SHORT Cover Reveal by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Here is what most people today don’t know about me: I was very short as a kid.
I was the smallest girl in my class every year until seventh grade.
I was positioned up front in all of the school photos. I bought my clothing in the little kids’ department and didn’t advance like my friends to the pre-teen section of the store.
But even though I was little, I was athletic and the only girl in the sixth grade class who was close to qualifying for the President’s Physical Fitness Award. What separated me from the badge was that I couldn’t throw the softball the required number of feet. I always came up, well, short.
My strongest memory of that time was the day the Principal came to class to get me. We were all afraid of Mr. Hockstatter. Every day he wore a narrow black tie and a white, short sleeve shirt, black pants, and uncomfortable looking shoes. He had square glasses and a flat-top haircut that was severe. The Beatles and mod fashion were happening all around us but he wasn’t buying it. I think he had been a Marine.
Principal Hockstatter didn’t say anything as he led me from the classroom outside onto the blacktop playground. He had a big, wind-up tape measurer and a canvas sack filled with softballs. I carried my blue nylon coat. I was both special and terrified. It was a great feeling.
It started to rain. This was Oregon so that didn’t mean much.
Girls were not allowed to wear pants at school back then. I had on cotton tights and a dress. I slipped into my shiny blue coat.
Principal Hockstatter set down the sack and rolled out the measuring tape to mark the distance I would need to reach to qualify for the President’s Physical Fitness Award. He then handed me a softball and instructed me to throw.
It landed far short of the end of the tape measurer. He looked concerned, but not defeated. He said, “You’re throwing like a girl.” I nodded. He then said, “No one has taught you the right way to throw.”
I nodded again because I really had no idea what he was talking about. He said, “I want you to snap your wrist when you release the ball.”
In my memory, the rain started to come down harder.
He said, “Go again.” I tried to snap my wrist when I let go of the ball. We both watched as the white sphere landed even further away from the end of the measuring tape than my first attempt.
He said, “Do it again.” I did. This time I concentrated on making my wrist really snap and the ball hit the ground only a few feet in front of me.
When Principal Hockstatter next spoke I could hear something new in his voice. He was getting frustrated. He said, “Put your whole shoulder into it. Start from the shoulder.” I asked, “What about the wrist snap?” He said, “Do both.”
I put my shoulder into it. It caused me to spin around and I almost lost my balance. The ball flew off in the wrong direction and hit the swings. Principal Hockstatter shouted, “Not that much shoulder.”
I threw another series of balls trying to use my shoulder and the wrist snap. It wasn’t working. Plus I was getting tired. Principal Hockstatter finally said, “Watch me. Watch my arm. My follow through.”
He stepped back and effortlessly tossed the ball. It sailed through the air and hit the back fence. He looked happy for just a sliver of a second. Then he turned to me.
“Your elbow is also part of this. Use your elbow.” I stared at my elbow as if I’d never seen it before. I said, “Is my problem my elbow?”
He didn’t answer.
I concentrated on my elbow and I threw the ball again. I was getting worse.
There is a smell when the rain first hits the blacktop and I’ve always liked it. I tried to think about that as Mr. Hockstatter gathered up all the balls and brought them back. He said, “I want you to take a running start. I want you to run to this line and then just heave the ball. Put everything in your body into the throw.”
I walked all the way to the edge of the playground and then took off in a sprint. I was the second fastest runner in my class. Only Sara Bingham was faster. We could beat all the boys.
But running and throwing didn’t work for me and I was way past the starting line before I released the ball. It sailed into the air and it landed over the measuring tape. I turned around and Mr. Hockstatter was smiling until I said, “I cheated. I crossed the line. I went too far.”
The Principal picked up the measuring tape and reeled it back in like a fishing pool. He said, “We’re done.”
We walked in silence toward the school doors and his face was wet, I’m pretty sure from the rain. I said, “Thank you for trying to help me be better.” He said, ““You’re so little. I guess you just don’t have the arm strength. But I doubt you’re going to make your living throwing a ball so don’t worry about it.”
The summer before six grade I was a munchkin in the play The Wizard of Oz at the University and it changed everything. So I found myself suddenly saying, “I’m not worried because I’m planning on being a writer.”
Mr. Hockstatter laughed for the first time. I laughed, too, because laughing does that. It spreads.
The next year I grew six inches. And I still threw like a girl, whatever that even means. Now when I remember my morning with the principal what I really believe is my size didn’t matter to me back then.
I’ve written a book about those days. I titled it SHORT.
Holly Goldberg Sloan was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and spent her childhood living in Holland, Istanbul, Turkey, Washington, DC, Berkeley, California, and Eugene, Oregon. After graduating from Wellesley College and spending some time as an advertising copywriter, she began writing and directing family feature films, including Angels in the Outfield and Made in America. Counting by 7s, her first novel with Penguin, was a New York Times Bestseller. The mother of two sons, Holly lives with her husband in Santa Monica, California.