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Two kinds of little people in San Diego: “achondros” and midgets

Life is looking up

In her shoes, Judith Wilson measures four feet, no inches. When she was two, her parents’ physician diagnosed achondroplasia. - Image by Robert Burroughs
In her shoes, Judith Wilson measures four feet, no inches. When she was two, her parents’ physician diagnosed achondroplasia.

As Judith Wilson opens the front door of her Chula Vista home, a minuscule Yorkshire terrier barks and runs to her side. Next to Wilson, the terrier seems big as a Great Dane.

Vince Vella: “I’m a perfect miniature man.”

Wearing a girl's size-two Aran Isle sweater, maroon skirt, and child's size-one sandals, Wilson walks across the carpet and boosts herself into her husband's wing chair. The dog hops up and cuddles next to her. Blonde hair coifed in soft curls and her face virtually lineless, Wilson looks far younger than her fifty years.

A Christchurch, New Zealand native who in childhood took elocution lessons, studied drama, and imitated the precise enunciations of BBC announcers, Wilson tells this story: "We were down by the river [in New Jersey]. Gary and Julie [Judith’s husband and their twenty-year-old daughter] were in the water. I was dabbling my feet in the river and had my dress pulled up above my knees so I wouldn’t get it wet. A little boy, about four, came up to me. He was just looking at me, staring, and the next thing I knew, he pulled down my dress. He was so worried about my legs showing!

Wilson has been married for almost twenty-five years to six-foot, two-inch Gary and mother to a twenty-year-old, five-foot, ten-inch daughter.

Then he said, ‘You are so small. Don’t you want to grow?’ and I said, ‘Oh, yes, I would love to grow.’ He told me, ‘Well, I know what you can do. Do you like cereal?’ And I said, ‘Oh, yes, I love cereal.’ He says, ‘Well, I tell you what I want you to do. I want you to go home and eat three big bowls of cereal. Then you go to bed, go to sleep, then slam-bam, you’ll wake up and you’ll be big.’ I said, ‘Oh, how wonderful. I’m just going to go home and do that right now.’ ‘It will work,’ he said. ‘If you say it will, and you believe that it will,’ I answered, I believe it will.’ ”

Vella: “Achondros don’t tend to marry pituitary types."

In her shoes, Wilson measures four feet, no inches. When she was two, her parents’ physician diagnosed achondroplasia, an improper development of the bone cartilage, which causes congenital dwarfism. Achondroplasia occurs in approximately one out of 40,000 births and is caused by a genetic mutation that may continue as an inherited condition. It is found in males and females of all races. Typically, like Wilson, the achondroplastic dwarf has profoundly short legs and arms, blocky hands and feet, and a normal-size head and trunk.

Wilson: "Mother would tell me, ‘The right person always comes into your life when the time is right.’"

"I’ve had many average-size people come up to me and say, ‘I wish I were a little midget,’ ” says Vince Vella. A San Diego resident since he was two, Vella lives in one of a row of white cottages off El Cajon Boulevard in North Park. A model-ship collection, photographs, and paintings of the sea decorate his tidy living room. The dark-haired and mustachioed bachelor will not tell his age, allowing only that he is between forty and fifty.

In jeans and a plaid shirt, Vella sits at chair’s edge, his boots planted firmly on the carpet. A vivacious man from whom words tumble rapidly, he recalls a day when he was six or seven, walking downtown. "I saw an achondroplastic woman and said to my mom, ‘Look, look! Look at the little lady! ’ not knowing at the time I was going to be a little man. I just saw that little person, and she was kind of captivating. Later, of course, I grew up to be a small person myself.”

Costumed in white chef's uniform and hat and driving the Giant Wiener-mobile, ‘‘the world’s largest hot dog,” four-foot, two-inch, seventy-five-pound Vella spent thirteen years working for Oscar Mayer Company. He was one of four ‘‘Little Oscars” who were billed as “the world’s smallest chefs.” He traveled 100,000 miles a year, across seventeen Western States, to Hawaii and the Caribbean and gave demonstrations of Oscar Mayer products at supermarkets, made appearances in children’s hospitals and on television shows, in parades, and mall and supermarket openings. Nine years ago, Oscar Mayer discontinued its promotions, and Vella is now self-employed. “I do property management,” he says, “a little of this and that, to make ends meet.” Vella is a pituitary dwarf, a midget. (The word “midget was coined in 1865 as a diminutive of “midge,” meaning “gnat” or “fly.”) “I’m a perfect miniature man,” he says, and like most pituitary dwarfs, he appears to be, and is, a flawlessly formed adult, diminutive in size. His arms and legs are in the same scale to his trunk as are those of a normally proportioned male. “Medical people do not use the term ‘midget.’ They call us all dwarfs,” he says.

It is underactivity of the growth-hormone-producing pituitary gland that makes the pituitary dwarf small. “Some male pituitaries have no beard and a high-pitched voice. [These are asexual ateliotics.) If I had not been given testosterone,” says Vella, “I would not have developed as an adult male.”

Because of improvements in the treatment of pituitary dwarfs, he continued, those under the age of forty have become rare. Most small people are achondroplastic. “In five to ten years,” he says, not without sadness in his voice, “you won’t hear of a pituitary dwarf.”

Vella speaks of achondroplastic dwarfs as “achondros” and midgets, or pituitary dwarfs, as “pituitaries” and says a certain standoffishness had always existed between achondros and pituitaries. “And,” he added, “Achondros don’t tend to marry pituitary types.”

More than a hundred types of dwarfism have been identified and clinically defined, most of them related to bone and skeletal disorders. Estimates of the number of dwarfs of all types in the United States vary from 20,000 to 100,000. But most people, unless they live in an urban area or travel widely, will not see more than two or three dwarfs.

To approximate Vince Vella’s and Judith Wilson’s spatial experience, I tried to recapture the world as it looks to us at six or seven. Life goes on several feet above you. Your eyes graze adults at thigh and belly. To talk with parents, teachers, and older children, you tip back your head. You reach, stand on tiptoe, and stretch your arms across what seem infinite distances.

Someone has to get down the box of raisins from the pantry shelf. The sink rim hits you chin-level. When your father shaves, you watch him in the mirror but cannot see your own reflection. You scoot onto the sofa, hop up into your chair at the dinner table, and when you sit on chairs, your legs dangle or stick straight out. Stairs you take one at a time. Dropping a coin into a street-side pay phone is impossible. Supermarket top shelves might as well be Everest. To watch parades, you have to be lifted up. Crowds could trample you. Keeping up with your father’s stride leaves you breathless.

