After the Storm

Molly wrote about my political life at the Observer, supporting a reform agenda focused on satisfying human needs. However, her support had a profoundly personal dimension, for which I remain indebted to her. When I called to vent my anger about being excluded from a legislative committee meeting held at noon in an exclusively male club, Molly asked what I was doing. I laughed. I was eating cottage cheese in the Capitol cafeteria, and I was able to see for the first time the disproportionate silliness in my predicament.

The night after Hurricane Celia in August 1970, it was dark and damp. The electricity was out. Already, mildew was spreading. The storm prompted a group of visitors and friends to gather on the front porch of our house in Corpus Christi. Molly sat across from a green velvet banquette pulled outside to dry. We drank red wine, and ate canned ranch beans and bread with herb butter warmed in a gas stove. I don’t remember exactly what was said. We talked over the day’s events, discussed Sen. Yarborough, FEMA’s lame response, and laughed about a self-proclaimed despot in Port Aransas. In the aftermath of the violent weather, the evening was reassuringly quiet and ordinary despite the damage and lack of electricity.

The next summer, when Molly was about 26, she offered my 16-year-old daughter, Emilie, refuge in the form of an internship at the Observer and a place on Molly’s couch for the summer. Having refused to attend high school, Emilie returned from a school year spent in France without a spot from which to continue her education. The Observer’s commitment to first-rate reporting about public issues provided the best schooling imaginable, although there was a moment at the end of Emilie’s first day at the Observer, when I was chagrined. Emilie spent the entire day, starting just after 9 a.m., with Molly, Larry King, the writer, and friends at Scholz’s.

Molly left town for a few days that summer and allowed Emilie to drive Molly’s 1955 Bellaire. The car’s reverse gear didn’t function, but its electric rear window did. In the course of the three days Molly was away, the insulation from the hood fell onto the engine and caught the car on fire, the cat developed pneumonia and died at the vet’s, and a burglar stole Molly’s record player, the only item of any worth in Molly’s three-room “cottage.” None of that seemed to matter to Molly. She remained steadfast. Two years later, Molly and I dropped Emilie at her college dorm room. We had forgotten how grim an empty dorm room looks on a chilly autumn evening. Turning toward each other, we both said simultaneously, “I wasn’t going to say anything in front of Emilie.”

When Molly found me in a difficult situation, she asked quietly, “Why don’t you cut out of here?” I was startled. She was, as usual, prescient, and before long, I was divorced.

“There’s a Farenthold on a motorcycle,” Molly cried out when she found my 8-year-old granddaughter attempting to start the cycle in question.

Molly saw the conflicts in our family’s life. She witnessed our confusion, dysfunction, and intemperance repeatedly, in many guises. They didn’t deter her a single moment. She opened her heart to all of the difficulties of our family life, without reservation, welcoming with joy each member of our family into her life. Months and then years passed between our visits, but we never had to “catch up” because Molly understood what our life was like. She smiled big and years dissolved.

These past two decades there was never enough time to get together. Now, there is no time.

Sissy Farenthold served two terms in the Texas House and ran for governor in 1972.

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Published at 12:00 am CST