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James K. Galbraith Headshot

Molly Ivins, Our Magnet

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The Texas Observer has published my tribute to Molly Ivins. I won't repeat
it here, except for a small part. The "final Fridays" were a monthly event,
held for years at Molly's house until her health made it impossible to go
on.

"I used to go to the final Fridays late, after the slam poets were done,
after the party had quieted down some and mainly the bitter-enders were
left, just so I could sit among the butts and bottles like a bad child, and
listen to the rowdy tales and feel part of our group - the hard-core
liberals in Texas. And just so I could watch her flash that smile, and hear
her call me sweetheart now and then.

"Molly was our magnet, our long memory and our cutting edge. She had a
fine, sharp pen, but she was at her best, I think, at home, in company,
spinning tales, honing her perfect comic pitch, that fine mix of the
telling and tawdry that so captured the spirit of Texas."

Sunday morning after this appeared, I received an email, from a retired
professor of English in the very deep South. I paraphrase:

"Galbraith, what do you mean by that phrase, 'spirit of Texas?' I stopped
reading Ivins when she started to use obscenity. Is that a reflection of
the spirit of Texas?"

So I wrote back, a two-line email, quoting the immortal lyrics of Tom
Lehrer:

"As the judge remarked the day that he acquitted my Aunt Hortense,
To be smut, it must be utterly without redeeming social importance."

An email came back: "Truthfully, I do not understand."

My reply was roughly this:

"Molly Ivins did not use obscenity. Obscenity is committed by the strong
against the weak. Gentility is how the weak are obliged to submit. When you
talk back, in whatever language is effective, that's not obscenity, but
courage.

"And by the way, this business of dirty words is culturally specific.
Around here, there are no dirty words. And that, of course, is what I meant
by 'spirit of Texas.' "

We sent Molly off Sunday afternoon, at the First United Methodist Church in
Austin, Texas, to the strains of Marcia Ball singing "Great Balls of Fire."
Indeed.