In the United States, the average height for an adult woman is five feet, four inches; for a man, the average is five feet, nine inches. “The world is not geared for us at all,” says Wilson, directing my attention to her living room where, to her, the couches and chairs must appear as plaid mountains.

Married for almost twenty-five years to six-foot, two-inch Gary and mother to a twenty-year-old, five-foot, ten-inch daughter, Wilson has lived in this Chula Vista home for seven years. “Finding a chair that suits you, that’s difficult,” she says. “I generally sit over there.” She points to the couch, where, across one cushion, a white towel had been spread. “Gary and I, he being so tall and I so short — most of the furniture I have bought has been to accommodate him. I really haven’t adapted my home to my needs the way I should have done. I haven’t thought about myself. But I think it’s time I went out and looked for a chair for me or had one made.”

Working about the house, Wilson uses ladders and footstools. “Several years ago, I was up on a six-foot ladder, cleaning Venetian blinds. I fell off, right into the bucket of water. Dirty water was strewn all across the carpet.” That experience, she admits, intimidated her for quite a while.

The diamonds she loves glitter on stubby fingers she describes as “so small and chubby.” Her hands lack strength, she says, and picking up certain things is almost impossible. She cannot sew. Cutting with scissors is a strenuous undertaking. Pushing a vacuum cleaner across the carpet wearies her. “A big saucepan of potatoes — to try to lift the pan, hold it, drain off the water, that’s a difficulty. Gardening is a bear. I hate gardening, loathe it. It’s like doing penance. After a while, my arms ache.”

Wilson would like to have a home that fits her, and “one of these days,” she says, “I might do it. But it is difficult when you have average-size people in your home. And if you want to sell a place, it becomes a problem. You have to have everything put up to scale again.” But she remembers the time in New Jersey, when she visited the home of two small-size people. “When I walked into their kitchen, I just about flipped out. The sink, the oven, everything, was just at my height. They even had the toilet lowered and the bath sunk in so it was easy to get in. I was in my glory. I could have stayed there forever.”

Wilson talks about the world beyond her house. “The most aggravating thing for me is to go to the bank and want to write a check. The counters are so high I can’t reach them. I can’t get to the Ready Teller machine unless I have a stool, and I’ll be darned if I’m going to take a stool and stand out there in the dark of night and have someone hit me over the head while I’m trying to get my money out!”

She is leery of crowds, she says, because as a young woman, visiting Europe with her parents, she was once almost trampled. At movies, the symphony, or ballet, she stays in her seat until the other patrons have filed out. To see the stage or movie screen, she “bobs around.”

Finding clothes, particularly dressy garments, is a problem for Wilson. Her girls’ size-twelve blouses and sweaters need the sleeves shortened and shoulders taken in. She has a dressmaker, and they shop together. When Wilson sees something she likes, the dressmaker sketches it. Then they choose material, the dressmaker draws a pattern, cuts out the fabric, and sews the garment. High heels have to be specially made.

Vince Vella has it easier. He usually dresses informally, buying size-ten boys’ clothing off the rack. But he must travel to Tijuana to find shoes that fit.

Wilson was the second child of a certified public accountant and his wife, both of average size. Wilson’s only other sibling, a sister, was eighteen years older than she and of normal size. “Looking back, I see it must have been very difficult for my parents to deal with the fact that I was going to be a little person. They didn’t have support groups as we do today or psychologists to go to and discuss all these things.”

Wilson’s mother was a dancer, her aunt and cousins taught ballet, and she herself was two when she began to dance publicly. But doctors decided ballet might damage her bones, so her parents started her in elocution and acting lessons. She continued to perform. “That was one of the best things my father and mother did for me. If I had any intimidations, that certainly got them beaten out of me, having to be up on-stage in front of everybody.” When she started school at age five, her uniform measured eighteen inches from shoulder seam to hem. The uniform was displayed in the window of a downtown Christchurch store. Wilson didn’t mind the display, she says. Nor did her parents object. “My parents didn’t feel ashamed that they should have a daughter like me. They treated me with such pride and joy, I think it rubbed off. Basically, my parents went on common sense. If I would come home crying because people were passing remarks about my being so short or children at school were cruel, my mother would say to me, ‘You’re just as good as anyone. You can get in there and do as well as anyone else.’ My father was the same way.”

Vince Vella describes himself as “born normal.” At birth he outweighed and was longer than his older sister, who grew to be five feet, five inches tall. Not until he was two did his slow growth become apparent, when a San Diego pediatrician discovered a pituitary deficiency. At thirteen, when Vella measured just three feet, two inches, he began hormone treatment. Three times a week for four years, he was given testosterone and the extract from the pituitary gland of swine. By his seventeenth birthday, he had grown eleven inches.

About his parents* Vella says, “They put me out there.” He attended Washington Grammar School, Roosevelt Junior High, San Diego High School, and for a year and.a half, he enrolled at San Diego State. “I associated with average-size people, didn’t have special privileges, special desks or chairs. I had problems, of course. Kids would tease me, push me around. But I just went out and found a few guys to back me up. Instead of being a follower, I became a leader. This pack of fellows, they took care of me.

Adolescence was difficult for both Wilson and Vella. “A wallflower,” says Wilson about herself. “Your friends are dating, going to dances, and you feel left out in the cold on the sidelines.” Vella became “a chubby little fellow.” “When I was a teen-ager, guys might scream, ‘Hey fat midget, fat midget.’ You suffer the hurt, and then you go from there. You figure, ‘This has gotta cease,’ and you become stronger and stronger.”

In his teen years, Vella found some advantages to his size. “Guys would pinch the girls on the rear and get a crack in the face. I’d come up, do the same thing, and girls would say, ‘Oh, you cute little fellow.’ My friends would ask me, ‘Why didn’t you get slapped?’ and I’d tell them, ‘Girls think this little guy is harmless.’ ”

When he was seventeen, Vella got a draft notice. “I went down there. They gave me a card. They put me down as 1-Y, which meant I could be drafted or called only in a national emergency. So things went along fine and dandy for several years, and then one morning, I got a notice telling me to appear at the selective service board for a physical. I went down. All these big bruisers were standing around, and there I was, little short me, four feet tall, in line with 180-pounders. The sergeant called out, ‘Mr. So-and-So, Mr. So-and-So,’ and then he gets to my name, calls out, ‘Mr. Vella, Mr. Vella.* He’s looking around. I say, ‘Hey, down here!’ I could barely reach the counter. The sergeant said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I got this notice in the mail.' He said, ‘Well, go on home.’ ”

Vella dated in high school and later. There were some problems, he says, adding, “But everybody gets their letdowns.” He dated tall women and short women and almost married a tall woman. “Her parents were hesitant because of my size. They thought, ‘Some dwarf, some gargoyle’ and would say to her, ‘What do you want that for? He’s not for you.’ They didn’t want her to go out and associate with this little person. One day I decided I’d go over to the house and meet her parents. After that her mother said to her, ‘Gee, why didn’t you bring Vince over to the house before?’ Once they get to know you, it’s easier.”

