By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

Bigger isn't always better

There’s an orphaned waif of a concept in our country that needs to be adopted. It goes by the name of “small.”

We Americans seem to have a love affair with big — often shunning small along the way. We need to take “small” under our wings.

A recent TV commercial indicates that trend. On the screen, a man sits in front of a circle of little kids, questioning them. “Which is better,” he asks, “bigger or smaller?”

“Bigger, bigger, bigger,” the kids unanimously and instantly answer.

Everything seems to be getting bigger these days. Our cities. Our streets. Our bridges. Our parking lots and malls.

When we shop for produce, we reach for the biggest: the largest peach, apple, plum, pear, grapes, the heftiest “slicer” tomato or head of garlic.

We pass up the “runty” radishes, but favoring those little carrots that need not be peeled and tender little green string beans rather than the big mature ones is a start in the right direction.

Notice how copywriters play on our fondness for big? Their advertising proclaims the biggest sale of the year, the biggest circus ever to come to town, the biggest bargain ever.

This enthusiasm for bigness is sometimes evidenced even in our recommendations for good places to eat. Before even praising the food, we exclaim over the size of their portions. “They’re huge,” we enthuse. “We took home a box and there was enough for our lunch for two days.”

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine a restaurant without a supply of take-out boxes. Not long ago, we sheepishly asked for doggy bags, intimating we were taking home leftovers for our pet.

Our fisherman friend tells us he went salmon fishing and caught a nice fish. Instead of congratulating him on making a good catch, we ask, “How big was it? How much did it weigh?”

Likewise, hunters. A deer hunter, back from eastern Oregon, says he got a fine buck. Immediately we want to know how big it was and how many points.

Our society perhaps steers us to our liking for big. At fairs, the biggest often goes home with the blue ribbon — the biggest hen’s egg, the biggest bull, the biggest pumpkin, the biggest zucchini.

And are we encouraging our kids to think that big is best? I meet a friend and her daughter of 4 or 5 years, whom I have not seen for some time. I greet the mother — and then speak to the little girl, asking her, as always, how old she is, and with that answer, as per usual social amenities, I say, “Oh, what a fine big girl you are.” Implying, it would seem, that bigness is the ultimate, and greatly esteemed.

Builders of airplanes proclaim the bigness of their latest product. Proud Boeing touted its 747 that could carry 500 passengers.

We McMinnvillans are proud because our city is home to the Spruce Goose. There it is in the Guinness Book of World Records: the world’s largest wing span at 320 feet.

Cruise ships are getting bigger and bigger. Their size bespeaks of climbing walls, a different pool to swim in each day, a different restaurant for every meal.

Golfers, too, have a fondness for big as evidenced by the trend that pertained to the size of the head on a driver. For a time, some of those clubs indeed looked like a small cantaloupe on the end of a stick — the theory being, no doubt, that the bigger the driver, the “bigger” the drive.

Some supermarkets cater to our liking for big: huge boxes of detergent, bundles of toilet paper, packages of steaks. Costco, here I come.

Our friend buys a new car about every three years. He announced recently he is shopping for his next car. We asked what he planned to buy. “I know gas is expensive,” he said, “but I like big cars. I’m buying the biggest car on the lot.”

Homebuyers look for homes with the biggest closets, the biggest cupboards; the biggest bathrooms. They often look for the biggest house in a subdivision.

The young gal, just engaged, shows off her diamond engagement ring — sometimes advising the viewer as to number of carats it represents. The bigger the rock, the louder the customary “oh’s and ah’s” — as if this were the most important aspect of an engagement.

Our love affair with big prompts us to locate the biggest of things in order to proclaim them such: the biggest spruce in Oregon, for example.

We may remember “The Little Engine That Could,” read to us as kids, but we aren’t likely to recall the struggling spruce tree that didn’t grow tall.

Kids are taught that when candy, cookies or other goodies are passed to them, it’s polite to leave the biggest piece for someone else. Does this, in a sense, instill in them the idea that big is indeed best?

The Guinness Book of World Records should be complimented, perhaps, for not limiting its entries just to biggest, but including also smallest, as well as highest, lowest, fastest, slowest, oldest, loudest, greatest, hottest, coldest and strongest. But glancing through its pages, entries for biggest seem to greatly outnumber listings for smallest.

One entry, for example, is biggest bonfire: “College Station, Texas, Thanksgiving Eve, l969.” Somehow it was ascertained that that “biggest” bonfire was 107 feet, 10 inches high.

The problem is that although our cities grow and population increases, and our enthusiasm for bigness of many kinds continues, our world does not become larger to accommodate that fondness. And there is no chance of our world adding on an extra room. True, attempts are being made to reverse that trend, but one wonders how long our adoration of big can continue.

It makes us wonder if we should this very day take out adoption papers for that neglected little orphan named “small.”

Elaine Rohse can be reached at

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