Lost in the Graveyard


I didn’t want to like The Art of Racing in the Rain.  As I told my friend Eyefish, books with dogs on the cover tend to be, in my narrow view, sappy yawners.  It’s like cheap eye candy to lure you in to veiled preaching on How To Be A Better Person.  I currently have a dog, have had dogs for, literally, my entire life, and come from a family that habitually sheltered stray dogs, the mangier the better.

Sally Jane. Her rap name is Salacious J.

Yet, I am a sort of a farmer about my dogs.  Ok, a loving farmer.  I do not think they are people in dog suits; I don’t believe they need clothes.  For awhile we had a dog we swore was a monkey in a dog suit.  Mr. Halfstory called him The Extortionist.  You had to get up fairly early in the morning to get ahead of him.  I concede this may be a more revealing fact about us.

I liked this book!  I liked it a lot.  It was weird, but I was happy the dog – Enzo – made his observations in a superior, often arch, tone, and he was an intellectual, crossing back and forth between yearning for thumbs and ripping up stuffed animals to discussing how determination can manifest into destiny.

I was also juiced to discover “racing” in the title meant car racing, not wet dogs running around in circles, teaching us about joy.   And, as a person who sees no actual point in racing, except the continued pollution of the atmosphere, it was rather fascinating.  Additionally, monumental things happen in this book; that’s tough to pull off with a dog as your narrator.

Taking The Son to his game a few days ago, I thought I’d visit the Benicia cemetery, as my maternal grandmother is buried there.  She, with my working mom, raised and spoiled me; I spent more time hiding behind her muu-muus than I can count, hiding from mean MaryAnn on our trips to the cousins in nearby Vallejo, and, as I got older, depending on her for non-judgemental encouragement.  But I never visited her grave because, ahem, it’s a graveyard.  I was missing her and was thinking too much of Jean Nate perfume and Easy Spirit sandals to let it go.  She died before meeting Mr. Halfstory and the children.  She would have appreciated my curmudgeonly boy and my girls’ anxieties would have been, to her, assets, not issues. So there I was, wandering the cemetery, and not finding her.  How can you lose someone in a graveyard?  Did I look like some bizarre ghost of Emily Dickinson, holding my sad violets?  It was strangely peaceful.  Later, in the game, The Son hit a seed into the right center gap and was error-free at 2nd base.  I think Nana found me.

I then moved on to A Girl Called Zippy, by Haven Kimmel, a strange and hilarious memoir.  My friend Teresa reviewed it: “Small town.  Big problems.”  Let me just ask, have we all read enough memoirs now?  I always reach for them, perhaps looking to understand my weird childhood, perhaps wanting to feel better about my own choices.  I am weary of the tragic memoir, excellent though they be.  The poignant ones, written through tiny details and a basically happy life, are too few, and often one-dimensional.  Sometimes I don’t need all the gritty details; I just need one or two and enough good writing to read the secret story beneath.  Growing up in Mooreland, Indiana, Kimmel barely wore shoes and never stood still.  Her brother was an enigma; her parents devoted and loving…and wildly inept supervisors.  (At least by today’s standards.  This is probably an unfair comparison because, and I raise my own hand here, today’s parents have to be completely alert all the time.  It’s exhausting, people.)  I also think it’s tough going to write a slice-of-life movie about nice people with great senses of humor; so much easier to write a non-stop explosion-filled action movie with tight clothing and f-bombs (Confession: I like those movies, too, but still, Salacious J. could write them.).  In Zippy’s Mooreland, everyone was god-fearing yet Zippy stuck with her own religious beliefs – one of them being she preferred to think of Jesus as her boyfriend.  If you’re in a memoir mood, give it a shot.