In New Zealand after Wilson graduated from high school, she auditioned for a position as announcer at a Christchurch radio station. They refused to hire her because of her short stature. “Who the heck sees you if you’re a radio announcer? That was the one time I really felt it, because that was something I really wanted to do. I felt very deflated.” Eventually, she was hired as a radiologist transcriber at a Christchurch hospital.

She met Gary Wilson when she was twenty-seven. “I used to think, ‘Oh, well, maybe one of these days.’ Mother would tell me, ‘The right person always comes into your life when the time is right.’ And then Gary appeared.” He proposed, and the couple were married in Japan where he was stationed with the navy. Wilson finds “disadvantages and advantages, being married to a tall man. At times my family forgets I’m of short stature, and they demand and expect a lot of me. I’ve mentioned this to Gary, and he says, ‘I never think of you being short.’ ”

She knows other small people who, like herself, are married to average-size people, and small people who wed small. Many small-statured people become parents. “A lot of them have the ‘little littles,’ as we call little people born to little people, as well as average-size babies.” When she became pregnant — “an accident, but one that was meant to be” — she weighed seventy-five pounds. Six months into the pregnancy, she was down to fifty-five pounds, and the last four months of the pregnancy were spent in the hospital, in bed and fed intravenously. At birth, daughter Julie weighed six pounds, nine ounces and was eighteen inches long. “The doctors didn’t know where I put her. They says my inside was the size of an eight-year-old child.”

Her daughter, she says, had some difficulties when she first went to school. “The children used to say to her, ‘Your mother is a midget. Your mother is a dwarf.’ They were very cruel. She used to come home devastated, and then she went through a period when she became hostile. She would say to her dad, ‘Why did you marry my mother? Why couldn’t you have married a taller lady?’ It used to upset me, but I thought, ‘Now what am I going to do about this?’ Something had to be done. I spoke to the principal at the school and said, ‘I think the best way for me to deal with this situation is to be at school. The more I’m around the children, the more they get to know me, the better off it will be. Then they won’t think I’m an oddity, that Julie’s mother is a freak or a witch, as they think I am.’ So I volunteered to tutor, and I worked at the library, and it wasn’t very long, a couple of months, that children would come up and say, ‘Oh, you’re Julie’s mom,’ and a good rapport developed. Her friends eventually thought the world of me. We had children over here all the time. They’d be in the kitchen on my stool. They thought it was wonderful that they could reach. They’d even do my dishes!”

Occasionally, an average-size person, equating smallness with youth, will treat the dwarf as if he or she were a child. A tendency exists, says Wilson, for people to say, “ ‘You’re so cute.’ I don’t take umbrage at it. They mean well. Other people, though, try to mother you or may be slightly domineering.” About the latter, she laughs, “That doesn’t go over with me at all.” People stare, too. Wilson says, “I don’t let that bother me. You become used to it. Half the time, I don’t notice. The time it’s really noticeable is if a child stares and says something. Then, often, the mother feels embarrassed, and she either spanks the child or herself will make rude or loud remarks. That brings it more to my attention than if she simply let the child look at me.

“You have to think you are good and wonderful. You have to build that barrier around yourself, so that you don’t allow yourself to be hurt. And it’s not easy to build that barrier. But you get over the hurt after the years, or at least I have.”

Rarely does Vella notice people making fun of him or pointing him out in an impolite manner. “Average-size adults are captivated by you, and children are curious.” He has learned to employ a “little gimmick,” he says, with children who stare. He speaks to them, right away. “I say, ‘Hey, little fellow, aren’t you cute.’ “Of course, if they are nasty, I give them a couple of words and put them in their place. I have a mouth, and I have to open it.” He lifts an eyebrow. “Kids are rougher now than they used to be. Not too long ago, I was crossing the street a couple of blocks from here, and a couple of little punks about thirteen, fourteen years old, riding bicycles, called out, ‘Hey, midget! Hey, midget!’ and I yelled back, ‘Say, you little bastard, you.’ That set them off, and they kept on going. I wouldn’t,” Vella quickly adds, “go up and say that to a woman.”

In the pre-Christian era, in Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and pre-Columbian cultures, dwarfs were esteemed for the mystical powers they were believed to possess. The ancient Egyptian gods Ptah and Bes were themselves dwarfs. From the time of the Hellenic Greeks through the Middle Ages, rulers, courtiers, and the wealthy collected undersize humans, employing them as jesters, acrobats, and protectors of jewels or precious objects (because of a dwarfs size, he could escape unnoticed with items entrusted to him). Catherine de Medici kept six dwarfs, and King Sigismund-Augustus of Poland had nine. In 1710 Czar Peter the Great assembled seventy midgets for the wedding of a court favorite.

Painters included dwarfs and midgets in their artworks: there is Van Dyke’s portrait Queen Henrietta Maria and her Dwarf Jeffery Hudson, and Durer, Mor, and Velasquez used dwarfs, pituitary and achondroplastic, as subjects.

Until the Nineteenth Century, the undersized human being was classified as a mirabilis hominum, or human marvel. By the late Nineteenth Century, he had been reclassified as mirabilis monsterum, or monstrous marvel. While public zoos were being built, dwarfed humans were displayed in carnivals, sideshows, and vaudeville, and the most famous of them all, Tom Thumb, P.T. Bamum’s world-famous midget, appeared before Queen Victoria.

In the last century especially, the dwarf has lost the mystical, mythical aspect of his identity. The discovery that dwarfism is caused by purely natural factors made him a “physical defective,’’ at least in the eyes of a significant number of people. In Germany before the rise of the Third Reich, for example, troupes of performing dwarfs were popular attractions, but in accordance with Hitler’s racial-purity laws, they were sent, along with Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies, to extermination in the Reich’s gas chambers. Nazi physician Josef Mengele, with his reputation as a man with “the mania of a collector,” accumulated dwarfs for his “experiments.” (Mengele was described as “beside himself with joy” upon discovering a family of five dwarfs.)

