August 26, 2016

Miss Tippy by Janet Lambert (1948)

The Parrishes again, and this time Tippy, "going on" sixteen just as Penny was in Star-Spangled Summer, the book which opened that series. As always in the Parrish clan, many things happen at once: Tippy sends out invitations for a birthday dance on Governors Island; Colonel Parrish is ordered to Germany; and suddenly tragedy stalks into the gay Parrish household.

For a long time Tippy has been smarting under the failure of Trudy, the beloved colored cook, to call her "Miss Tippy." Trudy is all-wise, all-knowing. When Tippy ceases to be a headstrong, teasing, little flitterfly, says Trudy, and takes on a bit of sorely lacking dignity, she will be called "Miss Tippy," but not until then.

Tippy's earnest efforts are both touching and humorous. Tragedy pulls her up short--and Miss Tippy emerges. Sunshine comes again as it always does to the Parrishes. "Miss Tippy" is the darling of them all. (from the inside flap)

As Miss Tippy opens, Tippy is agonizing over invitations to her sixteenth birthday dance on Governors Island, where she lives with her family.  Let's meet Tippy!
"Scowling was hard, too, because her face was not designed for it. All its features were upswept and perky, from the short inquiring nose and curved lips that ended in a playful dimple, to golden eyelashes with rising tips."
Before Tippy can finish the invitations, though, her mother gets a call and finds out that Major Parrish is being ordered to Germany. Tippy protests. What about Penny, and the new baby? David and Carrol and Davy and their new baby? And 19-year-old Bobby, the bane of Tippy's existence, needs to prepare for West Point.
"'You mean--we'll really leave here?' Tippy jumped from the desk as if a bomb had gone off under it, and her voice shook. But her mother only said quietly:
'Daddy comes first,
always. I had him before I had you children,' she reminded with a smile, and reached out to take Tippy's hand. 'He needs us. You and me, I mean.'"
I think this is a fascinating conversation. There isn't much children's and young adult fiction with such adult insight into relationships. I love that the children are not the center of the world. This is a thread that runs through this book, and gives some interesting insight into the older Parrishes' lives.

Bobby won't be going, but Tippy will. Her mother says: "'You're our youngest. You belong with us wherever we go, and we'll hang on to you like grim death." 

Tippy is distraught and heads over to the Jordons' house, where she shares the news with her dear friend Alice, and older brother military cadet Peter. The majority of the book is spent in preparing Tippy and the Parrishes for the big move. Tippy learns to drive, with surprisingly little teaching. (Maybe cars were easier to drive in the 1940s?) Bobby is, as usual, teasing Tippy by stealing the car keys and they get into a big brawl, right in front of a very young and good-looking officer, with whom Tippy finds herself nose to now.
"Tippy even noticed his nose, which was high-bridged but not too large, and his blue eyes that started out quite straight on either side of it then drooped lazily at the outer corners."
She sees him at the movies as well, and examines every bit of him:
"He had an interesting profile: A straight nose with a little flat tip on the end, a high cheekbone, a very nice mouth and upperlip, and the oddly slanted eyes. And above them, sandy hair had been parted and forced into neat obedience that erupted in a double cowlick."
Tippy and Bobby continue to fight as packing preparations ensue. Tippy ask Trudy for advice, and wonders when Trudy will call her "Miss Tippy," as she calls Penny "Miss Penny." After all, she's almost sixteen.
"'But it ain't a matter of age. It's a title you earns. Folks don's measure grown-ups by birthdays. It's what you do an' how you do it that counts. Lots of people older'n me ain't grown up, yet, and lots who's younger'n you, have.'"
At frequent times, Trudy seems like the most sensible member of the household. It feels like the Parrish children turn to Trudy for true, thoughtful advice and love. Although Mrs. Parrish loves and supports them, she's a bit on the flighty side.

Tippy spends some time soul-searching and after her mother gives her a notebook, she decides that she's going to become a writer. Not much comes of it, though. In other Jordon/Parrish family news, Jenifer's wedding to Cyril is in the works. Oh, and that handsome young officer? Kenneth Prescott is a cousin to the Prescotts (friends of Penny in her teen years), and stationed on Governors Island. But far too old for Tippy at the ancient age of twenty-three.

But Peter Jordon, according to Alice, is just right. Earlier in the book, Tippy sees Peter all dressed up and admits he "almost looks handsome." Peter is a good and steady man, but Tippy isn't feeling it, despite how fun it would be for Alice and Bobby and Peter and Tippy to get married. After all, then Alice and Tippy would be sisters!

The dance is nearly here, when disaster hits the family. Carrol and David's little boy Davy has polio. I needed a little reminder of what polio meant in 1948:
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The virus is transmitted by person-to-person spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or, less frequently, by a common vehicle (for example, contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine. Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness of the neck and pain in the limbs. 1 in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized. (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs114/en/)
While the family is at the hospital, Tippy and Bobby take care of little Parri (Penny and Josh's daughter). They visit the hospital and get the good news that Davy will live. He may not walk, but he will live. Tippy is helping the family move out of the house on Governors Island when Trudy surprises her with the title of "Miss Tippy." A sweet interchange follows, with Trudy sharing when she was first called Miss Gertrude by their pastor.

Tippy's birthday arrives, and Josh gives her a portable typewriter for her burgeoning (except not) writing career. And the dance is still on! Tippy gets a beautiful new dress, and a surprise party before the dance. Tippy dances for ages, but the infuriating Ken Prescott (who is also going to Germany) and Peter are her most frequent escorts. Peter tries to give her his pin, but she won't take it.
'"But do you think you could love me, someday?'"'I don't know that, either. I like you such a lot but, ' she shook her head and laid her hand with its bracelet over his, 'we aren't grown up yet, Peter. We each have so many things to do before we can think of marriage.'"
And before she knows it, Tippy and her mother are on the transport ship to Germany, saying good-bye to the family and to the Jordons and ready to start their new adventure. And the book ends.

Miss Tippy is quite a bit about how Tippy (sometimes unsuccessfully) is trying to grow up before her time. Trying to resist the pull of fighting with the troublesome Bobby, to figure out how to be a lady, trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up, how to help out her family in troubling times, and how to earn the title of Miss Tippy.

I'd like to like Tippy more. Ken makes a comment about hoping that she was more like Penny, and I agree. It can be hard to get completely behind a troubled soul--especially when reading these books for pure comfort. Things pick up a bit more in Little Miss Atlas, as we travel with Tippy to Germany, and she gets a sense of herself and the bigger world. Of course, the series gets increasingly bittersweet, as there is a hard road for Tippy ahead, love-wise. Which I'm trying not to think about.