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A WINDOW ON THE WORLD

Do they really make glass by melting down sand?

I sat down at my typewriter - computer, actually - and considered what I might write about. There's no shortage of things to write about, but a writer has to settle on one idea. I looked up from the keyboard for a minute and idly stared out my window.

"What wonderful, absolutely amazing material," I thought to myself as I stopped looking through the window and started thinking about glass. There may be nothing we so routinely take for granted that is more important.

That this material we can see through, which stands between us in our homes and the threatening outside world, makes a loud noise when it breaks is, as Walt Whitman said of a mouse, "miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels."

We double-lock and bolt our doors when we leave the house or go to bed at night, but all there really is between the thieves and our treasures is that thin, fragile pane. We would be constantly vulnerable if windows didn't register the kind of high decibels that discourage thieves when they break. Eventually, someone will probably invent glass that doesn't make a noise when it breaks, but it'll never catch on.

It's absolutely incredible that we can see through something so fragile in one way, and yet so strong and durable in another. We have windows that were put in when our house was built in the 1860s. It's a good thing windows don't get harder to see through as they get older.

Were it not for glass, we'd still be driving open cars. We couldn't sit inside a dark metal box on wheels without seeing where we were going, cruising down the highway at 60 mph. Imagine a house, office, factory or a schoolroom without glass. Imagine a bar without a glass. Or people without glasses.

Here's this transparent material they can do optical tricks with so that when we put two little oval pieces of it in front of our eyes, held in place by a metal frame, we can see better.

Were it not for glass, Thomas Edison never would have invented the light bulb. Nothing is more amazing about the property of glass than the fact that if we coat one side of it with a mercury solution, the material we could previously see through becomes opaque. Suddenly, we can see our own likenesses reflected in a mirror. Without mirrors, we could never have been able to see ourselves as others see us.

No historian has been able to put a finger on when glass was invented. In London, the British Museum has an example of glass 5,000 years old. The earliest glass was probably made in the Middle East in places like Syria and Palestine, because sand is a principal ingredient. There's no mention of glass in the Bible. It's best if we don't worry over how they make glass out of sand.

The Indians didn't have glass when the Pilgrims got here. Early settlers built a glass factory in Virginia in the early 1600s and started putting windows in their houses.

When I was in the third and fourth grades, the boys often got into fights on the playground, but even back then, we had a code of honor; it was considered cowardly to hit a boy who wore glasses. It was OK to be mean to him, though. We often called little Eddie Williams "Four Eyes."

In my teenage years, it was considered unfortunate if a girl needed glasses. Dorothy Parker made that memorable with her famous couplet:

"Men seldom make passes

At girls who wear glasses."

More recently, glasses have been turned into a fashion accessory people wear, not because they need them to see but for effect. There are Hollywood stars who wear dark glasses in the dark. So much for glass.

Tribune Media Services

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