These letters from great-grandmother Jean to great-granddaughter Ayla not only illuminate
Jean Zipp’s life but also supply a vivid documentation of twentieth-century American
Windows: Letters to Ayla demonstrates how revisiting one’s memories can spark and
kindle a surge of previously “forgotten” details. Jean smells Grandmother’s bread,
recalls cookies locked in the fruit cellar, purrs with the cats in the sun room,
and plays with cousins in the cement-and-grass strip driveway. She celebrates life’s
complexities, without denying us the true and sometimes dark details of the world.
What were the Roaring Twenties like for a child in an Ohio steel mill town? Aunt
Marcy’s flamboyant dresses and record collection; relieving summer heat by splashing
in a laundry tub to the rhythm of Mother’s piano music; running after ice flakes
as the ice man chipped the block in his truck; an electrifying live Rachmaninoff
recital; diphtheria, fatal peritonitis, and large red quarantine signs on neighborhood
What was the Great Depression like for an adolescent girl? Helping Father tally shoe
store chits (notes akin to food stamps); Mother taking on extra piano lessons; helping
young women with a place to stay and housekeeping work; no longer the glow from the
blast furnaces with the mills shut down; and still Shirley Temple, Tarzan, Fred and
Ginger at the weekly matinées where the chorus lines sang, “Happy days are here again.”
Cleveland, Youngstown, the East Coast, Palo Alto, Colorado Springs, San Diego, Tucson—Jean’s
life has been a cycle of moves, desire to conquer boredom with meaningful work, and
unforeseen serendipities. Her sensitivity to art, color, texture, and space mirror
her insights into life. Her education in literature (Mother’s library book lists;
meeting Robert Frost in her college poet’s circle; adult writing groups; reading
blue books for a blind literature professor) enables her to communicate eloquently
and entertainingly the stories of her life.
Like the name she coined for the tactile art gallery she helped create, Eyes of the
Mind, Jean looks into life’s challenges and enigmas to find blessings and understanding.
In reading these letters, we find a feeling of peace in an imperfect world.