If my plan hadn’t been foolproof, I might have been concerned. But this was almost too easy.

P H V Q L F 7

“Next!” the nurse said.

One of my classmates got up and headed for the hot seat, and the rest of us moved one chair to the right.

It wasn’t really cheating, it was “compensating.” That was one of our vocabulary words two weeks ago … it means “to counteract by exerting an opposite force.” Cheating? That would be dishonest.

P H V Q L F 7

“Next!”

A classmate headed for the nurse’s table, and everyone moved one chair to the right.

Foolproof.

It had come on pretty gradually … the letters on the chalkboard were a little fuzzy around the edges, and I had to hold my history book a little closer when I read about the Revolutionary War. The first indication that it wasn’t a problem with chalk or lighting came during a math lesson. Mrs. Waudby called on me to solve a fraction problem she’d written on the board, and while I was pretty sure the numerator was a 3, I didn’t have a clue about the denominator. 4? 7? 19?

So I did what any straight-B student would do; I guessed. And not very well, if the laughter from my classmates was any indication … like 3/19 wasn’t a real fraction or something.

The next day I sat one row closer to the chalkboard, and the fractions came into focus.

A month later the fractions were fuzzy again, and I moved up another row.

P H V Q L F 7

By Christmas I was in the second row from the front, and Mrs. Waudby was getting suspicious.

By Valentine’s Day I was in the front row, and when one of my classmates asked if I was “reading it or sniffing it,” I realized that having “your nose buried in a book” wasn’t just a cliché.

And when the school sent a note home for parents about vision screening, I knew I was in trouble.

But when I walked into the gymnasium on screening day I was suddenly struck by a plan that was brilliant in its simplicity.

The public health nurse was sitting at a card table, with a chair for students and a lighted eye chart on the bleacher seats on the other side of the gym.

I loitered near the door when my class filed in, and ended up next-to-last in line. We took our seats to await our exam, and one by one the nurse called students to her table, handed them what looked like a long-handled plastic spoon, and told them to cover one eye and read the chart.

As I sat and waited, I rubbed one eye and then the other … a clever ruse, if I say so myself … to see how readable the chart was with one eye.

Oh-oh …

But with both eyes — fuzzy, but identifiable.

And then … inspiration!

“Next!”

Another student moved to the nurse’s card table, and the rest of us moved one chair down the line. And while a classmate tried to pull me into a debate about whether Mickey Mantle was a better ballplayer than Willie Mays, I nodded absently while I memorized the eye chart.

P H V Q L F 7

I didn’t waste time memorizing the top two lines — the first was a single “E” the size of a cantaloupe, and the line below it was several letters only slightly smaller. I figured they could probably be seen from space.

The third line was a little trickier, readable with two eyes, problematic for one. But reciting the fourth line would probably earn me a passing grade, and I was just starting to memorize it when the nurse aimed her next “Next!” at me.

I took my seat at the card table and traded the permission slip mom had signed for the plastic spoon.

“Cover your left eye,” the nurse said. “Can you read the top line?”

“E!”

This is going to be so easy …

“Read the second line.”

That’s where my plan kind of failed: “line two” was nothing more than a string of fuzzy gray blobs, and squinting only made them fuzzier.

“Uh … X … T … 4 … W … question mark …”

The nurse scribbled something on my permission slip and handed it back.

“Give this to your parents,” she said. “Next!”

I never did get to P H V Q L F 7.

Two weeks later I walked out of the eye doctor’s office wearing a pair of Buddy Holly glasses that looked better on him than they did on me.

The first thing I did was marvel at the detail in a tree full of leaves.

The second thing I did was return to the back row in Mrs. Waudby’s math class.

Things are looking better already.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson, and their son.

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