Preserving old and new heights

Marney Rich Keenan
The Detroit News

By the time I got home from a weekend away recently, our kitchen had been completely gutted down to the studs. Gone were the cabinets, the window above the sink and all of the drywall. Even the ceiling was gone.

The only thing that was salvaged, thanks to a sentimental contractor, who also happens to be my husband, was a pried-off door jamb.

When I walked in, it was leaning up against against the fireplace, a sight for sore eyes in the otherwise bombed out remains of what used to be my kitchen. On this 4-inch wide slab of pine is where we would chart our kids’ growing heights. The measuring mushroomed into cousins, friends, aunts and uncles — pets too.

In so many ways, this 61-year-old slab of pine (our house was built in 1954) embodies our family’s full measure; now my brothers’ grandkids’ heights surpass the heights of my own kids when they were little.

What started as a chart to gauge the kids height as they were growing up became a rite of passage; if you hung out in this kitchen long enough, sooner or later you’d be instructed to stand up straight, put your back against the wall and have your height enshrined in the Keenan hall of fame.

The rules were strict: no shoes, no tippy toes, eyes forward, head level. The marker, preferably a black Sharpie, had to be directly perpendicular to the crown of the head. No pouffy hair, no buns or ponytails allowed. The line was drawn and then dated, a permanent record from now until eternity, or so it seemed for those awaiting a much longed for growth spurt.

Like photographs on paper, once members of the family now exes via divorce are permanently etched here. Thank God for the always and forever equalizer “Jack the Great” as his name reads. Seven years ago Jack, who is my 96-year-old father-in-law, measured in at 5’8” and while some might argue he’s shrunk since then, every morning he puts his feet on the ground he increases his stature for sure.

All the cousins are here, dating back to preschool when they wrote their letters backwards. There are grade school chums, now lifelong friends. There are a few in the category of I wonder-whatever-happened to. Like the next door neighbor who moved away in a hurry after his wife left him when he declared bankruptcy. There are only two who we find it hard to remember how their names ever got here: a middle school soccer coach and a high school crush. There’s only one name we can’t identify: Richard, at the very top, at 6’7.”

If I ever needed proof that my kids really were once that little, I have only to look at my youngest daughter’s red magic marker line drawn at age 5. She was 40 inches tall, a little above my waist, which qualifies for perfect hugging height. No less than 8 measurements later and spanning 15 years, Ellie grew to 5’8”. I know it happened. The evidence is right here in front of me. Still, it’s one of those irreconcilable differences I have with Father Time.

At the bottom are the names and heights of now-deceased pets: RIP Jynx, Bear, Lucy and Chloe. At the top is my brother Paul, whose 6 foot 5 height was recorded on Christmas Day 2011. Less than a half-inch below is my brother Rob. My brother-in-law Joe almost ties with Rob. But because he was measured during a party in 2012 where heavy drinking was no doubt involved, this might be contested.

The most concentrated section is around 5’5” to 5’8.” To see the bunched up lines and names competing for attention is to hear the cheers and laughter and to remember there is nothing quite like the fist-bump pride of 4-year-old proclaiming to the world she grew 2 inches in one year.

So, when I saw the door jamb had been saved, I got a bit of a lump in my throat. I study it now and don’t just count my blessings, I multiply them. (Even if Richard is a fictitious person penciled in there by Rob so Paul couldn’t claim to be the tallest.)

I don’t know where we are going to put it, but the contractor assures me we will find a place of prominence. “It’s your kitchen, Mrs. Keenan,” he said, which makes me so happy I hired him.