A couple weeks ago I spent an evening at D.C.’s Politics and Prose bookstore as Christopher Buckley talked about his latest book, Losing Mum and Pup, a memoir about losing his two famous parents. Now I have not yet read Losing Mum and Pup, so this is not a book review per se. But if the book is anything like Chris Buckley’s presentation, or anything like his earlier books, it will be heartfelt and funny, and definitely worth a purchase.
The section Buckley read to us was about planning his father’s funeral. William F. Buckley had told his son that if he was still famous at the time of his death, he should try to get a funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. Otherwise, he should just hold the service at the family’s home parish in Stamford, Connecticut. Naturally, WFB got the St. Patrick’s treatment, but Christopher Buckley was under strict orders to keep the service short from the cardinal. He planned for just two eulogies, one for himself and another for family friend Henry Kissinger (who apparently is a teddy bear in real life). Kissinger was reluctant because he was afraid to break down in public, but Buckley said he would sit in the front row and make funny faces to keep Kissinger on point, if Kissinger would promise to do the same. This arrangement was complicated when the White House called insisting that Dick Cheney come to the funeral and be allowed to make a eulogy. Buckley was reluctant because of his orders to keep the service short and because of the additional hassle of the security precautions involved in having a sitting vice president at the church. Buckley’s description of the back-and-forth between himself and the White House provided some of the best comic fodder of the night, and played well to the D.C. crowd.
One of the more poignant moments came when Buckley talked about receiving condolence calls while cleaning out the desk where his father died. He received a call from John Kerry, but not John McCain. He received a heartfelt call from George McGovern, who had become a close friend of WFB in the years since the 1972 election, as the two did public debates about liberalism and conservatism in the U.S. (WFB called him a “fabulous new friend” or something like that). McGovern expressed his condolences and a desire to attend the Buckley funeral should his health and 13 feet of Dakota snow permit.
There were audience questions at the event and as usual they were a mixed bag. The first questioner asked about Buckley’s infamous television exchange with Gore Vidal, where Vidal called WFB a fascist crypto-Nazi and WFB replied by calling him a “queer” and threatened to “sock [Vidal] in the g-dd—n face.” The exchange touched off a long running feud, witnessed by Vidal’s nasty comments against both WFB and Chris in his obituary of the former. The younger Buckley said he believed his father really would have assaulted Vidal had he been able to. WFB broke his collarbone in a skiing accident just two days before the exchange, and was in a back brace at the time, unable to move (perhaps that also explains his irritability).
On a lighter note, one questioner asked about WFB’s long support of drug decriminalization and the famous anecdote of WFB trying pot on his boat in international waters. Was college age Christopher Buckley WFB’s supplier? No, he replied. The New York City chief of police was!
Pictures from the event on Flickr.