Havel Kimmel aka Henrietta Krinkle, you are still my favorite.
This book follows A Girl Named Zippy, and I adore Kimmel’s explanation in her Preface: that she would definitely never write a sequel to Zippy, but that people kept on asking her if her mother ever got up off the couch; and here we are. This is an extension of that first memoir, then, with the focus being not on the girl called Zippy (Haven Kimmel herself) but on her mother, who in that first volume was a somewhat shapeless woman who mostly inhabited the couch and read a lot, talked on the phone, watched television, and didn’t worry too much about her children. This is told not unlovingly, but as fact. Zippy’s childhood is on balance awfully joyful and fun, and although a critical adult’s eye might point out lots of points of minor neglect, she clearly loves her family very much. This tone is continued in She Got Up Off the Couch. The family and each of its members is still, realistically, flawed, but lovable and well-loved. Kimmel’s brother is now mostly absent, with a family of his own; her sister marries and has two babies; her father finds work as a sheriff’s deputy (or similar job title); but her mother’s is the great change of this second memoir. This was, what, the late 1970’s I suppose, in a tiny Indiana town of a few hundred people. Zippy’s dad, Bob Jarvis, holds the keys: her mother Delonda doesn’t know how to drive. This will work as a fine metaphor (and indeed is part of the literal action), as Delonda calls a phone number on a television commercial to look into going to college. She wrangles a ride into the next town over for an entrance exam, which places her out of fully 40 hours of college credits. Under Bob’s clear disapproval – he says of the woman who takes Delonda to her test, “time was, a woman wouldn’t have gotten in a man’s marriage that way” – she persists in attending classes, studying, reading, talking to new people, and in 23 months, graduates summa cum laude – and continues on to graduate school. Eventually she earns a Master’s degree in English and becomes a high school teacher. This is all a stunning change. Along the way, to get to school and back, she learns how to drive and purchases a vehicle that is, in itself, a good joke.
She Got Up Off the Couch also follows the format of A Girl Named Zippy: chapters jump around, more as connected anecdotes than as clear narrative. Each chapter stands alone admirably as a hilarious or heartfelt – usually both – nugget of tears, joy, preadolescent confusion, and filial love. [In fact, as soon as I finish writing this review I’m off to read my favorite chapter out loud to Husband, if he’ll let me, while he smokes a brisket in the backyard. If you’re curious, it’s called “Treasure,” and is about a hippie college student hiking cross-country who camps out in the Jarvis backyard for a few days. It’s hilarious and heart-wrenching.] It’s a great structure, this anecdotal style. If I ever write my own mother’s biography, which I keep dreaming about, I have something similar in mind. Yes, there are odd characters that the reader of just one chapter would wrinkle her forehead at; but this is true of the whole book, too. Zippy has had an odd and happy life, and that’s exactly why we enjoy reading about it.
Zippy herself, naturally, also grows and changes in this book. Delonda is our star and makes the most life-changing journey. Kimmel writes in her preface, “I will never do anything half so grand or important,” and I know exactly what she means: the decision of Delonda and other women of her time who broke out of where they were told they belonged have done something for the women of my generation that we are now saved from having to do, if that makes any sense. It is something I’ve long felt about my own mother. But I was saying that Zippy continues to grow up: we see more of her engaging and eccentric friends, Rose and Julie Ann, and we meet a new friend, Jeanne Ann. And when she gets a nephew and then a niece, Zippy becomes hopelessly devoted. The blizzard that sweeps through when her niece is long overdue and panics the family is, again, funny and riveting at the same time.
I’ve now read everything that Haven Kimmel has written except for every single one of her blog posts, and that one children’s book. I hope she is getting to work right now on another book – fiction or non, more Haven Kimmel, stat.
I love it. Funny, true, humble, real.