Vince Vella can cite instances in the recent past in which parents of short-stature children had hidden those children. “Then the parents died, and the child was left to fend for himself.” Although both he and Judith Wilson believe that acceptance of dwarfs has widened and that the range of occupations among the short-statured has increased, many healthy men and women under four feet, ten inches continue to have trouble finding employment that is commensurate with their education and experience. Wilson, who has worked for three years at Kaiser as a receptionist, did not have an easy time finding work and considers herself unusually fortunate.

Recently in Australia, dwarf-tossing has been sponsored as entertainment by bars. “Tossers” vie to see who can toss a dwarf farthest. After Chicago columnist Mike Royko uncritically mentioned Australian dwarf-tossing, a Chicago bar began to arrange a similar event.

It was Little People of America (LPA), a nonprofit organization for people who are small in stature, that stopped Chicago dwarf-tossing before it even began. LPA was organized in 1957 when television and movie personality Billy Barty, an achondroplastic who has appeared in segments of The Love Boat, The Odd Couple, and Trapper John and in Chevy Chase’s film Under the Rainbow, gathered twenty-one dwarfs from nine states for a meeting in Reno, Nevada. Barty saw a need for “dwarf consciousness-raising” and advocacy. He and his group, which initially called itself “Midgets of America ” amassed a list of possible members, and when a second convention was held in 1960, one hundred people attended. The group incorporated in 1961 as Little People of America, Inc., and it has been LPA, with its motto “Think Big,” that has promoted the phrase “little people” as the preferred term for the short-statured. LPA has grown steadily, and at last year’s annual convention, held in Detroit, 900 people were present.

The basic requirement for LPA membership is that one be under four feet, ten inches. LPA has approximately 4000 members in the United States, about half of whom are parents of dwarf children. Achondroplastic dwarfs constitute most of the membership. At least one-third more women than men belong to and are active in LPA, and although dwarfism does not discriminate among races or ethnic groups, LPA membership has remained principally Caucasian. LPA sponsors a parents’ auxiliary for families who have a dwarf child or teen-ager to help them deal with the physical, social, and psychological problems that a dwarf child faces.

The week-long LPA convention is a major event, with daytime workshops and sports events and nightly fashion shows, talent competitions, and dances. An election of royalty is held, and a king and queen, teen king and teen queen, and prince and princess (under twelve) are named. Hong Kong tailors travel to the conventions to measure little people for clothing. Medical specialists offer free examinations and consultations and hold seminars for members. (LPA is credited with an increase in dwarfism research, and during convention week, clinicians interview and examine dwarf subjects for research projects.) Although members insist that LPA is not a “dwarfs’ lonely-hearts club,” many courtships begin at the conventions, and members who have married during the year model their wedding clothes at the fashion show.

“The convention is a microcosm of the world of big people, a miniature version of the larger world,” says Vella, who adds, “People who see me, they think I’m so short. I go to some of these conventions and it about bowls me over! I see people there who must be twenty-four inches tall!”

Judith Wilson had known only one other little person in Christchurch, New Zealand, and it was not until 1969, when the navy transferred her husband to New Jersey, that she had any association with other people her own size. Julie was an infant. Wilson was having severe health problems and was in the midst of a depression. The base chaplain suggested she get in touch with LPA. She says today, “It was a terrific shock to my system the very first time I went to an LPA convention in Atlantic City and saw 150 to 200 little people all there together. My husband was with me, and I was wishing that the whole building would open up and I’d just go through the floor and be swallowed.

“It really hit me hard, going to that first meeting. It took me a long time, psychologically, to adjust to being around people like myself. When you meet another little person, you ask yourself, ‘Do I really look like that? Is that what I really look like?’ I’ve heard other little people'say they experienced similar feelings. I never look at myself as being a little person. You’re so geared for the average-size world and looking up to people.

“Now that I’m more adjusted to being with other little people, I enjoy being around other them and comparing notes about how they do things and being able to look at other people at eye level without straining my neck — it becomes very tiring.”

Today Wilson is president, and Vella is vice president of the San Diego branch of LPA. Forty-five names are on the chapter’s mailing list. Of those, twenty are average-size parents with dwarf children. Only ten are adult little people. Wilson explains, “Unfortunately, it isn’t a very active group. They don’t seem to want to get together. We have potlucks and, during the summer, picnics at the beach, but we’re very lucky if ten people come. Sometimes we’ll have only three.”

Statewide, there are four LPA chapters and a combined membership of 600, with the largest number in the Bay Area and in two Los Angeles chapters. Los Angeles has always attracted little people. Not only has the entertainment industry drawn them, but during World War II, many moved to the area to work in aircraft factories. In the last decade, young adult LPA members from the East Coast have moved to Los Angeles to afford themselves a wider range of small-stature contacts.

Wilson empathizes with small-statured people who do not wish to associate with LPA. “Some don't want to face the reality of being small. For the longest time, I was not able to accept it.” So just to walk up and introduce herself to another little person on the street is problematic for her. Last Christmas she was at a shopping mall with an average-size friend. They saw another little person, and Wilson’s friend urged her to go up and say hello.

“I didn’t want to do it. But my friend insisted. I introduced myself as president of the San Diego LPA chapter and gave her my name. The woman said, ‘I’ve heard about LPA. I'm not interested. I don’t want you to bother me. Leave me alone.’ My friend could not believe it! She was perfectly horrified!” “Maybe it’s me,” she continues. “But I feel if a person doesn’t want to be bothered.... I smile, and if there’s something in the eyes, I approach. But if the person doesn’t appear to want to approach me, it’s better left unsaid.” In the Sixties when Vince Vella joined LPA, the San Diego chapter was thriving. Many of its members then were in their forties and fifties. “A fellow in LPA kept approaching me about going, and I kept putting it off, like many little people do. Finally, just to get the guy off my back, I went.” Vella immediately became active, was chapter president for several years, and brought thirty or forty more little people into LPA.

Vella agreed with Wilson that invitations to LPA membership were not always welcomed by short-statured people. ‘‘It boils down to the fact that they don’t want to accept the fact that they’re small or different. But I have a lot of faith in my Creator who made me small,” he says. “I have no idea what it would have been like to have been normal size, whatever normal might be. The only way that I can see a normal view is to climb on a chair and be five foot five, instead of four foot two. But I can say this and really mean it. I have no desire to be of normal size. It’s been a real trip, being small ”

And Judith Wilson offers, “My mum used to say to me, ‘All the best things come in small packages, my dear.’ ”

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In her shoes, Judith Wilson measures four feet, no inches. When she was two, her parents’ physician diagnosed achondroplasia. - Image by Robert Burroughs
In her shoes, Judith Wilson measures four feet, no inches. When she was two, her parents’ physician diagnosed achondroplasia.

