John B Keane: Big men often don’t have the voice to match

THE BIGGEST man I ever knew had a voice so high pitched and so feminine that unless you actually saw him while he spoke you would be certain that it was a young girl who was talking.

THE BIGGEST man I ever knew had a voice so high pitched and so feminine that unless you actually saw him while he spoke you would be certain that it was a young girl who was talking.

One would expect that when he uttered words and sentences that chandeliers, where available, would tremble and that glasses in the vicinity would be smashed.

Nothing of the kind, however, happened and people would look astonished and amazed and then amused when the big man joined in a conversation.

Personally speaking, when I heard him speak for the first time I wasn’t in the least bit surprised because I had met big men with small voices long before and anyway I am the sort of fellow who is rarely surprised being ready as it were for everything. But I digress.

Now it does not follow that if big men have small voices, small men have big voices. This may be the case, but if it is, there is no proof whatsoever to bolster it.

I have, from time to time, met small men with small voices and small men with big voices but, as I claim, there is nothing to show that there is a preponderance of the former. Students will wonder what I am aiming at.

I will put them at ease right now by telling them that it is this. I am trying to show that there is a high incidence of small voices in big men.

I was once playing full-forward in a junior football match and marking me in the role of full-back was the largest, hairiest and roughest looking young gentleman I had ever in my life seen.

He must have weighed seventeen or eighteen stone and he was as wide as he was tall. He was tough and rugged, but when he opened his mouth there was the voice of a small girl so high pitched that at first I believed it was a girl calling.

It gave me great heart and I wasn’t in the least afraid of him thereafter. In fact, if memory serves me correctly I was responsible for the scoring of a goal and two points, scores which might never have been notched if the full-back had a voice to match his appearance.

I remember, too, at mission times two fathers would arrive in town for the occasion. In appearance they always look different. One would be old and the other would be young, or if this was not the case one would be lean while the other would be fat.

Anyway the point I am trying to make is that we never had men who looked alike. One might be a thunderer while the other would be meek and self-effacing.

I remember a particular year when two fathers, one small and thin and the other tall and fat, arrived for a fortnight to deliver sermons and hear our confessions.

The mission in those days was the greatest diversion you could ask for and if a man wasn’t in the church a quarter of an hour before the start he would find himself without a seat.

Sermons were different, too, and the descriptions of hell I heard in those days still strike occasional notes of terror.

The big man it was who delivered the sermon on the opening night. We were shocked. One could hardly hear him and some must be forgiven if they thought he was having us on because the fathers were fond of cracking an occasional joke before getting down to the serious business of frightening the lives out of us.

But, faith as time went on there was no change in the voice. The congregation lost interest and many dozed.

The following night the small thin man appeared in the pulpit. He was anemic and emaciated and one felt he might collapse at any moment. He rested his elbows on the pulpit and looked sleepily around to see if the church was full.

He then produced his beads and we all blessed ourselves, praying secretly that the weak and infirm looking creature would not collapse before the night was out. What a shock we got when he opened his mouth.

I have heard angry bulls and I have heard lions roar in zoos. I have heard jackasses bray in the night and I have heard the thunder of the Atlantic breakers as they crashed upon the rocky crags along the coastline, but never had I heard such thunder as this.

Was it possible we asked ourselves that such an intimidating bellowing could come from one so insignificant.

As the night wore on the voice grew louder if anything. An uncle of mine who had dozed and slept through sixty years of sermons sat bolt upright throughout. In addition, his eyes were wide open and he was listening.

The moral of this little treatise is that we must be ready for the unexpected. We must not take things or people at their face value.