A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
On Christmas Eve, watching my parents got dressed for the party, I felt my stomach turn over with dread. There were a few things I had avoided facing that were now pressing down on me like snow clouds. 1) If Santa actually came down our chimney he would go straight into the coal stove, which had only a little round door in the front, not big enough for half of his fat, rosy face to get out. The larger ramifications of this I decided to avoid until some future date. 2) Even if Santa worked in such mysterious ways that he himself could get out of the red-hot coal stove, he could never get a piano through that hole, no matter how much I implored upon his mighty powers. 3) What if Santa was actually mad at me for asking him to carry such a thing as a piano all the way from the North Pole? What if flying it around caused one of the reindeer to founder, and Santa had to stop and shoot it in the head? How could I ever forgive myself?
A Girl Named Zippy is Haven Kimmel's first entry in a series of books about growing up in tiny Mooreland, Indiana. I've heard there's a third book but I'm too tired to go investigate.
Here's how I ended up reading A Girl Named Zippy - a book which I successfully ignored and walked past in a dozen bookstores for about a half-dozen years. I saw the title of Kimmel's second book, She Got Up Off the Couch (from now on, referred to as simply Couch). It just sounded like . . . well, like something I ought to do, myself. Except for the fact that we actually no longer own a couch. Point being, the title grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I wanted to read about how Kimmel's mother succeeded at breaking out of her rut. Because I'm trying not to buy books, I looked Couch up in the library, discovered Zippy next to it and checked them both out.
Now, here's where it gets tricky. I just couldn't figure out who all those people were, when I started reading Couch. So, I set it aside at page 26 and picked up Zippy. I absolutely loved Kimmel's writing style and enjoyed her reminiscences, once I began reading the first installment. I can't say I would have traded my family for hers - or her life. Adventurous as she was, I had a terrific childhood of my own. But, there were times I would have loved to step into her shoes. Or, I guess, her bare feet.
In general, it's about growing up poor but happy with a sharply intelligent but depressed mother who read book after book and did little else, a gambler father whose coming and going baffled everyone, and a much older brother and sister who were smart, good-looking and witty. All this in a town of 300 that was packed with what I'd refer to as characters. Kimmel makes everyone three-dimensional and memorable in a light-hearted, engaging and refreshing way. Midway through Zippy, I did get a little weary of Kimmel's "voice", but I was determined to move on to Couch and actually began to enjoy it, again, after a brief break when I couldn't read because I was on the road and then left the book in the car. I hate it when that happens.
I raced through Zippy to get to Couch and was actually kind of surprised when Kimmel ended Zippy on a very touching note that had me reaching for the tissues. On, then, to She Got Up Off the Couch . . .
She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel
Free Press (a division of Simon & Schuster) Nonfiction
Both Dan and Melinda were in the marching band with the director who they called Mr. M. Mr. M. was in all ways the model of a band director, and by that I mean he could have led an assault on an innocent nation, enslaved its peoples, and had them marching in pinwheels, all in the course of one profoundly hot afternoon.
I had to include that quote because it is so completely accurate as a description of just about every band director I've ever encountered - with one exception. My junior high band director was a total sweetheart (the one who didn't throw music stands, not the other one) and, unfortunately, unbearably good-looking. Then again, I probably had at least a mini-crush on all the male teachers who weren't tremendously old, crotchety, annoying or weight-challenged. I think I just eliminated about 75%.
She Got Up Off the Couch picks up where A Girl Named Zippy ends, although I'm not certain exactly how old Kimmel was, at the point Zippy concluded. Around the end of Zippy, Kimmel's mother saw a commercial advertising CLEP tests (I don't think she ever refers to them directly as CLEPs, but that's my assumption), which we also knew of as "testing out" or acquiring college credits by proving you already had the knowledge required to earn them and avoiding the actual class requirements toward a degree. Her mother called a meeting of her prayer group and Mrs. Jarvis (Zippy's mom) then watched for a sign.
As Couch begins, Mrs. Jarvis receives that sign - a repeat of an anecdote from Zippy, but necessary for set-up - and she manages to test out of a whopping 40 hours, a full year's college credit. That alone is impressive, but the book goes on to describe how she managed to bum rides until she acquired a car, earned two degrees and began teaching. The title is a little misleading, though, as the book is really more of the same kind of storytelling as that of Zippy and not entirely about her mother. Rather, the book tells how Kimmel's life entered a new phase as her mother took charge and made some serious alterations that affected the entire family. I was accustomed to Kimmel's style, by the time I reopened Couch, so it was no big deal to me that she continued in the same vein. You get the full story of her mother's metamorphosis with some pretty fun reading about Zippy's life through 13 years of age.
This is one of my favorite bits, about her cat PeeDink:
I'd been the one to find the hat at Grant's last winter and it was like stumbling on a pile of rubies. It was just a white yarn bowl, like a white ball cut in half, elastic around the rim, but coming from the crown, where on a normal hat there'd be a puffy ball, there was a long red yarn braid. This was a hat that came with its own hair. I don't know why it hadn't been thought of before. In many ways it was better than my wig (which was a "fall," and so held on with a comb) because the cats were less likely to steal it. I couldn't count the number of times I'd seen my wig flying out the door in PeeDink's mouth. Sometimes he just sucked on it and sometimes he tried to kill it. I think it was a combination of a rat and a baby to him. Of course, he had fallen out of many a tree, and so his relationship with a wig was bound to be complicated.
And, two sentences from a cat story that is a little out of context but tickled me so much I actually had to put the book down for a minute:
I knew that on one morning her parents woke up and turned to give each other a kiss hello and at just that moment their cat, Snowball, raised his head between them and they ended up kissing his cat cheeks. That story had caused me to fall down laughing.
I can't say I'd give these two books my absolute highest rating, if I was into numbers (which, for some reason, I'm still avoiding - I just don't feel like assigning a rating, at the moment) but I'd definitely say they were both immensely entertaining and well worth the time. Just don't go into the reading of She Got Up Off the Couch expecting it to be a story that is only about Zippy's mother. It's not; it's about Zippy and her life. Her mother's action was the catalyst to change for everyone in Kimmel's family and served as the slate upon which their changing lives were sketched but Zippy herself was the chalk scribbling all over the chalkboard, so to speak. That's a terrible analogy. Oh, well. Like I said, I'm a little bone-weary, here.
Thumbs up to Haven Kimmel. I will definitely look for a third installment, if there is one, and dip into her fiction. I recommend both, but advise flipping through a bit to see if you like her voice before dragging either book home.
This was a good day, but a long one so Wahoo! Wednesday is about to morph into Thrilling Thursday. In other words, I'll do my wahooing tomorrow. I'm off to soak my weary self in a tub full of bubbles.
UPDATE: I can't bear it; the numbers are attacking me. I think both books were excellent and would rate them 4/5. Okay, now I can start the bathwater.