Column: My vertical challenge and passing the beans

Growing up, I always thought height was a virtue. My mother would say of someone, “He’s tall,” in a voice that made you know this was a good thing to be. Unfortunately, I never acquired that elevated status. Indeed, I never quite made it to 5-foot-8, stalling at 5-foot-7.5.

My father, the Republican, was a short man, about 5-foot-4. He used to say of me, when I was young, “He’ll eat beans off my head.” I don’t know where he got that expression, which has always struck me as an odd thing to say.

I suppose I inherited my shortness from my father, along with a lazy eye and flat feet. And I seem to have passed my vertical handicap onto my three children, none of whom made it past 5-foot-8.

When I met the pianist, a long time ago, I was conscious of the fact that she was higher than me. I would bemoan the disparity, and she would reassure me, “You’re not short, you’re medium.” That made me feel a little better, though truth be told, not a lot.

Meanwhile, I’ve noticed that the gap between the pianist and me seems to be increasing.

“Stand up straight,” she will say.

“I am,” I tell her.

One day it dawned on me. She’s not growing, I’m shrinking. First I lost the crucial half and fell to 5-foot-7 even. Then 5-foot-6.5, again clinging to that extra half-inch as if it made a difference. Now, I fear, it too may be gone. I’m not sure, however, and don’t intend to find out.

The great poet, Robert Frost, once said that if he had to choose between increasing the height of people in New Hampshire or making the mountains taller, he would choose the latter. “The only fault I find with old New Hampshire,” he wrote, “is that her mountains aren’t quite high enough.” I disagree. Our mountains, beginning with Monadnock, are just fine, thank you, but I could use a few more inches.

As the years passed and I acquired grandchildren, I took to marking off their growth by standing side-by-side to see how high they came up on my left side. That isn’t what you would call precise measuring, but it’s easier than carrying a yardstick, and it suited my purpose. The oldest grandchild, now fifteen, has moved up past waist, past shoulder, past ear, and continuing past top of head. At long last, it looks like a member of my family will attain the virtue of being tall. I guess it’s time to pass the beans.

Joseph D. Steinfield is a partner in the Boston law firm, Prince Lobel Tye LLP. He lives in Boston and Jaffrey. He may be reached at

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