Weird, how memory works. Ask people of a certain age where they were when Kennedy was shot and they can tell you. Ask some younger folks what they were doing when they heard the World Trade Center Towers had fallen, and they too can cite time and place. Ask folks in Austin what they were doing when word reached them that Molly Ivins had died, and they can do the same.
When I learned of Molly's death on Jan. 31, 2007,I was sitting at my desk at The Denver Post, putting the finishing touches on a cover story for the food section. It was to run while I was away and I wanted to make sure all the pieces were in the right place.
I was going to be away because, as I had in years past, I would travel to Austin to be with Molly on my birthday. It had become a running joke -- I would come for my birthday dinner, she would whip out her credit card and buy whatever goodness was to comprise the appetizer, salad, entree, dessert and drinks. And in a grandiose gensture of magnamity, she would sit, sip Chardonnay and keep me company while I prepared the meal.
Only this time the meal would be no joke. I had last seen her after Christmas. I had just missed her Elvis tree trimming party, but came anyway to say 'hi'. We knew, though, it was more like a farewell. So yes, I was coming to Austin for my birthday, but I knew I would just make soup and hope that she had the strength to swallow it. It would be my last with her.
So there I sat, that January 31st day five years ago, editing what I had typed, watching the clock, knowing I still had to go home, do laundry, pack and be up at the crack of dawn to catch my flight. At aboug 4:30 the phone rang. I snatched it up, not wanting to waste a moment talking to somebody wanting to pitch a story or complain about a story or to ask whether a story had been scheduled yet.
But the call didn't address any of those issues.
It was Lou Dubose, co-author on the last three of Molly's six books. At first there was no response when I barked "Sweets!" into the receiver. Then a man, his voice, audibly cracking just said, "Ellen, it's Lou. She's gone. It's over." That was it. I thanked him and said I would be there the next day.
For whatever reason, I thought about that conversation when I was in San Antonio last weekend. Some guy sat down in the circle of chairs that had been arranged for my reading and signing at the Twig bookstore. He picked up the book on display, regarded it with disdain and huffed, "Hrumph. Molly Ivins. What new junk is she writing now?" Before I could take a deep breath and tell him he needn't fret on account of how she had been dead for five years, a woman who had bought two books snapped, "She didn't write junk and if you think she wrote junk, why are you sitting here?"
And with that he regarded the eyes now all on him, got up, broke eye contact and walked away. I signed a few more books, chatted with a few more Molly fans and thanked them for coming.
On the 90-minute drive back to Austin I recalled that brief exchange, remembered Lou's call and thought to myself: No, as long as there are bigots and mean-spirited people and writers who challenge their narrow-minded world view it's not over. Molly lives on through them and the publications with the courage to print what they write.
And Jan. 31 still remains a day to remember.