But first — I know what you’re thinking. Why the hypergraphia, Laura? Why are you writing about memoirs and stuffing versus dressing? What’s wrong? Well . . . I have nothing to do. Okay, “nothing to do” is strong. But I am in a lull, waiting for the galleys of WHAT THE DEAD KNOW and owing only one piece of writing that I recall, a short story for Megan Abbott, one that I’m not quite ready to write. (It needs to simmer for a while.)
At any rate, the previous entry on memoirs led to a mention of A GIRL NAMED ZIPPY in the comments. (Thanks, Sal!) And while I was typing “A Short List of Things My Father Lost Gambling” into the comments, I realized it was the platonic ideal of The Memory Project, a detailed, fact-based piece of writing that uses very few emotionally-laden words even as it incidentally breaks a reader’s heart. Here it is, again:
“1. My pony, Tim. He was excellently small and nice, and lived in a meadow behind the Mooreland Friends Church, with no one’s permission. One day I came home from school, and poof. If it were not for a photograph I have of me astride the little horse, with his name and mine written on the back by my mother, I would for certain think I made him up.
2. A small motorcycle. It appeared on the front porch one morning; no one learned to drive it; shortly thereafter, it was gone.
3. My mother’s engagement and wedding rings. The wedding band was heavy gold, with a little cluster of shooting stars that even had tails. In the center of each star was a diamond chip. In my imagination she just looked down one day, and they had vanished.
4. A boat. Like the motorcycle, it simply appeared. We lived nowhere near water, but every day I went out and pretended to drive it at abnormal speeds across choppy waters. For a brief time, it took the place of rodeo as my favorite sport.
5. My twenty-five dollar savings bond. I won it at the Mooreland Fair in a game of intense skill and concentration called Guess How Many Pennies Are in This Huge Jar. I guessed 468 and [ital] got it exactly right. [end ital] My name was announced just before the Grand Champion Pull at the Horse and Pony Pull, the zenith of the Mooreland social season. Twenty-five dollars was an unheard of amount of money at the time, and my father volunteered to deposit it in my “savings account” for me, which I had never heard of before that moment. Over the next few years, I probably asked him for the money 736 times, and he always assured me we were just waiting for it to mature.
6. A wide variety of excellent hunting beagles.”
This is a smart group, so I hestitate to point out the things that I love so much about this two-page chapter. But I’ll risk citing a few things that make my heart sing.
“Excellently” Stephen King famously (!) advises us to avoid adverbs but if you’re going to use them, a made-up/unexpected one isn’t a bad way to go.
“Abnormal speeds across choppy waters.” Self-explanatory.
All of entry 5, from the number of pennies to the number of times she pestered her father for the money, to “the zenith of the Mooreland social season,” which doesn’t carry a whiff of condescension or “wink-wink-I-know-better” archness.
I won a big jar of candy at the Halloween party at Dickeyville Presbyterian by guessing 249. I remember explaining to many, many people how I happened on that number, as if my “solution” were on a par with cold water fusion. But always with a certain amount of self-deprecation, as if aware that it was a great thing to guess the correct number, and I shouldn’t appear to be full of myself.
Haven Kimmel would do better by that story.