at all until the day he died.
In 1969 my Dad was 70 years old. When they came to visit us in New Orleans they stayed at the Monteleone Hotel. I happened to be in the room when my mother said to my Dad, "Pancho (his nickname), please look up the telephone numbers of the places we're going today." My dad picked up the phone book and looked up about a half dozen numbers that he rattled off to my mother who wrote them down. It was then twenty years since he had started doing the eye exercises. It was astounding to me to see my father actually read the telephone book when twenty years before I used to do it for him. My mother was wearing glasses and I was amazed. I asked her why she didn't do the exercises and she said she just couldn't be bothered.
My Dad trained me a little in the use of the exercises but the main thing he taught me was the fact that eyestrain comes mainly from lack of blinking and squinting. Squinting is the worst thing you can do to your eyes as it changes the shape of the eyeball and the muscles get weak making them worse. Relaxing the eyes and letting them get into focus really works - since it takes longer when you get older people don't realize that they are harming their eyes. If you just relax and blink a few times at what you want to see, you'll be surprised at the way the eye actually focuses.
I don't have anything against glasses. I use them for reading and can see pretty well at a distance as long as I don't force it. I still have a copy of Dr. Peppard's book. The original was destroyed by Katrina but fortunately one of my students wanted a copy and made three photocopies of the book. He took one and I kept the other two which just happened to be above the five foot flood line.
Of course, 75 is catching up and it takes longer for the eyes to focus but what else is new? I have a special pair of glasses for the computer - you can buy them cheap by holding a book at arms length and trying on glasses at the drug store or asking your eye doctor to give you some glasses with a focal length of about 20" - 22". Check it out. That's about where your computer monitor sits. Guess I'm like my mother - I just can't be bothered to do the exercises.