As Judith Wilson opens the front door of her Chula Vista home, a minuscule Yorkshire terrier barks and runs to her side. Next to Wilson, the terrier seems big as a Great Dane.

Vince Vella: “I’m a perfect miniature man.”

Wearing a girl's size-two Aran Isle sweater, maroon skirt, and child's size-one sandals, Wilson walks across the carpet and boosts herself into her husband's wing chair. The dog hops up and cuddles next to her. Blonde hair coifed in soft curls and her face virtually lineless, Wilson looks far younger than her fifty years.

A Christchurch, New Zealand native who in childhood took elocution lessons, studied drama, and imitated the precise enunciations of BBC announcers, Wilson tells this story: "We were down by the river [in New Jersey]. Gary and Julie [Judith’s husband and their twenty-year-old daughter] were in the water. I was dabbling my feet in the river and had my dress pulled up above my knees so I wouldn’t get it wet. A little boy, about four, came up to me. He was just looking at me, staring, and the next thing I knew, he pulled down my dress. He was so worried about my legs showing!

Wilson has been married for almost twenty-five years to six-foot, two-inch Gary and mother to a twenty-year-old, five-foot, ten-inch daughter.

Then he said, ‘You are so small. Don’t you want to grow?’ and I said, ‘Oh, yes, I would love to grow.’ He told me, ‘Well, I know what you can do. Do you like cereal?’ And I said, ‘Oh, yes, I love cereal.’ He says, ‘Well, I tell you what I want you to do. I want you to go home and eat three big bowls of cereal. Then you go to bed, go to sleep, then slam-bam, you’ll wake up and you’ll be big.’ I said, ‘Oh, how wonderful. I’m just going to go home and do that right now.’ ‘It will work,’ he said. ‘If you say it will, and you believe that it will,’ I answered, I believe it will.’ ”

Vella: “Achondros don’t tend to marry pituitary types."

In her shoes, Wilson measures four feet, no inches. When she was two, her parents’ physician diagnosed achondroplasia, an improper development of the bone cartilage, which causes congenital dwarfism. Achondroplasia occurs in approximately one out of 40,000 births and is caused by a genetic mutation that may continue as an inherited condition. It is found in males and females of all races. Typically, like Wilson, the achondroplastic dwarf has profoundly short legs and arms, blocky hands and feet, and a normal-size head and trunk.

Wilson: "Mother would tell me, ‘The right person always comes into your life when the time is right.’"

"I’ve had many average-size people come up to me and say, ‘I wish I were a little midget,’ ” says Vince Vella. A San Diego resident since he was two, Vella lives in one of a row of white cottages off El Cajon Boulevard in North Park. A model-ship collection, photographs, and paintings of the sea decorate his tidy living room. The dark-haired and mustachioed bachelor will not tell his age, allowing only that he is between forty and fifty.

In jeans and a plaid shirt, Vella sits at chair’s edge, his boots planted firmly on the carpet. A vivacious man from whom words tumble rapidly, he recalls a day when he was six or seven, walking downtown. "I saw an achondroplastic woman and said to my mom, ‘Look, look! Look at the little lady! ’ not knowing at the time I was going to be a little man. I just saw that little person, and she was kind of captivating. Later, of course, I grew up to be a small person myself.”

Costumed in white chef's uniform and hat and driving the Giant Wiener-mobile, ‘‘the world’s largest hot dog,” four-foot, two-inch, seventy-five-pound Vella spent thirteen years working for Oscar Mayer Company. He was one of four ‘‘Little Oscars” who were billed as “the world’s smallest chefs.” He traveled 100,000 miles a year, across seventeen Western States, to Hawaii and the Caribbean and gave demonstrations of Oscar Mayer products at supermarkets, made appearances in children’s hospitals and on television shows, in parades, and mall and supermarket openings. Nine years ago, Oscar Mayer discontinued its promotions, and Vella is now self-employed. “I do property management,” he says, “a little of this and that, to make ends meet.” Vella is a pituitary dwarf, a midget. (The word “midget was coined in 1865 as a diminutive of “midge,” meaning “gnat” or “fly.”) “I’m a perfect miniature man,” he says, and like most pituitary dwarfs, he appears to be, and is, a flawlessly formed adult, diminutive in size. His arms and legs are in the same scale to his trunk as are those of a normally proportioned male. “Medical people do not use the term ‘midget.’ They call us all dwarfs,” he says.

It is underactivity of the growth-hormone-producing pituitary gland that makes the pituitary dwarf small. “Some male pituitaries have no beard and a high-pitched voice. [These are asexual ateliotics.) If I had not been given testosterone,” says Vella, “I would not have developed as an adult male.”

Because of improvements in the treatment of pituitary dwarfs, he continued, those under the age of forty have become rare. Most small people are achondroplastic. “In five to ten years,” he says, not without sadness in his voice, “you won’t hear of a pituitary dwarf.”

Vella speaks of achondroplastic dwarfs as “achondros” and midgets, or pituitary dwarfs, as “pituitaries” and says a certain standoffishness had always existed between achondros and pituitaries. “And,” he added, “Achondros don’t tend to marry pituitary types.”

More than a hundred types of dwarfism have been identified and clinically defined, most of them related to bone and skeletal disorders. Estimates of the number of dwarfs of all types in the United States vary from 20,000 to 100,000. But most people, unless they live in an urban area or travel widely, will not see more than two or three dwarfs.

To approximate Vince Vella’s and Judith Wilson’s spatial experience, I tried to recapture the world as it looks to us at six or seven. Life goes on several feet above you. Your eyes graze adults at thigh and belly. To talk with parents, teachers, and older children, you tip back your head. You reach, stand on tiptoe, and stretch your arms across what seem infinite distances.

Someone has to get down the box of raisins from the pantry shelf. The sink rim hits you chin-level. When your father shaves, you watch him in the mirror but cannot see your own reflection. You scoot onto the sofa, hop up into your chair at the dinner table, and when you sit on chairs, your legs dangle or stick straight out. Stairs you take one at a time. Dropping a coin into a street-side pay phone is impossible. Supermarket top shelves might as well be Everest. To watch parades, you have to be lifted up. Crowds could trample you. Keeping up with your father’s stride leaves you breathless.

