How many people in life can say they have met their hero? By accident or design, such an occasion is rare. But my life has been full of rarity, and I count myself among the blessed who have touched the pedestal my heroes rest upon. Erma Bombeck was the reigning queen of schlumpy housewives. For her to be a woman's hero would have been no big deal, especially during the golden years of her reign, the 60s and 70s. She certainly was my hero. Only it was 1988, and I was 10 years old.Â If I were in a freak show I'd be The Girl Who Time Travels because all of my references are so dated. It comes from being half-raised by my grandmother in a 100 year old farmhouse where layers of history are excavated just by moving a glass or lifting a book. I read my grandmother's copies of "If Life is a Bowl of Cherries What am I doing in the Pits?" and "The Grass is Greener Over the Septic Tank" multiple times and what I didn't understand I just filed away for later. But I knew I loved this woman, I loved how she took the dust bunnies out from under the bed and made them perform like trained monkeys. I got to meet her when she spoke in Evansville and I don't know who was more excited, me, or Erma. It could not have been every day that she would meet a 10 year old girl so enamored of Housewife Humor.
Madeline L'Engle...I have not read nearly enough of her but what I have read is beautiful and funny and frightening.Â I met her I beleive in 1992...she was kind and had a wonderful eastern accent. We talked about L.M. Montgomery. She loved Emily of New Moon, I'm all Anne of Green Gables. Touching her hand was touching greatness.
In 2003, shortly after the birth of my son Jarvis my mom brought me a book from the library. It was a memoir called "A Girl Named Zippy" and it was by a woman named Haven Kimmel. "I really think you'll like this." It looked a cute, fun read. I imagined it would be corny tales from the farm, told by a zany woman who wears purple with a red hat that does not match.
Wow. I was not expecting that. First of all, she's no old lady, but instead is the exact age of my Aunt Dawn, who is FOREVER YOUNG and also not old at all. And the book was not just screamingly funny but also haunting and sad and dark and did I mention funny? Let me quote an example. The protagonist, Zippy, is talking to her mother about how to honor her now out-grown bicycle, and considers propping it against a shed, planting some flowers and maybe even putting up a sign so people would know what a treasure this old bike is.
"Like a shrine, you mean," said Mom, blatently trying to teach me a new word.
"Yes, like a Shrine." As far as I knew, Shrines wore absurd hats and drove miniature cars in circles during the Mooreland Fair Parade, and were praised, inexplicably, for burning children. Although actually, if I were perfectly honest, I could think of a couple kids who could use a good frying."
After I read that line I very nearly gave up writing. I mean seriously, what is the point?
The thing that got me the most about this book and it's follow-up, "She Got Up Off The Couch" were the details, the things I recognized. Her upbringing in Mooreland, IN in the 1970s felt so incredibly FAMILIAR, to the point that if I ever write anything autobiographical I would have to go through her books with a fine tooth comb and make sure I didn't write about the same things, because it would not be hard. And while being compared to Ms. Kimmel, while being a huge honor, could also be literary death, with us both being from the Hoosier State.
That's the thing about her novels too...the way she describes things and really zeros in on the landscape, on personalities, on the details that had no name until she described them. It's little things ...like a description of a glass lighting fixture filled with dead bugs. But make no mistake about Ms. Kimmel, she is whip-smart and funny and poignant but sometimes I feel like I will need a master's degree in 20 different subjects just to help me understand what she's talking about. And that spurs me on as well.
I confess I'm a comfort reader, and I read all of my favorite books, including ones from childhood, in rotation. So Zippy and Couch have taken quite a beating. They have been read in bed, and in the tub, and in the car. They have been stepped on, and had food spilled on them, and it's all in the name of love, I promise. And with each reading I just loved them more and more, these books are my good old friends, now.
When I discovered Haven had a new website and blog I was extremely happy. When she actually answered some of my comments I was hopelessly geeked. And when I found out she would be speaking in Indianapolis well, let the circle be unbroken!
My husband has more than once left me at home while he traveled to the Transformers Convention (yes, the toy, not the electrical tower), including once, driving all the way to Texas. I told him "This is my Transformer's Convention." And he knew I was right. So on Thursday all five of us drove up to Indy to spend the day. It was meant to be two days, but I didn't get a paycheck I was expecting. So, no hotel, and instead of a whole day at the Children's Museum we had only two hours, which may someday be proven to be child abuse. There was a poop incident, and we had to rush to see everything, and we couldn't really spend any time discussing the things we saw. We are going back.
We had to rush quick to McDonald's and to the boy's joy yes, they had LEGO Batman and to my joy they had Madame Alexander Wizard of Oz Dolls, and Alice accidentally wound up with two. Then we had to hoof it to the little independent bookstore, Big Hat Books, and wouldn't you know it, there was a STREET FESTIVAL going on and we almost didn't make it.
But I made it, and there was a canopy set up in the back, and wine served in paper cups. The proprietors were ASTOUNDED that I had driven 4 hours to be there. Just as I was getting up to get some wine I saw she was coming. Amazing that someone who was essentially a feral child looked so elegant and poised. She was very thin, thinner than in photos. The lady sitting next to me said "I wonder if that's her." "Yes, that's her," I said and felt like running and hiding. But instead I just sat down.
The explanations of the chapter titles were miniature lectures on myth and psychoanalysis, she quoted both Freud and Scooby Doo in the same story. The reading of her book was hilarious, and unlike some writers she actually has the right voice to read her own work (I submit to you Erma Bombeck, and Dave Berry, who should have always hired voice-over artists.) The book itself...what can I say? It's disturbing and full of the Kimmel touch, of remembrances and descriptions of things I didn't know you could describe until I saw them there, it made me feel smarter and dumber at the same time. I have to go load up on Freud and Jung and Edith Hamilton now, but it didn't make me enjoy IODINE any less.
When it came time for questions I could see that it was my duty to do the one thing that no one else would and ask about the people in the memoirs..."Where Are They Now?" I could see the question made her a tiny bit uncomfortable, and I was uncomfortable asking it. I kept waiting for the woman who told Haven that she was so glad that she finally wrote a book that used her education to do it (and oh my, while that woman was talking it was all I could do not to curl up in a ball. I was so embarrassed. ) But she then gave us an answer that was joyously funny and tender, and I quit being sorry I asked.
And when I met her, she was kind and sweet and when I told her who I was she was genuinely delighted to meet me and my children, and initiated a hug and if I had been thinking clearly I would have thought "I have touched the hem of her garment and now I can write" but I was so happy that I just thought "Oh, how nice!"
I'm pretty sure I babbled incoherently and said stupid things, however. For instance, I introduced her to my son, Jarvis, which is her maiden name. I read the book after he was born, and I decided I named him after her without knowing it. But when I told her this I said "I asked my mom, 'Why does she keep saying Jarvis?' and mom said 'Honey...it's her last name." Well, that's not quite what happened. The first time she is referred to as Jarvis I sat straight up and was so confused...because I was really digging on this book and then, HELLO, there is my son's name which I promise I had no idea was surname until that moment. So, still stupid, but not quite as stupid as I described it. Though one of the nice things about Haven is that everyone else looks kind of dumb in comparison, but she's so nice about it that you can't even care.
So, in honor of someone who feels like an old friend, I am going to reccomend the books of Haven Kimmel. And if you don't like what she has to say, pay attention to the way she says it.