I remember being a little kid and hugging my Grandma Hubner when her and my grandpa would come over and when they’d leave. She seemed so big to me. Like a giant, for a lady. She was maybe 6′. I remember I could barely get my arms around her. She wasn’t rotund or anything, but stocky.
As I got older she seemed to get smaller. Sure, if I’m growing then she doesn’t seem as big. But it was something else. It was as if the passing of time acted as a compressor and she seemed to be shrinking. I never got taller than 5′ 11″, yet I seemed to tower over her by the time I was 20. I’d hug her like always, but the space she took up seemed to be disappearing. Her wide shoulders seemed so much narrower than they used to be. Her height even waned as time passed. Dorothy Jean Hubner was shrinking.
It was as if with each hurdle of life she was lilting. Grandpa dies in 1986, shrinking. Heart attack in 1988, shrinking. Due to Glaucoma she loses the ability to drive in 1993, shrinking. Can no longer go upstairs at her home because of her eyesight, shrinking. In 2002 she has to go to a nursing home after nearly burning her house down by lighting her couch on fire with a cigarette ash, shrinking.
Those last couple of years she was alive it was like hugging a brittle bag of bones. Withering like the spruce trees in her former backyard, the one I used to run around in while my dad mowed the lawn.
My dad got my grandma’s height. He grew to be 6′ 4″ tall. I was only 12 when my grandpa Hubner died, so my memories of his build are foggy at best. What I remember about him most was his smile, that he always wore a suit no matter how hot it was, and that he smoked a pipe. Not at our house, but I could always smell it on his blazer when they’d come over. My dad was always tall and lanky. I can remember seeing black and white photos of him in a state park on a family outing when he was 17-years old. He looked like Slenderman in a Bergman film.
My dad was always an opposing figure. Not only was he tall, but his grimace would make certain friends of mine nervous(at least until they got to know him.) I never butted heads with my dad. First of all because he was too tall to reach, but second of all I wasn’t a complete idiot. I knew I never had a chance. I always did what I could to keep out of his line of fire. If he asked me to do something I’d do it.
On those rare occasions that I did something completely stupid and my mom felt the need to tell me “I’m gonna have to talk to your dad when he gets home” I was typically in my room shitting my pants, praying to some non-existent God. If the day didn’t proceed with my dad scaring the living Hell out of me I’d give my eternal soul to Jesus, God, or whoever wanted it. I’d straighten up, fly right, and all that jazz. Usually it ended with him opening my bedroom door when he got home, yelling at me and saying “No more R-Rated movies for you, dammit!”, and that was it. I felt the banning of R-rated films voided any agreement I had with the higher power.
I always thought that seeing my own kids get older and not as little kids would be the hardest thing about me getting older(second to maybe joint problems and my cellular breakdown.) But it hasn’t been that. Sure, once in a while I’ll think of something when the kids were little and I might get a little maudlin, but it passes quickly when I think about who they are now and that I don’t have to cut up anyone’s food anymore. But seeing my parents get old, that’s what’s been hard. And it really has only been just recently that the reality of their age has hit me.
It seems as if yesterday I was still standing behind my dad holding random tools handing them to him as he was fixing something in the house. A kid in a Snoopy t-shirt watching my dad fix my bike chain. Or him putting decals on my GI Joe jet on Christmas morning, all 230 of them. Or my dad taking me to the local municipal airport for an air show, only for me to ruin it because I was afraid our miniature schnauzer was going to run away because we took him with us(in my defense my dad didn’t even have him on a damn leash!) Or my dad showing me how to check the oil level in my first car, and yelling at me when I didn’t keep it clean enough for his tastes.
Even when I was in my 20s and a homeowner my dad somehow still felt like that giant I grew up looking up to. Coming over to help me fix things around the house. Him and I finishing the basement together(or more like me doing the heavy lifting and just doing what he said.) Letting me borrow his mower when mine took a shit, or just letting me borrow a little gas for mine when I ran out three rows from finishing. Weird projects like building a soundproof booth in my music room for recording vocals he was always down with helping me with. When I got into vinyl he offered up his garage, cicular saw, and sander when I needed to build a record cabinet.
But just like that, I’m buying back braces for my dad because he doesn’t have the internet. I’m going over and setting up their TV because he can’t figure out how to lock in a good picture. I’m telling him not to overdue it so he doesn’t hurt himself when doing yardwork. And when I hug him goodbye nowadays his shoulders seem narrower than they used to be. I can feel my dad getting smaller with every hug.
Not lilting like Dorothy Jean once did, but just bending a bit. Like a tree limb reaching for a spot in the sun. Not towering so much anymore, but standing idly by.
Still, he’s a giant to me. Always will be. Regardless of how small he may get.