Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bawling My Eyes Out

So I just finished reading Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life and last night I saw the play about Molly at Zach starring Barbara Chisholm and on top of all that it's the eve of the four-year anniversary of Molly's death and probably I should wait to offer commentary. But I won't.

While I will recuse myself from an official review of the play, I do want to say that Barbara does such a stunning job of capturing She Who is Most Uncapturable. I'm too overwhelmed with emotion to say more. Before the show, Dave Steakley, who heads up ZACH and who is one of my favorite Austinites,  handed me a gift, a keychain that flashes the name MOLLY on one side, and features a picture of the Texas State Capitol on the other. This, Dave noted, was to give me something upon which to carry the keys to Molly's house, a reference to a dream I had. It is one of the most touching gifts I have ever received and instantly moved me to tears.

Reading the book-- finishing the book- and seeing the play was, as I anticipated, very rough. I love Molly so much. I understood that she was not interested in sharing her emotions. I get the fact that for as much as I knew her, I didn't really know her at all. I had so many lunches with her, attended so many Final Friday parties at her house, even sat with her through chemo and still, Molly was, in the end, incredibly private.

And yet, I have memories. I remember first encountering her, when I was a waitress at Magnolia back in '92 and she a regular patron. One time, she spilled her iced tea and the waitstaff joked among ourselves, "Molly Ivins can't spill that, can she?" But whenever she came in, we always left her alone-- an unspoken policy we had, one extended to all celebs. Another night, she was in supping with her aging mom. I pointed them out to a host, Lindsey, who was from Australia.. He was a journalism student and beside himself at the news. Later, I went by to check on Moll and her mother and-- noting that their plates had been cleared, which was unheard of at the Mag but which Lindsey had done in an effort to approach them-- I got into a conversation with them. Molly said she had just been talking to her mom about how apparently no one recognized her (this was at the height of her fame). I assured her we most certainly did, but that it was our policy to leave the famous in peace.

Years later, at the invitation of my then-roomate Genevieve, who'd known Molly since she (Gen) was a child, I began attending Moll's Final Friday Parties. I must've gone to 80 of these gatherings over the years, parties that always included a session dedicated to reading poetry and offering commentary. How well I remember one night, when the crowd demanded I read, and I demurred, claiming I'd brought nothing with me to share. Molly excused herself momentarily, and returned with a copy of the unbound manuscript for my first book, which my publisher had submitted seeking a blurb from her. She insisted I read from it. I was floored.

So many other memories rush in, prompted by the endless tales of generosity detailed in her bio. Literally, as she was dying, Molly had her assistant Betsy call me to send to her the requisite materials to secure a nomination by Molly for me to be accepted as a member of the Texas Institute of Letters. As if Molly had all the time in the world to endeavor to such trite tasks.

I remember her inviting my son over to help decorate her Christmas tree. So fond was she of children, and os fond were they of her, that long after my son grew weary of attending other events with me, he and his friends always so eagerly looked forward to Final Friday. and piled in the car to join me. When Molly was in the hospital for the final time, just days from dying, Henry and his friend Marcio, who'd been to so many of those parties, were adamant about going to tell her goodbye. I hesitated-- it is such torture to see someone on the final throes of cancer-- but eventually brought them along. They brought Molly a blueberry milkshake. I watched two boys that day, then 16, transformed by the sight of this once vibrant woman ruined by her disease. On the elevator down they were different people, forever changed by the farewell.

I have so many other memories of Molly. and reading the bio just reinforces for me how too busy she was and how, nevertheless, she always made time for lunch with me, to tell me her stories. Oh, her stories. I remember so many of them at Final Fridays. I remember having lunch with her, not long after surgery-- Molly always picked up the check which wasn't just nice but necessary, considering how broke I was. One time at a very chi-chi Ladies Who Lunch place, it dawned on her that her wallet was mostly empty. At the hospital they'd insisted she empty it of all but a twenty dollar bill. We scraped together what we had to cover lunch, including a very large pile of nickels and dimes from the bottom of my purse. The young and humorless waitress, upon retrieving that little leatherette thingy they use to present the bill and collect payment, said-- noting the nickels spilling out-- "Do you need change?"

Moll and I giggled, one of us announcing. "Oh no, KEEP the change!"

So many more stories rush in, but I will end with just one more. After Molly's memorial, we all gathered at Scholz's Beer Garden, one of her favorite places in the world. I was so wracked with grief, so doubled over in the pain of it, that a TV news reporter approached me-- you know how they're always looking for the most dramatic angle, the most distraught quote? Noting my distress, they figured I'd be good for a quote. For the first time in my life, I eschewed a microphone, and felt gratitude that my "date"-- Sarah, who'd been to so many Moll lunches with me-- chased them away. But I did get up at the open mike and I think this is the story I told:

One of the times I took Molly for chemo, I was sitting in the back, beside her, as chemicals were shot through her shunt. Most folks had visitors who had to wait in the waiting room but Molly was different, a celeb, who was allowed to bring someone with her. I figured my job was to just hang out quietly, to feed her maybe, to mostly just BE there for her. At some point, a medical personnel came by-- a nurse? a doctor? I wasn't sure. Before I could get my bearings and realize what was going on, this woman said, "Molly, I was at your signing the other night. I love your work! Could I get you to sign a few books?

Molly nodded and I was mortified. Wasn't it my job, as chemo sitter, to shelter her from this very thing? As the nurse/doctor  scurried off to get her books for signing, I-- feeling like a failure and also appalled at the request-- turned to Molly and said, "You are so much more gracious than I would be. I can't believe you agreed!"

She then flashed me her enormous smile, and in her exaggerated Texas accent assured me, "I ALWAYS have time to sign!"

I so miss Miss Molly. I miss her enthusiasm. I miss her dedication to friends. She was a mentor to me in more ways than I can possibly list. I am humbled by her life and by her death. I am humbled that she took the time to care for me-- at all, but most especially in the light of her pressing illness and her fame.

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