I wrote this a few years ago while visiting my Grandma, and thought I would share it as a bit of a tribute. She died about twenty minutes ago. It was peaceful.
The Tallest in the Room
I sat on the pale green carpet as they talked, lost in my own thoughts. Five minutes earlier, as they came in, my aunt and uncles had seemed shocked, saying thing like, “I hardly even recognized you!” and “Well, you’ve grown a bit since I saw you last.” I looked absentmindedly at my mom, who sat beside me, as I thought about this.
I finally had joined the ranks of most of the Miller family, now standing nearly six feet tall. Grandma Brown had been at least six feet two inches, and most of my family is about as tall as her. A few Miller women are “short” at around five feet eight inches, but they are a minority.
I looked around at those gathered in the room: my mom and dad, my grandma, my dad’s brother Ray, sister Sue, and brother-in-law Leroy. Then I leaned over to my mom and whispered, “You’re the shortest one here.” I occasionally tease my mom about being short, since I can see over the top of her head when she is wearing shoes and I am barefoot. She teases me about having big feet, even though one of mine is the same size as hers.
“Am I?” she responded, frowning a bit. “Aren’t I taller than Aunt Sue?” Mom is about half a foot shorter than me: you can tell she married into the family.
“No, she’s only a bit shorter than me.” I whispered back. We both looked at my aunt and then a thought struck me. “Grandma,” I said, shocked that I hadn’t noticed. “You’re taller than Grandma.” My grandma is under five feet tall, though she was taller before shrinking in old age.
“Oh, you’re right,” my mom said, and she smiled a bit as she returned to listening to the discussion: a spirited comparison of produce prices in various grocery stores, in Missoula, Seattle, and Chicago.
It is very peculiar, how a person’s height does not always match his or her stature. I am tall, but I feel average around other people, and I don’t find it difficult to blend into a group. My grandmother is short, but her personality is strong, and she has a commanding nature. She and her family in England had a very hard life. Her father had been a prisoner of war in Germany for three years during World War I: he and the other English P.O.W.s escaped only a few days before the armistice was signed. Grandma was only ten years old when the Depression hit England. Her family suffered a lot; she had to leave school right before her fourteenth birthday to work as a scullery maid. She has always been incredibly smart, but her parents could not afford to send her to school, despite the scholarship she was offered, since they needed her to earn money for the family. When the Second World War started, Grandma became a Land Army Girl, running the farms men had left when they went to war, so that the country’s food supply would not slow. She then left her home country behind to move to a small town in rural Montana with her new husband, an American GI, and their small son, my dad. It was imperative that Grandma develop a strong personality to survive; she left her family to move into a town where everybody knew everybody else (there were about a dozen residents, so it wasn’t hard), few understood her thick accent, and she had to learn to live with American customs as well as a new family. Grandma faced more challenges than most people in our generations can even imagine.
So I know why my mom and I had not originally noticed that she was taller than another in the room. Because in a way, she is not. Over a foot shorter than most of us, my grandma was the tallest in the room.