by Kimberley Cummins
Traversing Harts Gap in St. Michael and say the name “Glasses Man”, and automatically everyone knows who you are referring to — none other than James Straughn. He is a staple in the community for his eye wear repair shop, Straughn’s Mini Optical.
For more than 50 years he has been cutting lenses to fit them into spectacle frames, providing frames, repairing glasses — doing just about anything that could be done to glasses just as the sign chained on the shop’s entrance read, “You name it, I can fix it.”
Of those 50 plus years in the eye wear business, 18 have been spent working for himself at his current location. This afternoon as he diligently worked in the very intimate setting of his shop he told Barbados TODAY that “if not for luck” only God knew what would have become of him.
As a young boy from humble beginnings, he wasn’t the brightest at school and at age 14 he reached sixth standard and finished his formal education, but was uncertain what work he would do. The now 72-year-old explained that in the days of his youth one would either have to have money or luck if they were to succeed in Barbados. His family did not have money, by thankfully he had luck.
His grandmother, Dan Dan, at the time worked for a white family so she asked her boss for something for the youngster to do, he recalled.
It was a Saturday he went for the interview and on the Monday he started the job of as a messenger.
“Dan Dan, she is the one who put me into this thing,” he said, and noted that had it not been for the discipline she instilled maybe he would have been rude and would not have been given the opportunity. As waiting customers listened intently, he told a story of one of her disciplinary encounters.
“I can remember clearly my grandmother and a neighbour wasn’t speaking, for whatever reason, so I gone out now playing I is a man. There it is Ms. Alleyne sweeping she front door with a cabbage coconut broom, and I pass and playing I ain’t speak and she pull out one strand and ge me two lashes ‘cross my backside… I run home.
“Then my grandmother see me running and say ‘James what happen?’ You know I feel ’cause de two of them ain’t speaking, my grandmother gine go down there for she. I say, ‘Ms. Alleyne hit me’.
“Ms. Alleyne hit you?” he said his grandmother asked.
“She grabble my hand and car’ me down to Ms. Alleyne. That time them still ain’t speaking yuh know and she grabble my hand hard and when Ms. Alleyne see she coming, she say, ‘You know that nigga man pass me and think that me and he does flex!’ and my grandmother went to put two pun me for not speaking,” he†said as the people in the shop erupted in laughter.
As a messenger he began hanging around the spectacle technicians and very soon thereafter he caught on with what they were doing. But still doing odd jobs on the side like working in construction, painting and digging pipe traps.
Later he moved on to work with several other eye wear businesses; he spent 25 years at one then 11 in Bay Street near the old General Hospital. Later he decided to branch out on his own 18 years ago.
“I worked at a gentleman for a while and after sometime I decide I had enough of he… Then after I was in Bay Street I felt a lot of people get to know me so I could go anywhere and they would find me. Since I was working here (home) I don’t have to pay rent .. ‘and no gas fare’, shouted a customer patiently awaiting her time.
Straughn, who is now a father of four and married to Yvonne, for some 43 years has no plans on slowing down yet. He pointed out that he is a diabetic and of late had experienced some pain on his left side but said frankly he was still very strong and planned to live past his 100th birthday.
Broadly smiling he said his grandmother reached the ripe age of 95 and if the Lord continued to give him health and strength he would surely receive a visit from the Governor General.
“There will always be a place for businesses like mine because the way how things is nowadays people ain’t got a lot of money like before. So this guy, if he didn’t get he glasses repaired, what would cost him $30 would cost he $200 plus for a frame and that is if he could get something to fit his frame.
“I love my job in a sense because it brings in what I want, if you look at me I went to so many places in this world already you can’t believe it. I just come back from Greece, I’ve been to Australia, Israel, all through Europe … and all of this is because of this work. I go away every year and this year, God willing, I am going to South Africa, it is expensive but I love travelling.
“So slowing down is out of the question, I ain’t plan to slow down, I plan to go until the Lord say so,” said Straughn. [email protected]†