Fourteen months ago Bill Buckley collapsed and died at his desk in Stamford, Conn. The ground has still not finished shaking. How could it? Two sons -- one biological and one professional -- have now written memoirs of their lives with Bill. Both make for absorbing reading.
Chris Buckley was the only child of Bill and Patricia Taylor Buckley -- two outsized personalities. "(W)hen the universe hands you material like this," Buckley explains of his decision pen the memoir, "not writing about it seems either a waste or a conscious act of evasion." Bill was of course world famous -- the founding father of modern conservatism, an American icon. Pat, too, was formidable -- tall, fashionable, witty, and sometimes outrageous. No, I mean really outrageous.
Chris relates an example: His 19-year-old daughter brought her best friend, Kate Kennedy, to dinner with Bill and Pat. Pat rounded on the poor girl and "informed her that she (Mum) had been an alternate juror in the murder trial of Kate's father's first cousin Michael Skakel." Skakel had been tried and convicted for the murder of a 15-year-old. "Having presented this astonishing (and utterly untrue) credential, Mum then proceeded to launch into a protracted lecture on the villainy of Kate's near relative." Your mother may not have committed sins like that. She may have done better or worse. But all mothers have done something that requires forgiveness by their children, just as the children will themselves need to ask forgiveness for their own transgressions. As she lay comatose and dying, Chris relates, he stroked her hair and "said, the words surprising me, coming out of nowhere, 'I forgive you.'" The tales of Pat's misbehavior are florid and accordingly more memorable than the accounts of her virtues. And yet, the deep and true grief borne by her son is eloquent evidence that this proud and domineering woman also loved tenderly.
As for his diamond-bright father, again deep love shines through in a dozen affectionate, sometimes even awed anecdotes. Chris Buckley -- I am not breaking news here -- can really write. But there are other stories, too. Bill was hardly the ideal father. "When I was 11, I spent three weeks in the hospital without a visit from him." WFB could be astonishingly selfish, as when, bored at Chris's college graduation ceremony, he gathered up friends and family and decamped to a restaurant for lunch, "leaving me to spend my graduation day wandering the campus in search of my family."
"Losing Mum and Pup" is the story of three personalities so large that one family could not hold them without shuddering and shaking. Chris describes some of his conflicts with his father as "locking theological antlers." Still, the center held.