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SCOTT SIMON, host:

When a parent dies, you have to go through a lot of stuff, not just emotional baggage. Stuff: old photos, forgotten receipts, matchbooks, foreign bills from old vacations, old letters that got used as coasters. When your father is William F. Buckley, famed debater, writer, editor, wit and the father of modern conservatism, there're also things like the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a press pass from a space launch.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY (Author): It's an Apollo 8 press pass. I went to that with him and it was in, it would have been in, like, 1968, that's where I met James Dickey - the poet for the first time. It was about 10 o'clock in the morning after the launch. My dad brought him by. He was yet to become very famous because "Deliverance" hadn't come out yet. But I was very impressed because this was my first, you know, real live poet that I met - and he was gloriously drunk...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUCKLEY: ...at 10 in the morning. I mean, really but, you know, sort of huggy bear kind of drunk. And he said, is your name Christopher? I have a son named Christopher too, you know? And he gave me a big hug and I thought God, I want to be a poet when I grow up, so I too can be drunk at 10 o'clock in the morning...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BUCKLEY: ...which seemed like a great thing.

SIMON: With our friend, Christopher Buckley, at his parents' old apartment in New York City on the second anniversary of his mother's death. Of course, Christopher's parents, Bill and Pat Buckley, were glittering, famous and funny. They died within a year of each other in 2007 - 2008. They were devoted to their son, Christopher, and to each other. But Christopher Buckley says that they didn't speak to each other about a third of their time in their marriage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUCKLEY: Maybe one-fifth, okay. They didn't speak to me at least a third of the time.

SIMON: Christopher Buckley, of course, is best known as a satirist, but he has now written his most personal, saddest, but still a funny book, about the year in which he lost both of his parents. It's called "Losing Mum and Pup." And thanks very much for letting us be here on this day with you.

Mr. BUCKLEY: Thanks for coming.

SIMON: Let's go to another room and sit down. Christopher takes us down a grand staircase into what was his mother's favorite room. It's fire engine red and cozy. The first floor window faces Park Avenue. Your father loved you, adored you uncritically. But when it came to critically assessing your writing...

Mr. BUCKLEY: He was a tough grader, he always was. He was very encouraging, but he was a tough grader. If he thought something was not up to snuff, he said so. And I think that made for very good training. Later on - how to put it? Well, you know, one of my books, which was getting pretty good reviews, his only comment about it was, sorry, this one didn't work for me, which is a short response, I suppose you might call it.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BUCKLEY: In this very room, actually, I have a very sweet memory about his encouragement of my writing, because I had written my very first story for New York Magazine. It was - I was sent by New York Magazine to Las Vegas for two weeks to cover a Frank Sinatra gig. I'd written this story and I was - and I was very nervous about it, as you can imagine - I was 22. And I gave it to him and he went upstairs and I sat at his desk, sort of nervously waiting for him to give me his verdict.

And he stuck his head around the corner and he went, he held up his fingers in the OK sign and it was really, you know, about the happiest moment in my life.

SIMON: Your mother was fiercely funny, fiercely beautiful, and she could tell some real whoppers.

Mr. BUCKLEY: Yeah, she was, roughly speaking, the wittiest woman I've ever known, and possibly the wittiest person I've ever known. But she had a casual relationship with the truth. And I think sometimes she did it just to make a story more marvelous or fun. And sometimes she did it to cover up, I think, some basic insecurity. She never finished college. She left Vassar and married my dad, and I think that left her with some lingering insecurities. She was an innately bright woman. But she was capable of telling a whopper too, and she was also capable of, as Henry Kissinger noted in his eulogy to her - she was quite capable of interrupting Henry Kissinger in mid-paragraph to inform him that he knew nothing whatsoever about European history.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUCKLEY: And she had this kind of authority that Henry Kissinger would...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUCKLEY: ...sort of look...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUCKLEY: ...meekly at his plate and go on eating, rather than contest it. She was quite a - quite an extraordinary woman. Well, Kissinger - to quote Kissinger again, he - he said that she used to say, about herself, that she was just a simple girl from the backwoods of British Columbia. And in his eulogy he repeated that and he said, if Pat Buckley was a simple girl from the backwoods of British Columbia, I would tremble to meet a sophisticated girl from the backwoods of British Columbia.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, what's it like to have a mother that - that intense, that prominent, that important to other people, who know...

