Yet another book that I'm certain I'm the last person on earth to read. You might remember, I said the same thing about David Sedaris. I started Haven Kimmel's memoir of a childhood in Mooreland, Indiana a couple of months ago. I had every intention of traveling to Wilmington, NC (just down the Interstate a piece) to see her speak at the University of North Carolina's campus there, but with teaching and other grown-up responsibilities (boo!) I couldn't go. Alas, I put the book aside to attend to some obligation or other, and I just came back to it in the wake of my slump.
It's hard for me not to compare David Sedaris and Haven Kimmel.
1. They're both really funny.
2. They're both from NC (Sedaris grew up in Raleigh, Kimmel currently resides next door, in Durham)
3. They're both really funny.
In all seriousness, I adored Kimmel's memoir for her ability--like Sedaris--to tap into the humorous, the touching, and the tragic that seems to accompany childhood. One such example came to light in the essay, "The Social Gospel." Little Haven, aka Zippy, finds herself enamored of a girl named Sissy Bellings that comes from a family of 15 and lives in a two-room house. Zippy, despite her Quaker upbringing, does not believe in God, but she begins to talk religion with the devout Sissy in a thinly veiled attempt to get into the house so she can see the workings of the 15-person Billings family firsthand. Along the way she chases opportunities for good works in an attempt to win Sissy's trust and admiration but finds her attempts foiled at every turn. In the end, she finds an unlikely opportunity to do a good deed when a close friend of hers confesses the ill intent of their band teacher during "private lessons." As a result--even though she's unsure whether or not the teacher has caused her friend harm or what harm he might be able to inflict--she refuses to allow her friend to be left alone with the teacher. It's a moment of clarity and insight for an otherwise mischievous and troublesome child.
On the humorous side, the opening lines of "Interior Design" present a great example of Kimmel's humor:
"Decoupage hit Mooreland pretty hard, as did antiquing, and hand painting one's own ceramics. My dad was especially good at decoupage, and made a number of very beautiful things to hang around the house. My personal favorite was the Bill of Rights, which he burned around the edges and affixed to a large flat piece of cherrywood. He screwed a ring into the top and it hung on the wall in the living room. I used to stand and study it. It survived until one afternoon when Dad was trying to repair the wiring in an outlet below it. At that time, we had a cat named Abednego who performed no end of evil tasks, and as Dad knelt there, Abednego went scampering right up Dad's back, using, of course, his claws. Dad raised up in alarm and hit the Bill of Rights, causing it to fall squarely on the back of his head, and before I knew what had happened, Dad had grabbed the plaque and slung it in fury across the room. He missed the cat, but hit the window seat, and the wood cracked in half. Abednego was nowhere to be seen--he was in pursuit of other happinesses, no doubt--so I picked up the wood and tried to fix it, but it was beyond repair."
She goes on to detail the keen ability of her acquaintances at hooked rugs, ceramics painting, and myriad of other crafts that threw me immediately into flashbacks to my own childhood. Scary stuff.
If you're in the mood for a laugh, a nicely written essay, and a quick read, definitely give A Girl Named Zippy a go.