by Haven Kimmel
Free Press, 2006
Source: personal copy
Reread it because . . . I reread A Girl Named Zippy recently, so this was the logical next step
After rereading A Girl Named Zippy last month, I simply had no choice but to reread Haven Kimmel’s follow-up memoir, She Got Up Off the Couch. Like Zippy, this is a great plane read; when I started reading it this time around I actually found an old boarding pass inside (my preferred bookmark when flying). I don’t usually leave bookmarks in books after I’ve finished reading them, so this was a pleasant surprise. No year on the boarding pass, though, so I’m not sure when it’s from. My guess is 2007 or 2008.
Anyway. On to the book!
Not being a huge fan of sequels, Kimmel never intended to write a follow-up to Zippy. When she was out on book tours promoting Zippy and her novels, she was, naturally, asked about the people she had written about in her memoir – where they were now, etc. But the question she was also repeatedly asked was whether or not her mother ever got up off the couch (where she had spent most of Kimmel’s childhood). In the preface, Kimmel writes:
The first time I heard the question a little bell rang on a faraway hill, and I knew if I ever did (and I wouldn’t) write a follow-up (which I absolutely would not do), that would be the subject and that would be the title.
Of course I gave in to the six or seven people clamoring for a sequel. In the beginning I didn’t intend to write anything but a continuing portrait of my family, in particular of my mother. Toward the end of Zippy my father and I watched Mom pedal away on my new bicycle, riding toward points unknown; we knew something was afoot but we didn’t know what. She Got Up Off the Couch begins at that point – it seemed an appropriate jumping-off place for a book about an individual woman in a very particular place. But when Rose read the final draft she pointed out that Mother’s evolution, personal as it was, is also the story of a generation of women who stood up and rocked the foundations of life in America. They didn’t know they were doing so – they were trying to save their own lives, I think – but in the process they took it on the chin for everyone who followed. I know my own mother did.
I will never do anything half so grand or important. I couldn’t tell this story any way except through my own eyes, but that doesn’t make me the star of the show. As Zippy was a bow to Mooreland, Indiana, this is a love letter, humbly conceived and even more modestly written, to my father, my brother, the sister who is my very breath of life, and most of all to the woman who stood up, brushed away the pork rind crumbs, and escaped by the skin of her teeth. It is a letter to all such women, wherever they may be. (xv-xvi)
In many ways, She Got Up Off the Couch is just like Zippy. It’s a collection of first-person narrated childhood anecdotes that sound like they’re coming straight from the mouth of a kid. Some of them, like the chapter, “A Short List of Records My Father Threatened to Break Over My Head If I Played Them One More Time,” are so side-splittingly funny I have been known to lose the power of speech, I’m laughing so hard.
But the underlying tone of She Got Up Off the Couch is heavier than that of Zippy, and in it there are just as many moments that make my heart splinter as there are that make me laugh. Kimmel tells her mother’s story the way most of us remember our childhoods: in bits and pieces. Within those fragmented memories is a growing understanding of the significance of the events unfolding around her. The child who told the stories in A Girl Named Zippy is still present in She Got Up Off the Couch, but she’s maturing, and so a serious tone cannot help but creep in amidst the hilarity. There are more reflections on family members and friends in this follow-up, too, and those chapters are told with such a raw tenderness and love I cannot help but love these people myself. And no matter how many times I read it, I still cannot get through the chapter about her brother without weeping.
At the heart of She Got Up Off the Couch is a woman who found the strength and courage to reclaim herself, and that is the reason why, as much as I love Zippy, I love this book even more. I will never do anything half so grand or important, either, but it is because of her – and all the other women who escaped by the skin of their teeth – that shooting for grandness is even an option. To all the women who got up off the couch: thank you.
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