Mr. BUCKLEY: Well, you know, it - I watched her evolve. You know there was a period early on when she was a carpooling suburban Connecticut mom. At any rate she was - she became a sort of a dazzling figure of New York society. And she and my dad had a kind of binary glamour, because he was the, you know, he was the intellectual and she had beauty and - and style. So together they made really for quite a formidable pair. But as I say, when it's your mom and your dad, you, you know, that's not, that's not the most important thing. You know, the most important thing with your mom and dad is - is your relationship with them.

And - and, you know, if there were - there were times when their stature made them a little less accessible than, call it, your average mom and dad. But they were, you know, they were loving. They were loving, but they were, you know, they were loving on their own terms. You know, they - they - they were very busy people.

SIMON: It's very painful in the book to read about these two glittering people having to contend with what they did in the last year of their lives.

Mr. BUCKLEY: Yeah. He had emphysema and diabetes and sleep apnea, and a host of sort of other things. And mom, she just kind of gave up. She kept falling and breaking things. She was very tall and - and anyway she - and she just sort of gave up. And in the fashion of Victorian ladies, just, after she broke whatever bone it was, she just took to her bed and stayed there. You know, she took to her bed to die. And it was, you know, it is sad to see, well, anyone deteriorate like that. Old age ain't for sissies. And when - she died first, two years ago, on this day. And that was, you know, kind of a blessing, really.

She went into the hospital to have a stent installed in her leg and - and the operation went bad so she died of an infection. And I was almost grateful, you know, because she was undergoing that - it would have been the death by a hundred cuts, and it's very hard to see someone so very beautiful endure that.

SIMON: I have to ask about the last words to your mother.

Mr. BUCKLEY: Well, I raced to her bedside; she was in a coma. She was past hearing. And I held her hand and I said, you know, I forgive you, which was, you know, mom had - mom could be very naughty and to, you know, hurtful. I said it to her on her deathbed, I think, more for my peace of mind than for hers, because she was a proud woman, she never would have, you know, she was not a woman who said I'm sorry for having, you know, caused a scene or whatever. She just - she just couldn't bring herself to do that. So, and she was not a religious woman so she wouldn't have asked a priest for absolution. So, anyway I just found myself saying that to her. And I hope, when I'm on my deathbed, people forgive me...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUCKLEY: ...because there is a lot to forgive, you know.

SIMON: You have a great phrase in the book, where you say your father, like all great men, always had a little too much canvas.

Mr. BUCKLEY: Oh yeah, I said that in my eulogy at St. Pat's. You know, I sailed across three oceans with him and he'd always be putting up more sail, you know? A squall would be coming in, which is typically when you reduce sail, and he would throw more up. And he was - and I used it as a metaphor, because great men always have too much canvas up, that's sort of what makes them great men. It can be interpreted, sometimes, as recklessness, but it's - I think it's an aspect of their bigness.

My dad was ah - the most impatient man I knew. He would - red lights, those were for other people. I once followed him to church, one Sunday, we - we had to go in two cars because there were weekend guests, and he went through 11 consecutive red lights.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUCKLEY: And I said to him when we got to the church, I said, you know, I feel as though I've come to the church for - for last rites...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUCKLEY: Not - not Sunday mass. And, you know, he was - he was oblivious.

SIMON: Are there times when you get up and want to call him, email him?

Mr. BUCKLEY: Oh I, you know, reach for the phone almost every day. I mean, you know, because Pup and I were, you know, we were, he was many, many magnitudes of intellect and everything above me, but we were somewhat in the same world and we're both writers, you know. And so we could talk shop, and there were, we also, you know, obviously followed the news and followed politics. And, you know, I would have loved to - I mean, everything that has happened since he - since he died, you know, the election of Obama, Sarah Palin, John McCain, you know, those Somali pirates - 'cause we sailed and, you know, and there - there're so many things that I would love to talk with him about.

Now yeah, I do find myself reaching for the phone and then, you know, and - and I really don't know why I wrote the book and then, you know, I just sat down one day and started writing it. And I wrote it in 40 days, it just sort of poured out. I got to spend 40 more days with them, you know, when they were in their prime, because my remembrances of them in - in the book are when they were young and vital and so very amazing.

SIMON: Christopher Buckley, his new book "Losing Mum and Pup." Thank you.

Mr. BUCKLEY: Thank you.

SIMON: And you can hear more of our conversation with Chris Buckley on our Web site npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon.

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