Born in the generation when the average woman was 5'3' tall, my mother grew to a lofty height of 5'11". My stepfather's pet name for her was "Shorty."
Actually this first-born child of her Scots-Canadian family came by her altitude honestly.
Her father was above average height and slim, but it was the men in her mother's family who were the rangy, strapping log splitters. Amazingly, their strong, tall genes have carried now into the fifth generation. Those genes touched each of us on the way down.
I was 5'9" by the time I was twelve and I was miserable. I was not just the tallest girl in the seventh grade, I was the tallest person. It was not a happy distinction. At the age when boys were suddenly less disgusting, it was all the adorable, petite girls who were getting their attention. I was suddenly a gawky stranger to the boys that I'd played baseball with just the year before. The rare boy with the guts to ask me to dance usually smeared my chin with his Brylcreem-ed hair. Many of those stubby boys didn't hit their growth spurts until high school when I could finally look them in the eye again.
My mom really tried. She tried telling me tall was better, while I watched the perky girls become the cheerleaders and wear the first high heels. The boys all called them cute, a word that for the rest of my life became synonymous with small.
Eventually my 69 inches paid off. In the early 1960's the airline s raised their height limits. Jet planes were the new norm and they were bigger than the propeller driven aircraft. In the era of the prop planes, stewardesses had been small the cute, perky ones. Wearing 3-inch heels put me at six foot and on the few occasions that I worked the little Convair 240 or the DC6, I had to duck to walk through the door.
But as planes grew, the flight crews needed to be taller, stronger. A stewardess under 5'2" who weighed a mere hundred pounds was going to have trouble opening an exit door on a 747. Although the airlines in those days maintained strict weight standards, the height requirements were gradually raised. I think when I left in the mid 70's it was six feet. . . before the 3-inch heels.
Imagine my surprise then to have married a man an inch shorter than myself. He, however, was so secure that he even encouraged me to wear my highest heels. (I did wear only one inch heels under my wedding gown and I think I took them off completely for some of the formal pictures. I guess I wasn't as secure as Tom was.)
By the time we began our family, I assumed, with good reason, that our children would be substantially smaller than my family. Tom, his father and brother were all the same size and his mother was downright short. I was therefore quite surprised when the pediatrician we had then, told me how to predict our children's adult height. "It's a simple formula," he said. "Double their height at age two and you've got the number." No measuring their wrist bones with calipers, no fancy height/weight chart predictions. Hmm.
At this point, my daughter, Alix, was almost four and Bart was an infant. I raced home to check Alix's baby book and she had been 36 and a half inches at age two! Six foot one? My little girl? Yikes. The only way I knew how to deal with that prospect was to begin telling her how wonderful it is to be tall, and that tall was definitely better. And although tall had turned out reasonably well for me, I knew all about those tough years she had ahead and I wanted her equipped to handle it. I needn't have worried. She finished at a perfect 5'7", the height I'd always thought was ideal. The doc's formula missed by five inches.
When Bart was two he was 34 inches tall. At the time I thought, okay, he'll be the same as his dad. Not the end of the world, but I had my mother's six foot brothers in the back of my mind. Well, the doc and his quack formula were wrong again . . . by seven inches. Bart topped off at 6'3" and delighted in bending down to tease his dad. Those strong Scots-Canadian genes were hanging in there.
Now generation five has two kids on the growth charts two kids with two parents who are 5'7". Alix didn't wear very high heels at her wedding either, but her Ian is a grand guy in every other way. And the formulas? Fuggedaboudit. The Princess of Boston remains in the 99th percentile on those growth charts, but I'm placing my money on her finishing at 5'7". However, Malcolm at age three is a different story.
Malcolm arrived in this world at ten pounds, eleven ounces and 23" long. That chubby baby is now a long, lean boy who looks like all those generations of compelling, blond strongmen. Malcolm's feet are long and skinny, destined to hold up a large frame if necessary.
It's going to be interesting to watch and I'll be surprised if he winds up in the family 5'7" clan.
Should that happen, however, I'll fit right in. Those early extra inches are gone and it appears I'm going to spend my latter years at my ideal height after all. And Shorty? Well her 93 years have also taken their toll. I wonder if there's such a thing as a club for people 5'7"? Our clan could start our own chapter.
Marcy O'Brien can be reached at MOBY.32@ Hotmail.com.