A Girl Named Zippy:
Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana

by Haven Kimmel


Doubleday, 2002. ISBN 0767915054.
Reviewed by Marti Weisbrich
Posted on 04/11/2006

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Relationships; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

A wonderful, inspiring, kindred soul kind of a book. Haven Kimmel's use of colorful phrases, words, short scenes and vignettes create a slice of small-town America that harkens back to the 1950s, even though Haven was born in 1965.

The population of her hometown, Mooreland, Indiana, was 300. I was born in 1947 in a small central California town that had about 750 population. Mooreland is described as a "long way to go not to be anywhere when you got there." The same could be said for my hometown. Haven's descriptive words struck such a cord with me because if you have lived in a small town, you find many of the colorful characters that people this book. Small towns contain such a wealth of colorful town characters, but you must leave your town and grow up to fully appreciate them. The wonder of growing up in a small town is its balance, its ebb and flow. Zippy says that when someone died, someone usually got born to balance. "I was added and the barber was taken away"... Shifting yet remaining constant.

Zippy's mother was a deep Quaker. Her father found his church in the woods and described their preacher as "born dead." Zippy says, among other descriptions. that he was ..."an earthly example of claymation!" As a devout Catholic, my mother went to church every single day. My father went to church once a year. Our Catholic priest always appeared to be in a catatonic trance as he mumbled the oratory only appearing to awaken when it came time to "drink" the altar wine. My father only went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve and would invite our priest to have breakfast with us on Christmas morning. He said that this was his holy deed for the year. Of course, breakfast for Dad and our priest was conducted in the little shed in our backyard that contained my father's homemade wine. It was considered quite a privilege to have the priest come to your home for a meal. I guess my family was indeed very blessed because our priest came to our home for lunch every month and most of the time managed to eat some of my mother's wonderful leg of lamb before retiring to the shed for the rest of the afternoon with Dad. Using poignant words and sharply detailed sentences such as, "Heaven will be a scratch n sniff sort of place..," Zippy conveys the humorous pathos of growing up in a bifurcated, relgious household. Her mother, raised Catholic by her adoptive parents, is asked to leave school when she expands on the notion taught by Catholic nuns that candles lit signify the presence of God. She reasons that if the candles go out, this must mean that God leaves.

Both Zippy and I had trouble with conforming in school, but our parents approached our non-conformity differently: Zippy is disruptive in class, colors outside the lines and talks out of turn, which greatly pleases her parents although they pretend otherwise. Her father tells her, "I respect every way in which you are a troublemaker, now get up and do what your mother says." I was a talkative child in school and constantly getting into trouble because I wanted to have conversations with my schoolmates. As a child of immigrants, I soaked up language like a sponge (Spanish was my first language) and often found myself sent to stand in the hall for talking in class. Yet I was a very good student and would come home with O's in my report card which meant outstanding. My parents were so upset with my report cards because they only knew of O's to mean zeros. Thinking I was failing in school, they spanked me. Finally, one of my teachers was able to explain to them the meaning of O's. In the end, I believe that the author approved of her upbringing as I have of mine. The trials and tribulations we experienced have served to provide us with a richness of memories that are true treasures.

A Girl Named Zippy is a delightful, nostalgic and wonderful read.

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