I read a most affecting piece of biography
Meditation of an Only Child
I recently read a most affecting piece of autobiography. It was written by an only child (boy) about his mother and father. The family home was in Stamford, Connecticut. The author spent many a summer's day along the shore of Westcott Cove looking beyond to Long Island Sound. He attended an Ivy League college and now summers in Northern New England.
Christopher Buckley, of course. The son of William F. (Jr.) and Patricia Buckley, he the noted political essayist and adventure novelist, she the devoted helpmate who in another and later age would have been famous in her own right.
In the New York Times Sunday Magazine, April 26th, Christopher writes with loving accusation about his parents. With anecdotes about his life-threatening hospitalization, a conversation with George McGovern, a college graduation dinner at the Yankee Doodle diner in New Haven, and his quandary as to the disposition of a cremains-filled crucifix moored in the front lawn of the house at Wallack's Point, Christopher Buckley leaves the clear impression that he loved Mum and Pup more than they loved him. Or, more accurately, considering the demands great personages have put upon them and put on themselves, better than they were able to love him.
Chris Buckley inherited his father's writing gene. He wields a vocabulary equal to that of his dad, but without his dad's obvious delight in using words most of us have to look up in the dictionary. The son specializes in humor. What is especially winsome in the Times' piece is the self-deprecation with which he pulls his punches, a habit he did not learn from William F. Buckley, Jr. Sentences regularly jumped off the page and pleased my taste for well-turned phrases, phrases which are not only clever but insightful. To wit, writing about Patricia Buckley, his Mum, he offers this delicious assessment: "No hostess in history has ever set a better dinner table than my mother, but in such evenings [when she was under the duress of feeding a Kennedy grandchild], I would rather have supped with al Qaeda in a guano-strewn cave." Or describing Bill Buckley, his Pup, the evening he received a phone call from Howard Hunt of Watergate infamy, upon hearing that confidential information might be discovered, information that could lead to a presidential impeachment: "His countenance was pure Gethsemane."
"Christo," as Pup called him, came into view for me this past fall when he was excommunicated from the editorial board of The National Review after he published an endorsement of Barack Obama on the Internet blog, The Daily Beast. The ashes in the sculpted crucifix on the lawn in Stamford must have turned molten at the news. But fathers and sons often go separate ways. Chris confesses he is an agnostic; whereas Pup burst on the publishing scene in the early 1950's with an angry expose of the irreligious Ivies, "God and Man at Yale"; and to his dying day remained a faithful Roman Catholic with a preference for the Latin Mass.
Meanwhile across Westcott Cove sitting on Scofield Beach Julys and Augusts before, during, and slightly after the Second War was another only child (boy) who has written often, if not published, memories of his mother and father, some which, in fact, you may have read. Evelyn and Harold Howard loved their little boy far better and deeper than he now, after seventy-seven years, has begun to comprehend. While Dad worked six days a week during the Great Depression collecting and delivering shirts and sheets and dirty diapers for the City Steam Laundry, Mom, ever the housewife, tended a home with three "roomers," to augment the slim pickings in tough times. But however tough times may have been, Bobby never knew it, what with daily picnic basket excursions to the beach with Mom and Auntie Em and cousins. Sometimes I looked across the cove to Wallack's Point and wondered who lived there. Rich people, I was told. And wondering no further I ran and jumped into the salt water.
Somewhere I read that rich and poor children share a common lot: both are neglected by reason of money, either too much or too little. Sociologists and, in their wake, pundits may rue the middle class's bourgeois tendency to coddle their kids, worry themselves sick over report card B's, and scream at the unfairness of the Little League umpire who called junior out at second; but, say this for junior and sis's mom and dad: their offspring will never suffer from thinking themselves unexceptional. In another time, long before there was a Little League, Evelyn and Harold, doting parents who would do anything for their son, and often did everything, bequeathed to him the conviction that he was very special, deserving of their love, even if later in life he may have questioned their judgment on this score.
Christo, that kid across the cove, should have been so blessed. Of course, he wouldn't think so. And everything considered (that is, in the "economy of salvation") Christopher Buckley, had his home life been as doting as Bobby's, might never have had occasion or been able to turn so many appealing phrases. Adversity has its uses.
But so does encouragement.