Eighty-seven and a half year old Clarence Sheets has lived a full life and experienced many of the joys a long life brings. However, he has also begun to experience the not-so-wonderful effects of getting older. His hearing is not what it once was, and in recent years, his eyesight has followed suit. It even got to a point where, for two years, Sheets couldn’t read something as simple as the address on an envelope he got in the mail.
With the help of Beckley’s VA Medical Center, however, that has all changed.
“I can read The Pocahontas Times now for the first time in two years,” Sheets told Times editor Jaynell Graham, a few weeks ago. Interest was sparked, and Sheets was asked if he would be willing to sit down and talk about his new-found “eyesight.”
“They said it would be about a month before you get it [the Presto desktop magnifier],” Sheets recalled when he was asked how he came to get the machine, “That was the first of December. I think it was the ninth of December when, all of a sudden, it was out there sitting on my front porch.”
The black monitor has taken up residence on a small desk in Sheets’ living room. The monitor, similar to an ordinary computer monitor, rests upon two grey arms over an adjustable tray. In addition to the red power button, four white buttons act as the monitor’s controls: two buttons for zooming in and out, a button to control the image mode, and a button to adjust image enhancement.
When it comes to reading, all Sheets has to do is place the material on the bottom tray and move it from side to side as he goes.
Sheets reads with the letters at about three-quarters to an inch high.
The machine isn’t just for reading paper materials, either. It works wonders in making everyday tasks, like counting out change, easier.
“I have a hard time with change,” admitted Sheets as he pulled a handful of coins out of his pocket, “but if I lay a quarter on there, it shows up, and I can see what it is.”
The Presto Magnifier isn’t the only device Sheets received from the VA which help him remain independent. He also received a handheld magnifier which can be used in the grocery store to read labels, two different styles of magnifying glasses, and a device – ScripTalk – that reads Sheets’ prescriptions aloud to him.
When asked which pair of glasses he prefers to use when he watches TV, Sheets just smiled and held up his trusty binoculars.
In his younger days, when his eyesight was nearly perfect, Sheets was an active man. He enlisted in 1945 to serve in the Army. Shortly thereafter, his sister passed away and Sheets’ entry was deferred. By the time he was called back into service the following March, however, it was too late. World War II had ended, and Sheets’ was given a discharge the day after he was re-drafted.
He wasn’t finished with the Army, though, and “re-upped” for another 18 months. Once he completed basic training in Alabama, he was then stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington.
In the early 1960s, Sheets returned to West Virginia, moving to Marlinton. Over the next few years, he spent time working for Westvaco in Covington, Virginia, for three to six months at a time. Eventually, though, Sheets found that union work was more appealing and joined a union with the help of his uncle, Bill Barnette.
“When I went in to sign up to get in the union, it cost $100,” Sheets recalled. “I borrowed $100 off of him [Bill Barnette], and that’s the way I went in the union.”
He recently received a gold card to commemorate Fifty Years of Continuous Membership in the United Brotherhood of Carpentry and Joiners of America.
One of his first union jobs took him to a bowling alley in Ohio where he worked on installing the flooring. Another job – this time through the Builder’s Association – took him to Roanoke, Virginia, for eight years and two months – what he originally thought was going to be a couple of weeks–while he worked on a rayon plant.
It was through these jobs that Sheets found his niche – carpentry.
He used this skill throughout the county, as well. He installed the paneling and drop ceiling and built the Sunday school rooms at the Swago United Methodist Church in Buckeye. He has attended church there for longer than he can remember.
Sheets also worked with Neal Alderman building log houses in and around Minnehaha Springs. He also spent time working for Gentry’s pin mill on Beaver Creek.
When he wasn’t working with his hands, Sheets was just as busy with his feet.
An avid dancer, Sheets was a member of two of Marlinton’s square dance groups – the Barn Dancers and a 32-year charter member of the Pocahontas Promenaders. While he no longer dances as frequently as he once did, Sheets still pulls his dancing shoes out every now and again for old times’ sake.
Sheets’ life is filled with stories, but talking and reading are two different things.
Now, thanks to the VA, Sheets can read stories and newspapers, but, perhaps, more importantly, he can read his Sunday School lesson with his new magnifying machine.
When he isn’t busy reading, he enjoys mowing his yard, tending to his tomato plants or just spending time in his old-fashioned glider or porch swing.