In the United States, the average height for an adult woman is five feet, four inches; for a man, the average is five feet, nine inches. “The world is not geared for us at all,” says Wilson, directing my attention to her living room where, to her, the couches and chairs must appear as plaid mountains.

Married for almost twenty-five years to six-foot, two-inch Gary and mother to a twenty-year-old, five-foot, ten-inch daughter, Wilson has lived in this Chula Vista home for seven years. “Finding a chair that suits you, that’s difficult,” she says. “I generally sit over there.” She points to the couch, where, across one cushion, a white towel had been spread. “Gary and I, he being so tall and I so short — most of the furniture I have bought has been to accommodate him. I really haven’t adapted my home to my needs the way I should have done. I haven’t thought about myself. But I think it’s time I went out and looked for a chair for me or had one made.”

Working about the house, Wilson uses ladders and footstools. “Several years ago, I was up on a six-foot ladder, cleaning Venetian blinds. I fell off, right into the bucket of water. Dirty water was strewn all across the carpet.” That experience, she admits, intimidated her for quite a while.

The diamonds she loves glitter on stubby fingers she describes as “so small and chubby.” Her hands lack strength, she says, and picking up certain things is almost impossible. She cannot sew. Cutting with scissors is a strenuous undertaking. Pushing a vacuum cleaner across the carpet wearies her. “A big saucepan of potatoes — to try to lift the pan, hold it, drain off the water, that’s a difficulty. Gardening is a bear. I hate gardening, loathe it. It’s like doing penance. After a while, my arms ache.”

Wilson would like to have a home that fits her, and “one of these days,” she says, “I might do it. But it is difficult when you have average-size people in your home. And if you want to sell a place, it becomes a problem. You have to have everything put up to scale again.” But she remembers the time in New Jersey, when she visited the home of two small-size people. “When I walked into their kitchen, I just about flipped out. The sink, the oven, everything, was just at my height. They even had the toilet lowered and the bath sunk in so it was easy to get in. I was in my glory. I could have stayed there forever.”

Wilson talks about the world beyond her house. “The most aggravating thing for me is to go to the bank and want to write a check. The counters are so high I can’t reach them. I can’t get to the Ready Teller machine unless I have a stool, and I’ll be darned if I’m going to take a stool and stand out there in the dark of night and have someone hit me over the head while I’m trying to get my money out!”

She is leery of crowds, she says, because as a young woman, visiting Europe with her parents, she was once almost trampled. At movies, the symphony, or ballet, she stays in her seat until the other patrons have filed out. To see the stage or movie screen, she “bobs around.”

Finding clothes, particularly dressy garments, is a problem for Wilson. Her girls’ size-twelve blouses and sweaters need the sleeves shortened and shoulders taken in. She has a dressmaker, and they shop together. When Wilson sees something she likes, the dressmaker sketches it. Then they choose material, the dressmaker draws a pattern, cuts out the fabric, and sews the garment. High heels have to be specially made.

Vince Vella has it easier. He usually dresses informally, buying size-ten boys’ clothing off the rack. But he must travel to Tijuana to find shoes that fit.

Wilson was the second child of a certified public accountant and his wife, both of average size. Wilson’s only other sibling, a sister, was eighteen years older than she and of normal size. “Looking back, I see it must have been very difficult for my parents to deal with the fact that I was going to be a little person. They didn’t have support groups as we do today or psychologists to go to and discuss all these things.”

Wilson’s mother was a dancer, her aunt and cousins taught ballet, and she herself was two when she began to dance publicly. But doctors decided ballet might damage her bones, so her parents started her in elocution and acting lessons. She continued to perform. “That was one of the best things my father and mother did for me. If I had any intimidations, that certainly got them beaten out of me, having to be up on-stage in front of everybody.” When she started school at age five, her uniform measured eighteen inches from shoulder seam to hem. The uniform was displayed in the window of a downtown Christchurch store. Wilson didn’t mind the display, she says. Nor did her parents object. “My parents didn’t feel ashamed that they should have a daughter like me. They treated me with such pride and joy, I think it rubbed off. Basically, my parents went on common sense. If I would come home crying because people were passing remarks about my being so short or children at school were cruel, my mother would say to me, ‘You’re just as good as anyone. You can get in there and do as well as anyone else.’ My father was the same way.”

Vince Vella describes himself as “born normal.” At birth he outweighed and was longer than his older sister, who grew to be five feet, five inches tall. Not until he was two did his slow growth become apparent, when a San Diego pediatrician discovered a pituitary deficiency. At thirteen, when Vella measured just three feet, two inches, he began hormone treatment. Three times a week for four years, he was given testosterone and the extract from the pituitary gland of swine. By his seventeenth birthday, he had grown eleven inches.

About his parents* Vella says, “They put me out there.” He attended Washington Grammar School, Roosevelt Junior High, San Diego High School, and for a year and.a half, he enrolled at San Diego State. “I associated with average-size people, didn’t have special privileges, special desks or chairs. I had problems, of course. Kids would tease me, push me around. But I just went out and found a few guys to back me up. Instead of being a follower, I became a leader. This pack of fellows, they took care of me.

Adolescence was difficult for both Wilson and Vella. “A wallflower,” says Wilson about herself. “Your friends are dating, going to dances, and you feel left out in the cold on the sidelines.” Vella became “a chubby little fellow.” “When I was a teen-ager, guys might scream, ‘Hey fat midget, fat midget.’ You suffer the hurt, and then you go from there. You figure, ‘This has gotta cease,’ and you become stronger and stronger.”

In his teen years, Vella found some advantages to his size. “Guys would pinch the girls on the rear and get a crack in the face. I’d come up, do the same thing, and girls would say, ‘Oh, you cute little fellow.’ My friends would ask me, ‘Why didn’t you get slapped?’ and I’d tell them, ‘Girls think this little guy is harmless.’ ”

When he was seventeen, Vella got a draft notice. “I went down there. They gave me a card. They put me down as 1-Y, which meant I could be drafted or called only in a national emergency. So things went along fine and dandy for several years, and then one morning, I got a notice telling me to appear at the selective service board for a physical. I went down. All these big bruisers were standing around, and there I was, little short me, four feet tall, in line with 180-pounders. The sergeant called out, ‘Mr. So-and-So, Mr. So-and-So,’ and then he gets to my name, calls out, ‘Mr. Vella, Mr. Vella.* He’s looking around. I say, ‘Hey, down here!’ I could barely reach the counter. The sergeant said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I got this notice in the mail.' He said, ‘Well, go on home.’ ”

Vella dated in high school and later. There were some problems, he says, adding, “But everybody gets their letdowns.” He dated tall women and short women and almost married a tall woman. “Her parents were hesitant because of my size. They thought, ‘Some dwarf, some gargoyle’ and would say to her, ‘What do you want that for? He’s not for you.’ They didn’t want her to go out and associate with this little person. One day I decided I’d go over to the house and meet her parents. After that her mother said to her, ‘Gee, why didn’t you bring Vince over to the house before?’ Once they get to know you, it’s easier.”

