The first time I ever met my blogging friend, Heidi, in person, she brought me this book. And now that I’ve gotten to know her a little better, I can see why she liked it so much. It’s clever, it’s dry, and it’s ironic. I couldn’t help but imagine Heidi’s face when I read lines like, “Decoupage hit Mooreland pretty hard.”
A Girl Named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel, is a memoir of her childhood in Mooreland, IN during the 70’s, and as far as memoirs go, this one lacks the drama and tragedy and depressive nature of most books in the genre.
But I wouldn’t call it lighthearted or uplifting. There are undercurrents of dysfunction as you read between the lines: the poverty of the area, her father’s gambling habits, and the lack of attention paid to her that borders on neglect. Zippy – nicknamed so because once she started walking, she zipped around like crazy – was an “oops child” as I call it, or a caboose kiddo, as another friend calls it, which is to say she came unexpectedly, ten years after her sister. The family house was not prepared for her, nor did they make room for her, so she slept on a cot next to the wood burning stove (and to think I felt bad for sitting at a t.v. tray off the corner of the dining table at family holiday dinners).
As a writer, this aspect of the memoir is fascinating, and I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time thinking about it. I think her humor and wit are brilliant, and could be taken one of two ways. Either she’s the class clown type who avoids the confrontation of stress by telling a joke, or she is able to look back on her small town dysfunctional life in a glass half full sort of way. I’m leaning more toward the latter interpretation. She doesn’t avoid the dark upbringing, nor does she cheapen it with shallow humor. She alludes to it by telling the story through the eyes of a child who doesn’t fully comprehend the life she’s living.
Although she pokes fun at her friends, and her friends’ parents, and the old lady across the street, and everyone else she writes about, she does so with the honor and respect of someone who generally thinks fondly of those days. I never get the impression that someone is stupid, or simple, or anything cruel like that – only that she likely imagined, as she grew up, that her absurd life would make the most excellent t.v. sit com – a cross between The Wonder Years and Married With Children.
There are scenes so outrageously funny, I laughed out loud and woke up Bryan. Her brother finally gets fed up with her sister’s monopoly of the bathroom and unhinges the door from the frame, only to find her sitting on the edge of the bathtub, fully clothed and ready for school, busted in the act of passive aggression. Her sister convinces her she was adopted, and when she asks her mom about it, the woman doesn’t skip a beat and tells her she traded a handbag to the gypsies for her. When she asks her dad about the gypsies, he also doesn’t skip a beat and simply says, “you been talkin’ to your mother, then.” She has an entire chapter devoted to things her father won and lost while gambling. And then there’s the showdown between her father and the neighbor which involved a yard full of howling coon hounds.
It’s funny, and charming, and quick to read, yet poignant if you give yourself opportunity to let its reality soak in. I definitely recommend it for a good laugh while at the beach this summer.