John Wayne was a big name when I was a kid. My dad met him a few times, which made him even bigger in my mind. He was quintessentially American and always the hero in his movies, which appealed to me very much. "The Duke," with his son Ethan, are pictured above on the set of True Grit, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor.
My Uncle Jack Hastings was a big man in my life too. He was the youngest Eagle Scout in his troop and a great example of integrity, hard work, and dedication to family and community service. He served for many years on the city council of La Canada, where he lived, and was elected mayor twice. He was a model of what it meant to be a good man in family, faith and community.
Uncle Jack and John Wayne had something else in common. They both stood six feet, four inches tall.
I got it into my head when I was about twelve that I wanted to be six foot four too. I held that thought for years. And as I grew, my cousin Stephen, a year older than me, was always just out ahead of me in height. So I added him to my mental list. I wanted to be taller than Stephen too.
I told Uncle Jack's son, my cousin Johnny, about my dream, and he climbed on board too. We both wanted to be taller than Stephen and the same height as John Wayne and Uncle Jack. Johnny was the youngest of us cousins up till then, and my dad nicknamed him, "Little Shorty."
Well, at about 20, I stopped growing and made my final mark on the inside of my closet door, where all of my cousins and friends and I kept track of our vertical progress. I was six feet, four inches tall, exactly.
But as it turns out, my cousin Johnny had a little secret, or at least he never told me about it 'till it was all over. Oh, he wanted to be taller than Stephen and John Wayne and Uncle Jack. But he also wanted to be taller than me.
And he got his wish, Johnny is six foot, five.
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