I had three choices: I could drag over the step stool that was across the aisle, climb to the highest shelf, and reach up and snatch the bottle of house brand Vinegar and Oil salad dressing. Or I could wander the supermarket to uncover a clerk. Maybe, I could catch the first tall person I'd see and plead for help.
Because I'm prone to disaster scenarios, I envisioned bitty me atop the stool, losing my footing, hanging onto the shelf itself, hauling it and its contents down with me, and falling flat into a sea of Caesar, Italian, and Ranch.
Instead, I chose option three and called out to a man who entered the aisle: "Tall person!"
He pointed to his chest, indicating he was unsure if I was referring to him, or if he had encountered a demented elder mistaking him for a wayward son.
"Could you get that bottle of salad dressing?" I said, pointing upward and smiling to make sure he understood my mirth. "I'm horizontally challenged."
With the ease of a basketball player, he put one hand around the neck of my prey and handed it to me. "No problem," he said, likely relieved I was sane.
Such episodes describe the life of an adult under five feet tall and shrinking. The towering supermarket shelf is just one inconvenience we wee ones endure. The other side includes the adjectives assigned to our stature. For example, this scene in the women’s locker room at a former health club: I was at the mirror, putting on makeup, nude except for a towel around my torso. She was to my right, smiling down at me. A tall woman, five ten, I’d guess.
“You’re so cute!” she had said. “How tall are you?”
I shifted to the left; afraid she might next pat my head, as if I were a puppy or toddler. “I used to be four eleven and a half, but now I’m four nine,” I said. “You shrink as you get older.” As soon as the words left my mouth, images of Dorothy's Wicked Witch rode into my brain. Instead of a broomstick, I saw the crone dissolve into a puddle with only her pointy hat remaining.
I suppose by now I should be used to cuddly responses to my height. After all, I’m 77, and have always been the shortest in a group. Early class photos are evidence: first row, first seat, and feet barely touching the floor.
“You were so cute,” that’s how my best friend Ruth remembers me in sixth grade when we first met. “Just like a doll.” We have been close friends for more than 60 years. Ruth says she’s shrinking, too, but she’s still at least five nine.
I don’t remember it bothering me in grade school, but I think by high school the words started to chafe, and the older I got, the more irritating “cute” and “doll” became. If it were up to me, I’d select comments about my personality, not my dimensions.
To be honest, I've never felt handicapped as a short woman. I do my best work sitting, where size is irrelevant. Yes, I have to perch on a phone book to get my hair shampooed, and I have a hard time at the movies if someone tall fills the seat in front. And, there's that supermarket thing.
Now that I think of it, one reason I fell for my first husband, who at six feet proposed despite my size, was because he thought me smart, clever, and funny. As for me, I loved his tallness – believing I had gained stature, just by hanging on his arm.
But from the beginning there were problems with our differences in altitudes. “Can’t hear you,” I'd shout up as we held hands walking down the street. And when we danced, his arm around my shoulder, my nose at his navel, we were comic.
My sweetheart of a second husband was a perfect five seven. No communication or waltz snags. While he did throw in a few “you’re so cute” endearments, I knew it was my accomplishments he bragged about to friends.
I've been a widow for three years now, and am thinking I'd like a male companion -- not a husband, just a buddy for early dinners, TV watching, and chaste spooning. If he's somewhere in my age range, his height has likely dipped a few inches, too. Fortunately, for the three activities I've just identified, that shouldn't be a problem.