Certain conservative commentators, who seem to think that all liberals have nothing but contempt for religion and God, should have been at the memorial service for Molly Ivins in Austin today. It was spiritual and life-affirming in the best possible way, and it also happened to be one enjoyable and memorable afternoon, despite the circumstances of the gathering. It was a downer because Molly was gone, but then again, as I saw very clearly in church today, she really hasn’t gone anywhere.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I didn’t know my fellow Austinite Ivins, the well-known liberal journalist, columnist and hellraiser, except through her writings, which I’ve consistently enjoyed for decades. Due to everything going on at my home lately — including extensive renovations to several rooms, and a crazy rush to make everything ready in time for Saturday’s party for the twins’ second birthday (relatives coming into town, you know) — I felt a bit guilty as I headed downtown this afternoon to join Ivins’s family and friends, and undoubtedly a few plain old readers and fans like myself, for her memorial service. Call me selfish, but it was something that I just felt I should do, for whatever reason. And it’s not like I had to drive 300 miles to get there.
After weeks of blustery, what-passes-for-winter-in-Austin weather, today was sunny and in the 70s, a lot like the mild day when the twins were born. I was glad I’d arrived 45 minutes early, as people were already streaming in and the First United Methodist Church, a beautiful old domed building close to two venerable Austin landmarks, the State Capitol and the Texas Chili Parlor, was well on the way to being packed to the rafters (it was SRO with a full balcony by the time proceedings got underway). As we entered, ushers handed us programs bearing the smiling face of the young Molly; a large, more recent photo of the weathered but still smiling woman (she’d been living with cancer, in one stage or another, since being diagnosed back in 1999) faced us from an easel near the pulpit.
Sad occasion though it was, there was a celebratory air among the mostly graying, well-dressed crowd, like a gathering of old friends who, though missing the woman of the hour, were clearly relishing the opportunity to get together once again and tell stories in the way few enjoy doing more than Texans.
I took a seat towards the rear. After ten minutes or so, the fiftyish woman to my left turned to me (never minding a white pillar between us) and asked, “Are you familiar with Texas?”
“Yes, I live here,” I replied.
“Let me just tell you that the people here today are like a Who’s Who in Texas.”
“It does look like a very distinguished gathering.”
“She deserves it,” she said with a sweet smile, turning away.
[When I recounted this conversation later to Mrs. Pogoer, her comment was, “She was just telling you that she was important.” Or at least thought she was…]
After a gospel quintet favored us with several numbers, including the inevitable “Amazing Grace,” the presiding minister, Kathleen Jones, welcomed us. (An older woman with a very good sense of humor, and, one assumes, tolerance, she recounted towards the close that upon her first meeting with the writer, Ivins, hearing that she was a pastor, quoted Swiss theologian Karl Barth to the effect that “when you write a sermon, you have to have the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.”)
There were songs by a quartet of notable Austin musicians (evidently also FOMs, Friends of Molly) — Christine Albert and Chris Gage, Marcia Ball, and the wonderful Eliza Gilkyson — and a parade of speakers relating one Molly story after another, including her brother, sister, niece, longtime housekeeper, fellow writers and friends. To a person, they seemed like empathetic, smart, witty, non-puffed-up, engaged-with-life kinds of people — the type you’d like to have the chance to get to know. The crowd laughed and applauded and even rose to its feet with stamps and whoops when Linda Lewis wryly repeated Molly’s line, “The next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States — please, pay attention.”
I’m not going to give a play-by-play of the service, which ran for close to two hours, in this space; you can read the AP correspondent’s capsule recap, as published in the Austin paper, here — not a bad job considering the time pressure, although she did misspell Scholz Garten, the venerable watering hole where Molly’s wake continued. (I didn’t go to Scholz Garten myself, but you can read a report by the Statesman‘s man on the scene here.)
I did get a sense from the service of how important family and friends were to this witty, brilliant woman, who loved gathering friends around her for everything from house parties to lengthy outings of camping and rafting down river canyons. She devoted lavish attention to her nieces and nephews in a way that only those without children themselves can do (no offense intended, but take it from me, I know), and, unlike some Northern liberals, actually enjoyed meeting and talking to “the people” as individuals, rather than just relishing them as abstract concepts.
The last speaker, Courtney Anderson, was a longtime friend of Ivins’s who told us that Ivins had stopped drinking towards the end of her life and had been sober for “18 months and two days” at the time of her death — which Anderson clearly implied was a gift and a spiritual blessing (and it sort of puts a new spin on raising a glass of beer to Molly at the Scholz Garten, but as Molly would have probably said, hey, what the hell).
The musicians played us out — including Marcia Ball whacking away at the keyboard on “Great Balls of Fire,” which got everyone to their feet — and as we filed out I exchanged a few more words with the woman on my left, who told me she’d worked on Ann Richards‘ gubernatorial campaigns and knew Molly “very well.” Another woman next to us, a fortyish blonde with small eyeglasses, wasn’t much in a mood for celebrating, remarking in the tone of someone who’s been stood up by the person giving her a ride home:
“I’m tired of going to funerals and seeing all my friends. Losing Ann Richards, Clifford Antone and Molly Ivins in six months is a little much.”
Well, actually it’s been something over eight months…but, point taken. Perhaps things can ease up a bit now.
Molly, thanks for everything. We’ll miss you, but we’ll try our best to continue to raise hell on your behalf, and because it’s the right thing to do — and besides, as you’d be the first to remind us, it’s fun.