In New Zealand after Wilson graduated from high school, she auditioned for a position as announcer at a Christchurch radio station. They refused to hire her because of her short stature. “Who the heck sees you if you’re a radio announcer? That was the one time I really felt it, because that was something I really wanted to do. I felt very deflated.” Eventually, she was hired as a radiologist transcriber at a Christchurch hospital.

She met Gary Wilson when she was twenty-seven. “I used to think, ‘Oh, well, maybe one of these days.’ Mother would tell me, ‘The right person always comes into your life when the time is right.’ And then Gary appeared.” He proposed, and the couple were married in Japan where he was stationed with the navy. Wilson finds “disadvantages and advantages, being married to a tall man. At times my family forgets I’m of short stature, and they demand and expect a lot of me. I’ve mentioned this to Gary, and he says, ‘I never think of you being short.’ ”

She knows other small people who, like herself, are married to average-size people, and small people who wed small. Many small-statured people become parents. “A lot of them have the ‘little littles,’ as we call little people born to little people, as well as average-size babies.” When she became pregnant — “an accident, but one that was meant to be” — she weighed seventy-five pounds. Six months into the pregnancy, she was down to fifty-five pounds, and the last four months of the pregnancy were spent in the hospital, in bed and fed intravenously. At birth, daughter Julie weighed six pounds, nine ounces and was eighteen inches long. “The doctors didn’t know where I put her. They says my inside was the size of an eight-year-old child.”

Her daughter, she says, had some difficulties when she first went to school. “The children used to say to her, ‘Your mother is a midget. Your mother is a dwarf.’ They were very cruel. She used to come home devastated, and then she went through a period when she became hostile. She would say to her dad, ‘Why did you marry my mother? Why couldn’t you have married a taller lady?’ It used to upset me, but I thought, ‘Now what am I going to do about this?’ Something had to be done. I spoke to the principal at the school and said, ‘I think the best way for me to deal with this situation is to be at school. The more I’m around the children, the more they get to know me, the better off it will be. Then they won’t think I’m an oddity, that Julie’s mother is a freak or a witch, as they think I am.’ So I volunteered to tutor, and I worked at the library, and it wasn’t very long, a couple of months, that children would come up and say, ‘Oh, you’re Julie’s mom,’ and a good rapport developed. Her friends eventually thought the world of me. We had children over here all the time. They’d be in the kitchen on my stool. They thought it was wonderful that they could reach. They’d even do my dishes!”

Occasionally, an average-size person, equating smallness with youth, will treat the dwarf as if he or she were a child. A tendency exists, says Wilson, for people to say, “ ‘You’re so cute.’ I don’t take umbrage at it. They mean well. Other people, though, try to mother you or may be slightly domineering.” About the latter, she laughs, “That doesn’t go over with me at all.” People stare, too. Wilson says, “I don’t let that bother me. You become used to it. Half the time, I don’t notice. The time it’s really noticeable is if a child stares and says something. Then, often, the mother feels embarrassed, and she either spanks the child or herself will make rude or loud remarks. That brings it more to my attention than if she simply let the child look at me.

“You have to think you are good and wonderful. You have to build that barrier around yourself, so that you don’t allow yourself to be hurt. And it’s not easy to build that barrier. But you get over the hurt after the years, or at least I have.”

Rarely does Vella notice people making fun of him or pointing him out in an impolite manner. “Average-size adults are captivated by you, and children are curious.” He has learned to employ a “little gimmick,” he says, with children who stare. He speaks to them, right away. “I say, ‘Hey, little fellow, aren’t you cute.’ “Of course, if they are nasty, I give them a couple of words and put them in their place. I have a mouth, and I have to open it.” He lifts an eyebrow. “Kids are rougher now than they used to be. Not too long ago, I was crossing the street a couple of blocks from here, and a couple of little punks about thirteen, fourteen years old, riding bicycles, called out, ‘Hey, midget! Hey, midget!’ and I yelled back, ‘Say, you little bastard, you.’ That set them off, and they kept on going. I wouldn’t,” Vella quickly adds, “go up and say that to a woman.”

In the pre-Christian era, in Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and pre-Columbian cultures, dwarfs were esteemed for the mystical powers they were believed to possess. The ancient Egyptian gods Ptah and Bes were themselves dwarfs. From the time of the Hellenic Greeks through the Middle Ages, rulers, courtiers, and the wealthy collected undersize humans, employing them as jesters, acrobats, and protectors of jewels or precious objects (because of a dwarfs size, he could escape unnoticed with items entrusted to him). Catherine de Medici kept six dwarfs, and King Sigismund-Augustus of Poland had nine. In 1710 Czar Peter the Great assembled seventy midgets for the wedding of a court favorite.

Painters included dwarfs and midgets in their artworks: there is Van Dyke’s portrait Queen Henrietta Maria and her Dwarf Jeffery Hudson, and Durer, Mor, and Velasquez used dwarfs, pituitary and achondroplastic, as subjects.

Until the Nineteenth Century, the undersized human being was classified as a mirabilis hominum, or human marvel. By the late Nineteenth Century, he had been reclassified as mirabilis monsterum, or monstrous marvel. While public zoos were being built, dwarfed humans were displayed in carnivals, sideshows, and vaudeville, and the most famous of them all, Tom Thumb, P.T. Bamum’s world-famous midget, appeared before Queen Victoria.

In the last century especially, the dwarf has lost the mystical, mythical aspect of his identity. The discovery that dwarfism is caused by purely natural factors made him a “physical defective,’’ at least in the eyes of a significant number of people. In Germany before the rise of the Third Reich, for example, troupes of performing dwarfs were popular attractions, but in accordance with Hitler’s racial-purity laws, they were sent, along with Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies, to extermination in the Reich’s gas chambers. Nazi physician Josef Mengele, with his reputation as a man with “the mania of a collector,” accumulated dwarfs for his “experiments.” (Mengele was described as “beside himself with joy” upon discovering a family of five dwarfs.)

