I can remember as clear as day the exact moment when I was made aware of my size. It was in the summer of 1956. I was 14 years old at the time and standing in our kitchen in Manville, talking to my boyfriend Ronny and his friend Norman, when in the course of conversation I referred to myself as being “a big bruiser,” whereupon both guys nearly doubled over laughing. Stunned at their reaction I asked, “What’s so funny?”
They then proceeded to inform me that at just over 5 feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, I was far from being either “big” or a “bruiser.” You could have knocked me over with a feather had I not been, well, such a big bruiser, at least in my own mind.
Self images are amazing things.
In my case, as the oldest child in the family, and with my mother only 4 feet, 11 inches, herself, my size was always remarked upon. I was sooo tall, and my feet were sooo big! Big to the point where if they grew any bigger I would be wearing the shoeboxes. Even as a grown, middle-age adult (and we all know that feet continue to grow as we get older) my then elderly mother, while admiring my new shoes, asked what size they were. When I replied “size 7,” she literally gasped and clutched her chest in shock, looking like she was “having the big one.”
To complicate matters even further, it just so happened that I really was tall as a child. Not “Taller than you are now?” as a co-worker once facetiously asked when we were discussing height, but taller than a lot of others my age, at least until I turned 11 or 12 and stopped growing. And I know the whole tall thing wasn’t all in my head because twice as an adult, first time was when I ran into an old classmate and then again a few years later with another old classmate’s mother, neither of them recognized me, remarking once they could finally place me, “What happened? You used to be tall and blonde.”
Yeah, well that blonde hair thing eventually turned to brown, and finally to gray, but the tall and strong stuff pretty well remained a fixture in my psyche, and so life went on.
Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. Or in my case, I thought I was big and strong, therefore I was, and so I carried on accordingly.
Last weekend I was having a discussion on this subject with my daughter Barbara when I suddenly remembered a conversation that had taken place years earlier during my country line dancing days. I don’t recall exactly what we were talking about when Pete Tessier, with whom I was speaking, looked down at me with one eyebrow raised and declared, “You know, you talk mighty tall for someone your size,” and it made me laugh. Still does.
Being of average intelligence and not given to magical or delusional thinking, I am rationally fully aware that in real life I am built kind of low to the ground. Yet deep down inside, size be damned, I am still possessed of a Jack-the-giant-killer mentality and prone to thinking I can do almost anything I set my mind to ... and I pretty much can.
Age has of course reared its ugly head and slowed me down some, causing me to say just yesterday while hauling bags of mulch using my newly modified method, “It’s not like I’m 75 anymore.” And then I laughed, because although I know it’s true, deep down inside where it really counts, I’m not truly believing it just yet. The brash, self-assured me is, against all odds, still alive and kicking.
Some things never change.
Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.