Last Thursday as I drove up and down the endless hills of Appalachia, I listened to satellite radio as the Grand Ole Oprey paused and paid tribute at the passing of a legend. At 4’11”, Little Jimmy Dickens was an icon around the Oprey, and all of country music. As a little girl, I watched the old black and white TV as he sang his funny songs. I remember thinking his guitar was bigger than he was… until I looked in the mirror.
This incredible Christian man played a huge role in my life that most of you are completely unaware of. Most of you know me as a normal size person but the truth is, just like Jimmy, I was 4’11” when I graduated high school. With very small features, I’ve had to live as a little person in a great big world all my life. I endured ruthless teasing and chiding from schoolmates and neighborhood kids.
When I started playing the guitar, one look in the mirror revealed that I was as abnormal as the great Little Jimmy Dickens. But I noticed he was always so happy. So jovial, he never seemed to let his size bother him. Truly, he was larger than life. One day I figured if he could do it, so could I. From that day on, I decided to not let my physical stature have any impact on what I wanted to accomplish in life. I charged forward with fervor and a new commit.
I played sports that all the experts say I was too small for. Although I never scored a single point in three years of high school basketball, I held county records for steals. I was so short I could easily sneak up on the taller players and snatch the ball right away from them. I landed a tennis scholarship and went to college even though I only stood twenty inches taller than the net.
To this day I have to buy my gloves and hats in the children’s section of stores, as well as glasses and sunglasses. My bone structure remains tiny. One day while my dentist was trying his best to do the necessary work on my teeth, he sighed and said, “Reba, if anyone tries to tell you that you have a big mouth, you tell them you dentist said NO YOU DON’T!”
Country music lost the last remaining original member of the Grand Ole Oprey. It will never be the same. No one will be able to fill his void. What he did for the genre is unequaled. I never knew I’d be stand so tall and reach so far by standing on the shoulders of such a tiny little man. I am what I am today because of a little man who played guitar and sang funny little songs.
I would say, “rest in peace” Jimmy, but I know you’re up in Heaven wearing one of those glittery suits, strumming a guitar and singing your heart out. Thank you for being big. Thank you for teaching me to be BIG. I once said that when I grew up I wanted to be like you. Today, I realize it came true.
Here’s to the not-so-Little Jimmy Dickens, the man who demanded to live LARGER THAN LIFE!