At my seventh-grade awards assembly, I received a trophy for being the smallest kid in the school. The size of the trophy reflected my accomplishment, and nobody envied my achievement. Being short meant being overlooked, literally, in crowded hallways and getting an occasional elbow in the ear in the lunch line.
I'm sure my English teacher had size in mind when she cast us in our roles for Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." She made me queen of the fairies and gave the role of king of the fairies to Craig Holdaway, one of the tallest boys in the school. We got a lot of laughs when I addressed my lines to his belt buckle and he talked to the top of my head. Good thing the play was supposed to be a comedy.
Usually I didn't find much to laugh about in being a shrimp. I felt that people often treated me as younger than I was or assumed that height was a measure of intelligence. Actually, it sometimes took a lot of ingenuity to accomplish my goals, such as getting a can from the top shelf in the supermarket or finding a sitting position that would let me see the movie over the heads of the basketball players seated in front of me.
My tall friends always assured me that tallness had its own disadvantages. When the history teacher asked a tough question, it was hard for them to scrunch down in their seats and disappear. Craig had trouble folding his six-foot-something frame into desks designed for five-foot-something students.
I did discover a few advantages to my size. Once a month the boys' and girls' gym classes combined for a dance. I was always assured of a dance partner, since I was the only girl shorter than Tony Hill, and he wouldn't dance with a girl who was taller than he was. Still, dancing with Tony just didn't make up for all the problems of being short.
The summer after I received my dubious seventh-grade award, I was old enough to get a job picking cherries. I worried that I might not be tall enough to qualify, just as I still wasn't tall enough to drive the bumper cars at the amusement park. (My head didn't reach the sign saying "You must be this tall to enter.") But size didn't seem to be a hindrance when I joined the cherry-picking squad. In fact, the owner of the orchard seemed rather pleased to see me.
The first day on the job, I was ready and waiting at the designated street corner at 4:30 a.m., bucket in one hand and sack lunch in the other. When my ride came, I climbed into the back of the pickup truck with the other sleepy-eyed kids. We made a few more stops before arriving at the orchard, then we climbed out and moved into the trees to start picking.
Sour cherries, like the ones in these orchards, could be picked without their stems, unlike the sweet Bings or Lamberts, so we could pick a lot faster. But we also got paid less, only 3 cents a pound compared with 5 or 6 cents for sweets. We set to work in a hurry, knowing we'd have to quit by midday when the cherries would be too warm and soft to pick.
At first we attacked the trees at random, but the veterans soon directed and organized us into a more efficient system. The older kids recorded and stacked the crates in the truck. Tall kids stood on the ground to clean the lower branches. Just about anybody could stand on the ladders to collect from the higher branches.
BUT the cherries at the top, nestled near the center of the tree, often couldn't be reached by ladder. These cherries required a specialist, someone small and agile who could squirm up to the top without damaging the branches. These cherries were all mine.
No matter how many big kids cleaned the lower branches or pushed ladders into the higher limbs, there would be a spot for me where few pickers could travel, up in the heights where only a few of us could go.
With a clear sense of my special calling, I would hang my bucket from my belt and make my way to the top of the tree to finish the task the big kids couldn't handle. As I picked from my perch, I could look out on the cherry trees stretching far into the distance and watch the sun rise on the other pickers below me, all placed in the positions best suited to them.
And so for one summer, I, the smallest kid in Springville Junior High, was at the top of my profession.