Guest Blogger: My Friend, Shelly

You know the cartoon Tasmanian Devil, which for some reason looks nothing like a real Tasmanian Devil? Well, that’s what I look like right now.

My friend, Shelly, who was a reader long before I ever was, shared some book passages with me, and I’m going to make a Guest Blogger of her, and have her share them here.

From Haven Kimmel, the author of two books of memoirs [as well as children’s books and fiction] whose writing I truly enjoy.

1) “If Quakers had saints, then Olive Overton would have been one. She had narrow eyes that in a mean woman would have been threatening but in her were like a laugh happening no one else could hear.”

2) “There are horrible tortures in this world, like going to church and that moment your sister notices you have never once in your entire life washed behind your ears. Dinner is routinely late and homework is given. There are mean boys who talk about underwear, and mean girls, but the only one I knew (Dana) I really liked. There is the torture of the dead baby pig pile at your best friend’s house, a pile which is frozen in the winter but in the summer must be faced squarely. Your hamster, Skippy, drowns in your potty chair and your sister and brother WILL NEVER LET YOU FORGET, even though Skippy was a biter, and indeed was found with his mouth wide open and his teeth as long and dangerous as those of a saber-toothed rodent. There is the cruelty of being made to wear shoes; there is the fact of an unheated house in the wintertime; there is a critical lack of plumbing for months at a time.

But no torture I knew as a child compared with canning season, which seems to have been devised by Satan to reproduce the environs of Hell long before we get there. Imagine a kitchen at the height of summer, pans boiling and pressure cookers steaming, ball jars being sterilized (and not by something cold), Dad running the operation like a band director with a grudge and a twitching baton. We put up apple butter, we put up snap beans. We boiled corn on the cob then sliced it off in strips with a sharp knife. There were bread-and-butter pickles, chowchow, yellow squash. But nothing matched the sheer, violent hatefulness of canning tomatoes.”


3) “Mom always said she was a size 7 woman she kept wrapped in fat to prevent bruising. When she started at Ball State she weighed 268 pounds, so the Thin Mom inside was abundantly safe. But by the end of her second full school year, she had lost a hundred pounds, or an entire other Thin Mom. She still had long hair she hated and wore in a bun—Dad wouldn’t let her cut it—and she was still missing some of her teeth, but there was no denying she had changed.

It wasn’t until I stopped and looked back that I saw what she had done: she had taken the CLEP test and leapfrogged over an acre of requirements. She had finagled rides with seventeen different people over her first year. She had found Sabrina [a car] and redeemed her with advertising. Her too solid flesh had melted; she had gone to the theater; she had written a play that had been performed as a staged reading; she had taken me to the big campus and made me feel comfortable there, the way birds make their babies fly farther and farther afield, all the while saying, “See? It’s just the world, you know the world.” What I hadn’t noticed, or hadn’t recognized, were the course overloads, the punishing summer schedule, the arguments with advisers who told her no. (She handed to me, in those years, one of her greatest gifts: the ability to say with a smile, “Tell me who will say yes, and then direct me to his office.”)

She had done all these things and she was going to graduate summa cum laude, which meant Good But Loud, from the Honors College, and she had done it all in twenty-three months. It takes some people more time to hang a curtain.”

4) “In Mooreland all parties were held in churches, either in the big basement of the North Christian Church, or in our Fellowship Room at Mooreland Friends. That was problem one, right there. Dad didn’t like to go in churches; they didn’t work for him. The few times I’d seen him at the Friends Meeting, he looked claustrophobic, or as if his tires had been overinflated and he should NOT be driving on them. I couldn’t watch it. I didn’t like him to go to specials at church, nor weddings, funerals. If it were up to me I’d have kept him away from anyplace with pews and hymnals. I think even podiums and a certain kind of light were a bad idea.”

Categories: Reading

5 replies »

  1. I love this rock photo. Is it also from Australia?

    About the passages from the book…I think Haven Kimmel’s writing is fantastic. She writes her experiences as a child, through a child’s eyes, and I can not only remember those feelings, but also actually feel them. I think she has a true gift.

    However, when I reread the passages here, they’ve lost some of their zest, it seems. When reading the book, I fnd them exceptional. How do they read to folks who aren’t in the middle of the book?

  2. I am not familiar with this author’s works. Which book are these taken from? The blog just gives the author’s name, not which work these are excerpted from.

    Shelly, I found #1 & #4 confusing because I do not have the background story of these quotes. #1 is a description of a woman’s eyes and nothing else. Great for a writing class it but does not get me to read the book. #4 is about a man who did not enjoy being in church but, at least in this excerpt, no explanation or solution is given. And I did

    #2 & #3 are complete enough to enjoy fully. They make me want to read the book(s) they are taken from. That’s why I am asking where these excerpts came from originally.

  3. Shelly, my thoughts are the exact opposite of exo’s. In the sense of the kinds of quotes that sum up an idea or experience that is somewhat ephemeral and compex, I think #s 1 and 4 do it well. I love the thought of eyes that could be scary, but aren’t. I can *see* that woman. The bit with the dad, for me, is summed up in the suggestion that even podiums are too much. For me, it doesn’t matter *why*, it just *is*.
    The other two passages are very engaging and well-written, but don’t grab me in the same way. They don’t boil down to “quotes”. They need all the words to convey the experience.
    Like exo, I would like to know the name of the book(s).

  4. Thanks for commenting on the quotes. I can understand how they can miss the reader if the reader isn’t reading the whole book, or enough of the book to know the narrator a bit.

    These quotes are from Kimmel’s second book of memoirs, which picks up where the first left off. The original book is *A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana.” I enjoyed her writing so much that I quickly went out to purchase the second one: *She Got Up Off the Couch and Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana”.

    Kimmel also writes fiction, but I haven’t read any of that yet. Thanks for the comments.

  5. First, the photo is not from Australia, but from Death Valley, CA.

    What do I think of the passages…

    1. Wonderful fresh description. Nicely telling. I like the image I see in my head.

    You’re right, exo, that it’s merely a nugget, not a meal. But it’s a sign of the author’s ability to spin words in an original and fun way, and that makes me want to read more.

    2. This one seems more personal. As someone who knows you, I can see why this would appeal to you, and I can also see why it would make you think of me. We haven’t canned garden produce yet, but it’s in our future, like maybe next weekend.

    3. My aunt used to say, “I have a figure just like yours under all this fat,” so once again, I have a personal connection to the passage from the git-go.

    I like the strong determined person it conveys, and I like the way she is conveyed through her trials and accomplishments. It’s so much more interesting and effective than, “My mother was an incredibly determined woman, and her determination gave me courage.”

    4. This is my least favorite because the tire thing misses me, but it *is* effective. I get a sense of Dad through his discomfort with events. The final sentence makes the passage, in my opinion.

    They all work for me. But, then, we all know that I enjoy reading and writing, passages and quotes. “Trifles are the sum of life,” which is my version of something Dickens wrote that I’ve never looked up for accuracy.

    I eat this stuff up, and I found all of these morsels tasty, both the nuggets and the meals.

    And I want to read more, so I searched “Haven Kimmel” on ListenAlaska, the library audio book service. (It’s the fastest way to get my hands on a book.) I will be downloading “A Girl Named Zippy” tonight while I sleep.

    Thanks, Shell!