Thanks to a YouTube user named Nigel John for uploading the recent HBO documentary about the life of Andre “The Giant” Roussimoff. It was one of the better pieces about Andre I’ve yet to see, and there’s been a lot of work in “pop culture” in the quarter of a century since the big man has passed on that’s out there.
(Footnote: the documentary, as many seem to do, seems to forget that Andre was the WWF champion in February of 1988 very briefly, ending Hulk Hogan’s four-year reign with the belt. When Andre gave the title up to a fellow wrestler who didn’t earn it, the title was “held up” – not awarded to anyone – until “Macho Man” Randy Savage won a subsequent tournament.)
I’ve never seen Andre personally, but I once met the world’s tallest woman, Sandy Allen. I met her a few weeks before my ninth birthday in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada in 1980 on a New York vacation. I had relatives in Geneva, New York at the time, so off we went one day westward for my first and only (to date) trip to another country.
My mother still kids me about what I said to Canadian customs as we crossed the border. Remember, this was 1980 – long before 9/11, long before any President thought of building border walls. As was customary, the border agents asked if we have anything to declare.
The eight-year-old version of me didn’t seem to understand the gravity of the question. My cousins and I had munched on some bananas and Cheerios (without milk, because that could get messy) on the way to the border, so that’s what came to my mind.
“Only these bananas,” I said, holding the yellow fruit up for the agents to see. Everyone in the car looked at me as if I had somehow pledged allegiance to Satan or something.
There was a Guinness Book of World Records exhibit in Niagara Falls at the time. Around that time, I had gotten the paperback version of one of their yearly editions at a book fair at my elementary school, and that piqued my interest. There was also a short-lived game show around that time called The Guinness Game where contestants were staked with money and wagered on whether or not attempts at various world records would be successful.
(Footnote: I once had the home version board game of the show. No kidding.)
Two things I remember: a very big pinball game on display with a ball the size of a baseball moving around the electronic board, and meeting Sandy Allen.
One of the photos that didn’t pass the test of time was of me, two of my cousins, and Sandy towering above all of us. In the photo, I’m the tallest of the three children, but Allen is towering over me with ease, and still would if I had met her having reached my full height of roughly six feet and an inch.
In the photo, she’s resting the right forearm on top of my head – that I remember. I’m pretty sure my mother and aunt got a chuckle out of that. Meanwhile, I’m holding as still as I can – I don’t want to get this mountain of a woman mad at me!
I wish I still had that pic. It always brought out amazement whenever I showed it to friends. I’d tell them, no – I’m not that tall. But this woman, she’s huge!