Learned earlier today that my beloved mother-in-law passed away this past Saturday, victim of a severe stroke during what should have been a relatively routine surgery to remove a benign tumor from her eye. Xenia was one hell of a woman, without doubt the smartest, wittiest, most erudite person I’ve ever had the privilege to know. After her daughter, my late wife Christiana, departed this vale of tears sixteen years ago, Xenia and I remained very close; as I told her back then, she was family to me, and would always remain so.
Xenia, as I’ve mentioned here before a time or three, was the daughter of Willy and Olga Ley; Olga was prima ballerina of the Moscow Ballet before emigrating to Germany to marry Willy, and he was….well, he was Willy friggin’ Ley, ferchrissake. A promo pic of Olga after the Leys had relocated to NYC, fleeing pre-WW2 Germany just in the nick of time:
In this next one, Xenia is the black-haired young lady at left of the group shot in the bottom-right corner:
One more photo, this one a print of Xenia’s high-school senior portrait:
That one has enjoyed pride of place on the living-room wall of every hovel, shack, and miserable-ass shanty I’ve lived in for the last, oh, eighteen-nineteen years, I reckon.
I simply can’t begin to express my shock upon learning this morning that my dear MiL was gone. The running joke between us, especially since my catastrophic ordeal nearly two years ago, was that she would easily outlive me—I always loved to josh her that she was just too damned mean to die.
Xenia was of a personality type like to my old H-D shop boss Goose: loved fronting as a grouchy, irascible old curmudgeon, a crusty misanthrope, a human-hater’s human-hater, when anyone who was close to either of them knew otherwise. Quite the opposite, in fact; both are/were the most warm-hearted, courteous, giving, and fun-loving characters you’d ever want to meet.
Not that Xenia couldn’t effortlessly intimidate the ever-loving shit out of lesser mortals who unwisely got in her face and annoyed her, mind. Like Goose, she didn’t suffer fools AT ALL, never mind gladly. It took quite a bit of provocation, but when Xenia shut some obnoxious, persistent lackwit down, she by God shut ‘em the fuck DOWN. I know; I saw it happen once or twice, and loved her all the more for it too.
Xenia, as I said, was a bona fide genius. Spoke seven languages, had 12+ books published—everything from glossy hardcover how-to manuals on leatherworking, macrame, and horse-tack to tomes on the joys of horseback-riding, gardening, and rock and roll music. Speaking of, she was the consummate rock and roll mom: attended the first Woodstock festival; made trips down to the Stone Pony to see Springstreet before he was anybody; saw Led Zep’s NYC stops on their very first US tour; ditto for the Stones, The Who, you name it, she was there, with big ol’ bells on.
In fact, it was Xenia who was responsible for myself and her lovely daughter attending the Rolling Stones’ Giants Stadium show with her back in 2005. Neither Christiana nor I were terribly excited about going (a-HENH!), not being Stones fans by any stretch of the imagination. Happily, Xenia insisted in that stern way of hers that brooked NO dissent, popping for expensive close-in seats for the three of us and then burning a goodish chunk of her gazillion-plus frequent flyer miles to schlep us on up for the weekend. To my stunned delight, it was one HELL of a show—one of the best I ever did see, in fact. So good was it that I had no problem at all swallowing my stubborn pride afterwards and thanking her profusely for dragging us along.
About, oh, I dunno, ten years back or so, Xenia was herself dragged to her father’s hometown in Germany for the official celebration of his birth anniversary. German TV made a whole big do of it, filming her on a private tour of the modest home her mom and dad had lived in for years before coming to the States. After that, it was a studio interview with her about her thoughts on the whole experience.
She was nonplussed, to say the very least. When she got back home, she called right away to tell me all about it, saying, “I kept telling them and telling them, this house means nothing to me; I never lived here, I was born in New York! This is just some damned house to me, how the hell am I supposed to be all nostalgic about it!” We both had a good laugh over that, one of so, so many we shared over the years.
And now she’s gone, and my world won’t ever be the same again. Her second husband Glenn, a truly wonderful guy I got to know well through her and Christiana, called me to let me know she’d died, in the process giving me some details of sitting with her in the hospital both during and after the fateful surgery that say all you’ll ever need to know about what a sweet man he really is.
After being notified by the docs that things looked bleak at best for her, Glenn raced home for his acoustic guitar, then came back to spend hours strumming and singing all of this Rock and Roll Mom’s favorites: Elvis, Dylan, etc. There’s a beautiful phrase from Shakespeare that I sometimes like to toss into these obits of mine: May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. Thanks to an angel in human shape name of Glenn, that was precisely the case with my mother-in-law.
Forever may you rest easy in God’s loving embrace, Xenia Parker, until the joyous day we meet again. You will never be forgotten.
Update! Just remembered another great Xenia story: way back in ’92, well over a decade before I made her or her lovely daughter’s acquaintance, she was at the BPs Tramps show with Little Richard, was scheduled to fly up to Canada someplace for work the next morn. Her job entailed a great deal of air travel, see (hence those several million frequent-flyer miles that got us to the wilderness of New Jersey for the Stones), and being a lifelong Horse Person, wherever she went on this continent she’d always try to grab a Racing Form just to see if there might be a horse worth playing from the comfort of her palatial hotel suite.
On this occasion, what to her wondering eyes should appear but a horse yclept—no fooling, I’m serious—Belmont Playboy, of all things, running at 20 to 1 odds. She dropped a few bucks on him to win, thinking the name might be some kind of omen or something. Against all odds, in a manner of speaking, the horse won, and Xenia glommed a cool four or five grand off the plunge. When she told me that story years later, she almost cracked a rib laughing over it.