Vince Vella can cite instances in the recent past in which parents of short-stature children had hidden those children. “Then the parents died, and the child was left to fend for himself.” Although both he and Judith Wilson believe that acceptance of dwarfs has widened and that the range of occupations among the short-statured has increased, many healthy men and women under four feet, ten inches continue to have trouble finding employment that is commensurate with their education and experience. Wilson, who has worked for three years at Kaiser as a receptionist, did not have an easy time finding work and considers herself unusually fortunate.

Recently in Australia, dwarf-tossing has been sponsored as entertainment by bars. “Tossers” vie to see who can toss a dwarf farthest. After Chicago columnist Mike Royko uncritically mentioned Australian dwarf-tossing, a Chicago bar began to arrange a similar event.

It was Little People of America (LPA), a nonprofit organization for people who are small in stature, that stopped Chicago dwarf-tossing before it even began. LPA was organized in 1957 when television and movie personality Billy Barty, an achondroplastic who has appeared in segments of The Love Boat, The Odd Couple, and Trapper John and in Chevy Chase’s film Under the Rainbow, gathered twenty-one dwarfs from nine states for a meeting in Reno, Nevada. Barty saw a need for “dwarf consciousness-raising” and advocacy. He and his group, which initially called itself “Midgets of America ” amassed a list of possible members, and when a second convention was held in 1960, one hundred people attended. The group incorporated in 1961 as Little People of America, Inc., and it has been LPA, with its motto “Think Big,” that has promoted the phrase “little people” as the preferred term for the short-statured. LPA has grown steadily, and at last year’s annual convention, held in Detroit, 900 people were present.

The basic requirement for LPA membership is that one be under four feet, ten inches. LPA has approximately 4000 members in the United States, about half of whom are parents of dwarf children. Achondroplastic dwarfs constitute most of the membership. At least one-third more women than men belong to and are active in LPA, and although dwarfism does not discriminate among races or ethnic groups, LPA membership has remained principally Caucasian. LPA sponsors a parents’ auxiliary for families who have a dwarf child or teen-ager to help them deal with the physical, social, and psychological problems that a dwarf child faces.

The week-long LPA convention is a major event, with daytime workshops and sports events and nightly fashion shows, talent competitions, and dances. An election of royalty is held, and a king and queen, teen king and teen queen, and prince and princess (under twelve) are named. Hong Kong tailors travel to the conventions to measure little people for clothing. Medical specialists offer free examinations and consultations and hold seminars for members. (LPA is credited with an increase in dwarfism research, and during convention week, clinicians interview and examine dwarf subjects for research projects.) Although members insist that LPA is not a “dwarfs’ lonely-hearts club,” many courtships begin at the conventions, and members who have married during the year model their wedding clothes at the fashion show.

“The convention is a microcosm of the world of big people, a miniature version of the larger world,” says Vella, who adds, “People who see me, they think I’m so short. I go to some of these conventions and it about bowls me over! I see people there who must be twenty-four inches tall!”

Judith Wilson had known only one other little person in Christchurch, New Zealand, and it was not until 1969, when the navy transferred her husband to New Jersey, that she had any association with other people her own size. Julie was an infant. Wilson was having severe health problems and was in the midst of a depression. The base chaplain suggested she get in touch with LPA. She says today, “It was a terrific shock to my system the very first time I went to an LPA convention in Atlantic City and saw 150 to 200 little people all there together. My husband was with me, and I was wishing that the whole building would open up and I’d just go through the floor and be swallowed.

“It really hit me hard, going to that first meeting. It took me a long time, psychologically, to adjust to being around people like myself. When you meet another little person, you ask yourself, ‘Do I really look like that? Is that what I really look like?’ I’ve heard other little people'say they experienced similar feelings. I never look at myself as being a little person. You’re so geared for the average-size world and looking up to people.

“Now that I’m more adjusted to being with other little people, I enjoy being around other them and comparing notes about how they do things and being able to look at other people at eye level without straining my neck — it becomes very tiring.”

Today Wilson is president, and Vella is vice president of the San Diego branch of LPA. Forty-five names are on the chapter’s mailing list. Of those, twenty are average-size parents with dwarf children. Only ten are adult little people. Wilson explains, “Unfortunately, it isn’t a very active group. They don’t seem to want to get together. We have potlucks and, during the summer, picnics at the beach, but we’re very lucky if ten people come. Sometimes we’ll have only three.”

Statewide, there are four LPA chapters and a combined membership of 600, with the largest number in the Bay Area and in two Los Angeles chapters. Los Angeles has always attracted little people. Not only has the entertainment industry drawn them, but during World War II, many moved to the area to work in aircraft factories. In the last decade, young adult LPA members from the East Coast have moved to Los Angeles to afford themselves a wider range of small-stature contacts.

Wilson empathizes with small-statured people who do not wish to associate with LPA. “Some don't want to face the reality of being small. For the longest time, I was not able to accept it.” So just to walk up and introduce herself to another little person on the street is problematic for her. Last Christmas she was at a shopping mall with an average-size friend. They saw another little person, and Wilson’s friend urged her to go up and say hello.

“I didn’t want to do it. But my friend insisted. I introduced myself as president of the San Diego LPA chapter and gave her my name. The woman said, ‘I’ve heard about LPA. I'm not interested. I don’t want you to bother me. Leave me alone.’ My friend could not believe it! She was perfectly horrified!” “Maybe it’s me,” she continues. “But I feel if a person doesn’t want to be bothered.... I smile, and if there’s something in the eyes, I approach. But if the person doesn’t appear to want to approach me, it’s better left unsaid.” In the Sixties when Vince Vella joined LPA, the San Diego chapter was thriving. Many of its members then were in their forties and fifties. “A fellow in LPA kept approaching me about going, and I kept putting it off, like many little people do. Finally, just to get the guy off my back, I went.” Vella immediately became active, was chapter president for several years, and brought thirty or forty more little people into LPA.

Vella agreed with Wilson that invitations to LPA membership were not always welcomed by short-statured people. ‘‘It boils down to the fact that they don’t want to accept the fact that they’re small or different. But I have a lot of faith in my Creator who made me small,” he says. “I have no idea what it would have been like to have been normal size, whatever normal might be. The only way that I can see a normal view is to climb on a chair and be five foot five, instead of four foot two. But I can say this and really mean it. I have no desire to be of normal size. It’s been a real trip, being small ”

And Judith Wilson offers, “My mum used to say to me, ‘All the best things come in small packages, my dear.’ ”

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