I remember the time I first caught Mum in some preposterous untruth, as she called it. It, too, featured British aristos. She grew up a debutante in a grand house in Vancouver, British Columbia, the kind of house that even has a name: Shannon. Grand, but Vancouver-grand, which is to say, provincial.Howard Kurtz's Washington Post story on Buckley's memoir at this link. You can buy the book from Amazon.com here:
So one night, when I was 6 or so, sitting with the grown-ups at the dinner table, I heard Mum announce that “the king and queen always stayed with us when they were in Vancouver.” By “king and queen” she meant the parents of the current queen of England. My little antennae went twing? I’d never heard my grandparents refer to a royal visit, which is a pretty big deal. I looked at Mum and realized — twang! — that she was telling an untruth. A big untruth. And I remember thinking in that instant how thrilling and grown-up it must be to say something so completely untrue — as opposed to the little amateur fibs I was already practiced at, horrid little apprentice sinner that I was, like the ones about how you’d already said your prayers or washed under the fingernails. Yes, I was impressed. This was my introduction to a lifetime of mendacity. I, too, must learn to say these gorgeous untruths. Imaginary kings and queens will be my houseguests when I am older!
When Mum was in full prevarication, Pup would assume an expression somewhere between a Jack Benny stare and the stoic grimace of a 13th-century saint being burned at the stake. He knew very well that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth did not routinely decamp at Shannon. The funny thing was that he rarely challenged her when she was in the midst of one of her glorious confections. For that matter, no one did. They wouldn’t have dared. Mum had a regal way about her that did not brook contradiction. The only time she ever threatened to spank me was when I told her, in front of others, following one of her more absurd claims, “Oh, come off it!” Her fluent mendacity, combined with adamantine confidence, made her really indomitable. As awful as it often was, thinking back on it now, I’m filled with a sort of perverse pride in her. She was really, really good at it. She would have made a fantastic spy. Really, she would have made a fantastic anything. She was beautiful, theatrical, bright as a diamond, the wittiest woman I have ever known. (Whatever talent I possess as a “humorist” — dreadful word — I owe to her.) She could have done anything; instead, she devoted herself, heart, soul and body, to being Mrs. William F. Buckley Jr. (A full-time job.)
At any rate, I hadn’t written to rebuke her over the Cat and Kate dinner, so that was one letter from me Mum never had to not open. What, really, would have been the point of writing?
I forgive you. I was glad to have the chance to say that to her at the hospital, holding her hand, tears streaming down my face. I can hear her saying, Are you quite finished, or shall I fetch my Stradivarius?
Sunday, April 26, 2009
In today's New York Times Magazine, a memoir of growing up as the Crown Prince of Conservatism. It's the first thing written by Chris Buckley that I enjoyed reading, perhaps because it reminded me of my one and only dinner with Bill and Pat Buckley more than a decade ago...one at which she barely said a word, except to the servants, whom she called on what looked like a TV remote control, while wearing dark sunglasses at the dinner table. Odd, and memorable. Like Chris Buckley's memoir. A sample: