Archive for July, 2015

A Girl Named Zippy

Source: goodreads

Source: goodreads

Mooreland, Indiana was in the news recently. According to Health News from NPR, shortly after buying a house in Mooreland and moving in, a family discovered that it had been once used as a meth lab. I read about meth houses from time to time, and this article would not have been very remarkable except for the fact that I also happened to be reading a memoir of Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana. I had never heard of Mooreland before.

I grew up in cities, but I have heard some older family members remember life in small towns (in India) that had just two streets, a ‘main’ street running north to south, and one or two smaller streets running east to west—a town where everyone knew everyone else, a town with just one tailor, one priest, one school, and one grocery store. Mooreland is that town.  Only, there is no dull soul in Zippy’s Mooreland. There are people with peculiar talents: they can sit really still or sneeze so loud that “the whole house rocked”; they have very little hair as babies (Zippy); or are so ancient that they “seem as inevitable as the moon”.  Zippy’s stories are funny, small-town accounts of friendship, family, poverty, school, pets, and encounters with scary grown ups. They are told in the voice of an adult’s recollection of her around seven-year old self, so while the seven-year old Zippy can say the things that only seven-year olds can, she wouldn’t be able to pull off her deadpanning without the benefit of adult hindsight.

Here is what Zippy has to say about her father:

My father was a great smoker and driver of vehicles. Also he could whistle like a bird and could perform any task with either his left or right hand, a condition he taught me was called “ambisexual”…He could hold a full coffee cup while driving and never spill a drop, even going over bumps, He lost his temper faster than anyone.

But on to Zippy herself now. Zippy (otherwise known as Haven Kimmel, the author) is featured on the cover of the book, a smart marketing move, as Zippy’s face is anything but meh. What she lacks in hair, she makes up in spirit. You can tell that this child is not sweet and kind and good and angelic and all honey. Zippy is better than that—she is wicked and witty and wicked. Zippy is fearless. Zippy has personality with a capital P. I also thought it was refreshing to see a little girl dressed in all blue, a baby blue, but a blue that has been foisted on boys, and boys only in the past several years.

A Girl Named Zippy made me think again about what it means to have an ‘ordinary childhood’ and how ‘unusual’ and ‘remarkable’ sometimes need the context of a time and place. Zippy’s Mooreland childhood was perhaps less remarkable and exotic than that of Sissy Bellings, another Mooreland citizen, who lived with her fifteen siblings and half-siblings in a two-room house next to Mooreland’s only diner. Three years ago, I read and enjoyed Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle, another childhood memoir of growing up poor in small towns in an unorthodox family. Sometime earlier, I tried to read another childhood memoir, Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors, which I found eccentric and bizarre in an off-putting way. Zippy is neither irresistible nor  unpleasant. It has a very understated poignancy, a deliberately impassive humor, and an abundance of quirky individuals. A note on the flavor of humor—it is not the kind that inspires deep belly laughs, nor is it the warm kind that leaves a general feeling of contentment; it is entertaining and funny overall, and I half-laughed three or four times, but it is not the kind of humor I would be compelled to revisit, or even find funny upon rereading, such as this passage:

Mom kindly refrained from mentioning my many, many visits to the emergency room. She also kindly refrained mentioning the little incident last summer which had resulted in my losing two toenails, severely abrading the top of my foot, and breaking two toes. At the hospital the nurse had asked how I’d done it, and I had to admit that the injuries were because of my foot being run over while it was upside-down, by a bicycle I myself was riding.

I’ll admit it was funny the first time I read, but now as I am reading it again, even my inner smile isn’t awakened.

Zippy is a smart and funny book, and perhaps people who grew up in small towns or have second-hand memories of growing up in small towns might find it especially meaningful. It did make me imagine growing up two minutes from everywhere—the Main Street, the Diner, the School, the Drugstore, and all my friend’s homes, a town where everyone knew everyone else, and everyone was the same race. It made me think of how different such a life would be. It made me think about how it would not necessarily be a simpler life.

On the whole, I feel mostly ambivalent about A Girl Named Zippy, although I can see it has its charm.

Side note: It is so much more fun to write about a book that elevated me in some way, or even better, that aggravated me. Why am I writing this then? Early this year, I resolved to write at least about one book a month, a very unambitious goal to begin with, but I suppose I was secretly hoping that it would then be easier to exceed my insignificant expectations, and write twice a month, or even once every week. January was a successful month, and I wrote about the singularly interesting Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. The next six months are a different story. This July, as I turned a year older, I resolved to write again even if Zippy didn’t inspire me or amuse me as much as it has some others. Simply because writing makes me happy.


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