Hillary and Julia


In memory...

I knew Bob Strauss for many years before I even had an inkling he was married. We began primarily as film festival friends, of course, which don't generally allow plus-ones. Many male friends have stories about "closing down bars" together; Bob and I would close down the festival lounges, those hallowed spots that used to be de rigeur at the fest, where the liquor would flow freely and free of charge. It wouldn't have occurred to me, necessarily, that this sarcastic cinephile with a mighty tolerance would have a wife any more than it would have occurred to me that I'd ever get one.

Of course, eventually I did, and when she met Bob's wife, Hillary, it was an instant bond. Harry Potter...Disneyland...Hello Kitty...Barbie and the rest were all instant shared topics of affection, in addition to the fact that both regularly dealt with mysterious maladies and could share pointers. We'd all sit together in the handicapped row at stadium screenings, which is the best one, as Julia would try to persuade Hillary to get into Squsihmallows or whatever the new trend in cuteness was.

Hillary as we knew her may have had several sicknesses, but they couldn't repress her personality, as outspoken as her husband's. We'd hear stories of her time as a deep-dish pizza waitress, or a buyer for Neiman Marcus, or her memories of MLK. The Strausses were guests in our home many a time, and it was always funny to see the similar dynamics between them and us -- how (lovingly) exasperated Bob and I could get if our wives weren't up to a given word game clue, or the triumphs when they'd suddenly get one over on us. I regret we never did that Disneyland trip together we always talked about, but was glad to hear that one of her last trips to the hospital included a Squishmallow coming too.

Here's a secret we never told her: Julia never used to like Chicago-style pizza. She ate it to hang out with Hillary.

When we got the news of Hillary's passing, I saw Julia break like she hadn't done since her father died. She got to say some words over the phone before the end, and it seemed like Hillary may have had a response to mention of Barbie shoes. When I saw a picture of her in younger days, the Barbie connection made sense -- she had Barbie's fashion sense and glamor. They don't make senior citizen Barbies, but Hillary retained a sense of style that still fit her, as well as a youthful spark that might seem unexpected to those who didn't know her. Though they didn't have kids of their own, she was always much in demand for family and neighborly visits.

She and Bob will still be in demand here, even if she's only arriving in spirit now. The disabled row in the theaters will always feel one seat emptier, though.