"I want you to write it up as the best party of the year," said Ed Egan only half-jokingly. "I want everyone to feel bad for not being here."
Yesterday, Ed and Mary Louise Egan threw what might be called a semi-exclusive Christmas party at their Silver Spring home - that could be epitomized by the first Santa Claus to arrive and regale the adults and children there. In the end there would be two Santas to do just that, but the first was 50 inches tall. And that was not at all unusual yesterday.
The hosts - like the second Santa - are of average height, but many of the invited yesterday happen to be members of the Little People of America (LPA), an organization founded in the late '50s by actor Billy Barty to find "solutions to the unique challenges of little people."
And it isn't always easy being very, very small. It means a lifetime of accommodations. Of buying clothes and then having to make severe alterations, as many of the guests yesterday said they have to do. Of finding jobs that don't discriminate.
"Like," explained Ed Egan, "like a dwarf cannot punch Floor 19 on an elevator." Ed Egan knows about these problems. He has seven children of average height, but his 10-year-old daughter, Cara, is a dwarf.
LPA, however, is primarily a social organization, (although it does have an adoption committee for what it calls "Little Littles"), which admits as members people 4 feet 10 and under. In fact there was a brief meeting of the local membership at the party, co-chaired by chapter president Charles Eyler and district director Ruth Williams.
"Any of you girls and fellas want to go to Hollywood?" asked Ruth Williams, as she looked around the living room. "I received a communication from the producer of the movie 'Tom Thumb.' And they're looking for a young man. He shouldn't be any taller than 30 inches."
The membership looked around, and shrugged. Thirty inches is hard to come by. "Although," said Robin Zeltner who is 3 feet 7, "Although I do know a guy in another district who's 2 feet 7 inches. And he's a bouncer in a bar."
Like a lot of the members, Zeltner prefers the term "little person" to dwarf or midget (which are themselves two different states of being. A midget is also small - but proportional. And Dr. Madeleine Harbison, a geneticist who also was there, says the midgets can grow into their 40s - while dwarfs stop growing when average people stop).
Asked if little people mind when average-sizers bend down to talk to them, Zeltner shook her head. "My philosophy about that is that it's the way people do it, and not what they do. My mother calls me 'Peanut,' and I don't mind. My parents always had their heads on straight, and so I do too. But a lot of little people can't deal with it."
There was, for instance, a time when Zeltner couldn't deal with iot either - when she was young. "I never would admit it. I'd always say I'm just like everyone else.Adolescence - especially adolescence - that's the worst period for a little person. I didn't mix as well as I should have. In high school it was very difficult to have my own peer group. I'd find myself hanging out with all my parents' friends."
Zeltner is now 24 and a legislative assistant on the Hill, but 11 years ago, when she first joined the LPA, she had never seen another little person before.
"I went to a short stature symposium (at Johns Hopkins) and for the first time I was a part of things instead of being set apart! I could see people eye-to-eye - it really was an incredible thing!"
"I tell you," she said, smiling, "Now that I'm grown up, it really doesn't matter any more. I do have my own peer group. I used to be very pushy - I guess that was it. I used to have a feeling that I had to push my way in to be accepted. But now I don't even think I'm handicapped."
No one there seemed to feel particularly handicapped. Charles Eyler is an accountant for an insurance company in Hagerstown. "I'm 4 feet 6 inches," he began.
"Bragger," snorted Ruth Williams. Unlike Eyler who married another little person whom he met at an LPA reunion, Ruth Williams is married to a man who is 5 feet 9 inches. Asked how they manage to kiss, she replied, "Where there's a will there's a way to everything. And I'm not clarifying that."
Not every short person there was a dwarf or a midget. Lynn Park, who works on the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, is 4 feet 6 as a result of the congenital disease, osteogenesis imperfecta, and she's in a wheelchair, although she is walking more and more lately.
"For me, shortness was as much of a hassle as being in a wheelchair," she said. "There was more subjective plan from being small. Partly from being disproportional. Ego. I don't know. The longing we all have to be lithe, and skinny and tall. Est has helped me a lot to come to terms with myself."
She laughed easily, then said, "You know, in this society it's okay if you go off the norm, but only if you do it graciously . . . I think those teen-age years should be outlawed."
At this, Robin Zeltner nodded her head vigorously. "Oh Yeah."
"I'll take today instead of yesterday," Park continued, "yesterday instead of last year."
"Everyone," Zeltner concurred, "Everyone always says they'd like to be 16 again. For me - no way."
It was Park's turn to nod. "You'd have to pull me kicking and screaming into the past."