She just turned 13, and already she's 5'7 1/2." She outgrew her mother over a year ago and caught up with her grandmother last fall. But on Christmas Eve, when she was measured, she tried to stretch the numbers.
"Pretty soon," she said, grinning.
Her uncle self-consciously pulled himself to his full 6-foot-3. She intends to look him right in the eye someday.
"Pretty soon," she said again.
He wondered if this was just teen- age bravado, like the safety pin earring that was meant to freak out her grandpa. Or was it something else? If being tall was inevitable, was being really tall a kind of defense?
"You're so tall, you must play basketball," they'd always said to him, and every time he'd have to come up with an excuse, because, frankly, he hated basketball. Usually he'd mumble something about asthma, which usually got the subject changed.
But after a while it had become embarrassing to have to say that. He never understood why, just because he was tall, they automatically thought he was part Celtic.
They've got her playing basketball already -- center, of course, since she's the tallest. He didn't notice a whole lot of enthusiasm on her part, but in the age of Title IX, and with today's peer pressure, there was probably little chance she wouldn't play.
Which became clearer on Christmas morning when Santa Claus delivered her Guess jeans. These are beyond designer jeans. These are a kind of social calling card, a talisman even.
The telephone lines were burning immediately with who got them and who didn't, who was in and and who was not. Her uncle missed most of the names, but someone called Doozer seemed to be reporting the event for Seventeen magazine.
The modeling went on for ages: the raspberry sweatshirt with the silver belt overslung; the plaid shirt, gathered around the waist just so, exposing the leather triangle on the back pocket that proved these jeans were the real thing. It was quite a look.
But there was no way to avoid it -- her uncle had to tell the truth.
"They're too short," he said. Not fashionably short, the way trendy women flash a little instep above their pumps. These were what, in her grandpa's day, would have been called "high-water pants."
She looked down at her feet -- way down -- and tried to shorten herself. It didn't work.
Her uncle, realizing what he'd done, quickly suggested that she trade them in for a pair with a longer inseam.
"These aren't sized that way," said Mrs. Santa Claus. "The ones that come sized by length cost $20 more."
It transpired then that she'd taken all the tags off. And hadn't she worn them during breakfast? Tagless. Worn. Unreturnable? He thought he remembered that ploy. He knew how much, at 13, you want to look like your friends, and what it's like when the things they take for granted never quite fit. He'd lucked out only once that he could recall -- surely it had been a mistake -- with a pair of really fashionable low-rise hopsack pants, which he'd worn with this huge belt. He had looked ridiculous, but for once he had looked like everybody else.
"They'll probably shrink," said Mrs. Santa Claus. There was a long pause. "I guess we'll have to get the more expensive ones."
The uncle, the tall man with the big mouth, was relieved. He knew what a short-lived investment this was, since, as her grandpa says, she "grows like weeds." But did she know? Did she realize the lengths to which she would have to go? Would she be happy being 6 feet tall?
He had eventually discovered that a lot of men were as tall as he, many even taller. She would not discover that about women.
But perhaps there would be consolations. After all, she wouldn't have to search for shirts with 36-inch sleevelength, since she wouldn't wear a shirt and tie. And who knows how long a skirt is supposed to be? Maybe she could market it: Susan Anton has made a fortune; Verushka was in all the magazines. And what about the Olympics? Surely there would be a spotlight for a tall girl with a sense of humor.
At the very least, she'd find a dancing partner her own size -- something he never did. He began to worrry that she'd hook up with some guy who . . . played basketball.