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The incredible shrinking columnist

No matter how well you think you’ve prepared for catastrophe, the actual event can still catch you off guard, like a flooding creek overflowing your sandbag barrier.

At my last doctor’s visit the nurse said, “Step up on the scale. The doctor wants to check your height and weight.”

My weight was within a pound of my morning weight measured on my bathroom scale. But my height? Had she read my measurement  correctly? Had I misheard her? I was too shocked to question her.

I’ve gone through life at five foot seven inches. Says so on my passport and driver’s license. Though I know from reading that elderly people shrink a bit. My Aunt Irene was visual proof of that. The last time I saw her, she was 93 and her silver curls hardly reached my biceps as we stood side by side for a departure photo.

When the nurse declared my height to be five foot three inches, I couldn’t believe it.

Where had the four inches gone and when did they go?

Thinking back, I’d been noticing how much closer my chin seemed to be to my oatmeal bowl each breakfast. Resting my forearms on the table is awkward; my shoulders hunch to fit in. I even avoid sitting at my desk — preferring the kitchen table — because it, too, has risen until I need a two inch thick cushion to give me a comfortable perspective on what I’m writing.

This phenomenon has me resembling Lily Tomlin as Edith Ann on Rowan and Martin. Pretending to be “five years old and a little bit more,” Tomlin squirmed about in an oversized wooden porch rocker, her legs straight out in front.

Plenty of markers over recent months should have tipped me off to my diminishing height: The way I must hitch the truck seat forward after one of the kids has driven it; or the dashboard rising until I can scarcely peek over the steering wheel just as comedians stereotypically ridicule little old lady drivers.

My grandchildren have grown taller. Where once I could look over their heads as we hugged, now I find myself gazing past their ears. In the kitchen I’ve moved often-used cups and plates to a lower shelf. In the basement I don’t stack firewood as high as I did other summers.

Months ago my belly button vanished in cascading rolls of skin somewhat like a collapsing cup hikers pack on field trips, while my hips have sprawled lending me the squat stable silhouette of a chess piece.

Much as I lament my shrinking stature, losing four inches has a few advantages. With my plate closer to my mouth there’s less distance over which to dribble food. A standard baby bib will do sidelining the jeweler’s apron I had been tying on at meals.

Mini skirts, had any ever taken up space in my closet, could now replace cocktail gowns.

Far from slacks being too short, I can roll up the cuffs like Huckleberry Finn preparing to wade the crick for crawdads. After months of wear, I’ll be able to trim off several inches for color-matched fabric to reinforce threadbare seams.

If I were a gardener, I’d be in closer proximity for smelling the roses or identifying insects among the cabbages, and have to bend less to hoe weeds.

For years I’ve been expecting fading eyesight, aching joints, thinning hair. But never the loss of four inches.

— Claudette Sandecki

Claudette Sandecki began as a writer by penning letters to the editor of various newspapers. In 1988, she was invited to write a weekly column, “Through Bifocals,” for The Terrace Standard in Terrace, British Columbia. She aspires “to write funny like David Sedaris or Dave Barry.”

Reflections of Erma