Sunday, January 11, 2009


I have always depended on the kindness of tall people.

Whether they’re strangers or not, I am not shy about asking people to use their tallness to compensate for my lack of it. In grocery stores I’m grateful for the lanky stock boys managers frequently hire. Sometimes other shoppers will see me eying something on the top shelf and come to my rescue. Thankfully, most bookstores recognize the diversity of potential customers, and have installed ladders. Surely there is a rung of purgatory lined with shelves where the wicked under-tall stand on tiptoes and touch things with their fingers, but cannot quite reach far enough to grasp and retrieve. I am intimately acquainted with this rung.

When I met my husband Roger back in the early 60’s, I remember looking all the way up that six-foot two-inch frame of his and thinking, “I can’t marry him. He’s too tall.” He doesn’t believe me when I tell this story, but an irrational prejudice, which somehow made sense to my 18-year-old mind, led me to pair people up according to height. How fair would it be for a five-four girl such as I to marry a tall man? What would happen to all those Mickey Rooneys out there if only the willowy women were left? At the time I didn’t notice that this never bothered Mickey Rooney.

This crazy idea took me into some dreary circuitous paths until Roger and I gravitated back to each other again eight years later, when I, a little slow on the uptake, finally realized that the tall girls could look out for themselves. After all, they could reach that stuff on the top shelf without any help. In the meantime, I dated many of his buddies, all under six feet, and he and I, as fellow English majors, had a lot of classes together. Becoming fast friends, we realized that some wonderful things had developed between us without our even realizing it, and the subject of height never came up.

Our three children are all taller than I, for which I am grateful. They compassionately serve as reachers for me. My daughters, when pregnant, never look like it until eight months, but at six months, with my eight-pound babies developing, I always looked weeks overdue. All my immediate family were taller than I, including my mother and sister. My neighbor and dear friend Elaine is a six-foot tall woman, and one of our sons-in-law is six-four. Now my oldest granddaughter has passed me up.

For emergencies, when a tall person isn’t close by, I keep stools around the house so I can climb up to get things, despite my fear of falling. Roger tolerates the multiplicity of stools, but I have learned to stash them carefully so he doesn’t trip over them. (I also have a fear of extreme heights, or highdrophobia, as we call it at our house, a recent development that came with middle age, but that’s another story for another time.)

Height has always been the reverse problem for Roger. He can’t sleep in a bed with a footboard because he stubs his toes on it all night long, but I can sleep on couches only midgets would find appealing. In a movie theater I like to sit down front where my view isn’t blocked, but he’s always afraid people can’t see around him. We compromise by sitting on the side, and by not going to very many movies.

Buying an automobile that we can A] afford, and B] both drive comfortably requires extensive negotiation. As a person with a long body, Roger’s headspace inside a car is limited, but as a person whose shoulders and hips are remarkably close, I am frustrated by the visors that never quite come down far enough to fully block the blinding sun. With my insufficient leg length, I have few options for seat distance from the steering wheel. The ideal for Roger, on the other hand, would be if he could sit in the back seat and still drive the car. We each have to do a lot of rearranging when we get into the car after the other person has driven it.

Speaking of rearranging, that’s one of Roger’s most endearing compulsions. While some women might be thrilled that a spouse would care so deeply for order and organization, I tend to feel sabotaged. When cleaning closets in the bedroom or bathroom, he puts the tallest items, invariably the ones I use most frequently, at the back of the shelf just out of my reach.

In the kitchen, the top of the refrigerator and the range hood are always dusty because I can’t see them and never notice. Roger empties the dishwasher and clutters the counter with clean things, that inevitably get mixed up with dirty things, because his stiff back doesn’t allow him to bend all the way down to put things away in those lower cupboards. Many of the cleaning tools in the broom closet have extenders or extra long handles so I can use them. We won’t even go into the grizzly scene at our house when a light bulb needs to be changed.

With all these tall people around me, it is easy to feel isolated and even handicapped. It was a happy day, therefore, when our six-foot two-inch tall son brought home a girl about whom he had become quite serious, and not only is she just right for him, she’s also just right for me. We see eye-to-eye, literally, and I’m not feeling so alone anymore. Heather is now our daughter-in-law, and lack of height is only one of many things we have in common. Like me, she has always depended on the kindness of tall people.


jwise said...

Well, it's nice to know you didn't think I looked pregnant until 8 months! :) If ever the topic of how tall my parents are comes up, I find I always follow it up with, "and she hates being short." :) But, as you point out, tall people and short people are a good combination!

Anonymous said...

Heather and I have similar dilemmas. Random people have asked me to get things down off the top shelves at Wal-Mart. I'm embarrassed to be tall sometimes.