A (Mostly) Truthful Tall Tale

By Ernie Witham   |   April 5, 2022

I’ve always wanted to be taller – I still remember getting measured for my high school graduation robe. “Five feet, eleven and three-quarters inch,” the gown guy yelled out to the gown sizing note taker.

“Come on,” I said. “Put me down for six feet, willya?” But no. Gown measuring administrators take their measurements seriously. Heaven forbid that my Sachem’s gown might be a quarter-inch too long. Sachem? You ask… That’s right, we were the Laconia High School Sachems. Sachem is the Iroquois word for the chief of a tribe. Still, chief or no chief, the robe people held fast. So, I showed them my driver’s license, which stated my height as six-foot, zero inches. In their eyes I could see: “Move along Shorty.”

Ironically, they listed me as tall under my senior photo in the Laconia High School yearbook, which came out a few weeks later. Actually, they listed me as tall and dark. Not tall, dark, and handsome. Just tall and dark. There’s probably an Iroquois word for tall and dark that means one who can hide behind a thin, not-all-that robust bush at night.

I was dealt another belittling blow later on in life when I went for a yearly physical and the physician’s assistant who weighed me and checked my height said: “Five feet, ten-and-a-half inches.”

“Wait? What? I’m six feet tall.”

He checked it again. It came out the same. “Let me put my shoes on.”

“You already have your shoes on. You know, a lot of people shrink a bit when they get older. Could be your spine is compressed.” His scale-side manner left something to be desired.

The final blow in life came when my two stepsons, Jon and Patrick, hit their teens and soared to six feet, four inches tall. I used to stand on my tip toes in family photos, until my ankles gave out. “A lot of people’s ankles give out when they get older,” I read on WebMD. “Knees, too. And hips.” Swell.

I used to be more coordinated than I am today, too. As a kid I played baseball, football, tennis. No, not much basketball, of course, but thanks for asking. 

I also used to climb trees when I was still in my formative years. They grow close together in New Hampshire, so I would climb as high as I could, walk out onto a branch and jump to the next tree. Sometimes, I could go six or seven trees, before “coming up short” and crashing to the forest floor covered in broken branches and pine pitch. 

But I have had a bit of an upswing in the height department. Terri thinks I’m tall. “You must be at least six feet,” she said one day at Lotusland. I was tempted to show her my old New Hampshire paper driver’s license, but every time I take it out of my wallet, I release another moth, so I just adjusted my hat to sit a little higher on my head, lifted my heels off the ground a bit, and smiled.

Terri has been working in Lotusland’s amazing Japanese Garden since the early days of its creation. She knows every tree, plant, stone, and drip line. She has been teaching a group of us the art of pruning niwaki – Japanese-styled pines, junipers, and maples – as well as shaping everything else in the Japanese Garden in a traditional style. At first, she was a bit skeptical of my talents.

“I do a lot of bonsai pruning, and I have only killed a few of them,” I told her with pride. “Some of them have ended up missing a limb or two, of course.” 

So, at first I was mainly weeding and raking, but slowly I proved myself. Now Terri often gives me the tall trees to prune. There are ladders, but after tripping over a deer statue and sliding down the slope to the pond a few times, Terri suggested I remain earthbound. I was tempted to tell her about my former days of jumping from tall tree to tall tree as a possible pruning technique, but thought maybe that story was better left unsaid. For now, I’ll try to stand straight, reach as high as I can, buy thicker shoes, and dream big. 


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