In 1969, my first grade classmates and I shuffled into the gymnasium like little lost sheep and waited for our turn to have our class photo taken by the big city photographer.
The Grade 7 students were just wrapping up their photo session and the teacher was chastising one of the boys for using an offensive hand gesture during their last take. The photography set up was simple. Most students stood, while a handful sat in chairs down in the front.
When it was our turn, we moved closer to the set and awaited the instructions from our teacher on where to stand. “You can sit in the middle and hold the sign,” my teacher said to me while handing me the white sign with the interchangeable letters that denoted the year, our grade, and the teachers’ name.
I was thrilled with the assignment! I got to hold the sign! I knew Teacher loved me the most!
I was blissfully unaware that the Kid Who Held The Sign for the class photo was generally the shortest person in class. At the age of five, my fate was set in stone: I would forever be the girl who held the sign OR sit very close to someone else holding the sign.
I would never have the opportunity to stand in the second row during the class picture. As the years progressed, I grew only a handful of inches and at the age of 12 I was a fully formed five-foot-one-inch human being, destined to a life where every pair of jeans would need to be professionally hemmed.
Having 29-inch legs is a challenge when shopping for any clothing. I recall being so excited when I found something called ‘petite’ that catered to my Lilliputian stature.
Life is difficult as someone who is vertically challenged. Society caters to those that fall into the average height category, leaving some of us without access to things that you tall people take for granted.
“Why didn’t you get the crackers when you were shopping?”
“Because they were out of reach.”
“They were too expensive?”
“No, they were literally too high on the shelf at the store, I couldn’t reach them!”
When I was younger, I would dare to climb up the shelves at the grocery store and grab the item on the top shelf. These days, I try to flag down someone who is taller to assist me: “Psst! Can you grab something for me?” I haven’t had anyone say no at this point.
Even appliances are manufactured with the average heighted person in mind. In January, we purchased a new washer and dryer. I insisted on getting another top loading washer, but I wanted it to have a HUGE wash drum so that I could easily launder quilts. The first time I washed a load of smaller items I realized the error of my ways: I could not physically reach to the bottom of the drum to retrieve socks. My arms simply were not long enough to grab the remaining items to transfer to the dryer.
The solution was a set of Teflon tipped barbeque tongs that I repurposed from the kitchen utensil drawer. The tongs now hang beside my washing machine.
Don’t worry, I have another set of extra long tongs for the kitchen to assist me with getting coffee cups, cans, and cereal boxes down from the second shelf. What if I get bonked on the head you ask? It hasn’t stopped me yet!
Sometimes, I dream of being a tall person and it’s heavenly. I wish I could be taller, if only for one day just to see what the world looks like from up there. I am not asking to become a giant; I’m just asking to be 5’5” or 5’7” for one day. One day where I can set my tongs aside and be average. One day where I can move my driver’s seat back from the ‘if this airbag deploys and you face is this close, you can kiss your nose goodbye’ zone. One day where I do not have to roll up the sleeves on my sweater three or four turns. Just one day of being average.
Some people dream of winning the lottery. I dream of not having a panic attack when I see a sign that reads, You Must Be This Tall To Ride.
Judy Kucharuk is a lover of sarcasm, witty people and footnotes.