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One of the good ones left us last week. Former First Lady Barbara Pierce Bush passed away last week in Houston at the age of 92. Since the Bushes live in Houston, our television programming was filled with tributes to Mrs. Bush. The words I heard over and over were Kind. Feisty. Smart. Approachable. Funny. Loyal. Humble. The Enforcer. 🙂 I want to tell you what I admired about her.
My husband, daughter and I have only met one First Lady, and it was Barbara Bush. Interestingly, we each met her separately. I met her at a book signing for her memoir published in 1994. She took the time to visit briefly with each of us as we passed by to have our book signed. I was in awe of her, and I don’t fully remember, but I may have even curtsied. 🙂
My husband met her at the Republican National Convention when it was held in the Astrodome in Houston in 1992. We volunteered at the convention and my husband met Mrs. Bush and later accidentally hit her with a beach ball. During the closing ceremonies on the last night of the convention, hundreds of beach balls descended from the ceiling and everyone began batting them around. My husband hit one, accidentally hitting Mrs. Bush in the head. She grinned, tossed it back at him and wagged her finger at him scoldingly. 🙂 He got schooled by The Enforcer.
My daughter met Mrs. Bush when she was about seven years old. My husband had two tickets to an Astros baseball game, so he took our daughter. Their seats were only a few rows behind the Bushes’ regular seats behind home plate. The Bushes were leaving the game a bit early, and as Mrs. Bush passed by our daughter, she stopped to talk to her and asked her if she would like the President’s autograph. My daughter always carried a little notebook with her to color in or write things in, so she gave the notebook to the President and he signed it for her. Mrs. Bush then asked my husband and daughter if they would like to finish watching the game from her seats. I found all this out when my husband called me and excitedly relayed the story. “Turn on the TV! We’re sitting in the President and Mrs. Bush’s seats!” I turned on the game and can still see our little daughter sitting behind home plate, in her blue dress and blue hair ribbon peeking over the wall in front of their seats. That story made for a great Show and Tell for my daughter the next week at school. 🙂 We still have the President’s autograph.
President and Mrs. Bush have lived in Houston for many years. They were part of the community and sightings of them were not overly rare. They could be seen at galas, at church, baseball games, and restaurants around town. Barbara Bush helped put one of our restaurants on the map–Fuzzy’s Pizza. Anyone who has ever eaten at Fuzzy’s will tell you it is some of the best pizza you will ever eat. We love it. The owner is a Syrian immigrant who came to the United States with $50 in his pocket and started a business here. President Bush’s office was in the neighborhood and he began to frequent Fuzzy’s and it became a favorite. One night in 1994 Barbara Bush appeared on David Letterman and he asked her what her favorite place to eat was. She answered “Fuzzy’s Pizza.” The rest is history. Fuzzy continues to put out the best pizzas and one of them is named The Barbara Bush. Artichokes, spinach, mushrooms, chicken, and garlic.
I admired so many things about Barbara Bush, and here a few:
She was unabashedly a mother, grandmother, wife, and helpmate. She was from a generation that still believed this was an admirable path. I remember when Barbara Bush was to be the commencement speaker at Wellesley College. Many of the students protested, arguing that she owed her status to her husband and not her own accomplishments.
I am appalled by this. Uh girls, isn’t what feminists scream about a woman’s right to choose her own path? Seeing how Barbara Bush was besotted by her husband all her life, she doesn’t impress me as someone who was forced into her situation. And her husband wasn’t President when she married him. I suspect her husband would be the first to tell you she contributed greatly to his success. You don’t always have to be the one making all the noise to accomplish things.
And even if you disagree with her choices, she is older than you and has walked with kings and Heads of State. Surely there is something you can learn from her. She famously told the graduates, “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent.”
This echoes one of my favorite quotes from another famous First Lady, Jackie Kennedy. “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”
Mrs. Bush went on to say, “Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps and preside over the White House as the president’s spouse. And I wish HIM well.” 🙂
I am saddened that women who choose to prioritize being a wife and mother are sometimes vilified by our culture. I chose to be a stay at home mom, and heard from more than one person that I was “wasting my education.” So only uneducated women should stay home with their children? I can’t imagine why children being raised by an educated mother could be a bad thing. To those who felt comfortable telling me I was wasting my degree, while I don’t feel I need to justify my choice, I would submit my daughter’s educational success as a rebuttal. Plus, we never had to hire a tutor all the way through AP Calculus. 🙂
I like the saying, “When you educate a man, you educate one person. When you educate a woman, you educate a family.”
I watched one of Barbara’s sons talk about how his mother said to him at times that she had not done anything with her life, as women in generations after her pursued careers outside the home. He choked up as he talked about how he couldn’t believe she could feel that way, as he felt there was no job more important than that of a wife and mother. Even if she felt this way, I admire her dedication and lack of apology for being a wife and mother.
She understood the value of education. When she became First Lady, she was contemplating what her “cause” would be, which is traditional for First Ladies. She was thinking about all the social ills–poverty, drug use, incarceration, etc. She understood that all of those things are really symptoms and the actual issue is education. She chose to make education, and specifically literacy, her platform. She loved books and reading with children. One of her sons speaking at her funeral surmised that she had already located Jane Austen in heaven to ask her how things turned out with Mr. Darcy. Or to tell her how things SHOULD have turned out. 🙂 Her beloved husband, famous for his sock game, chose to wear socks with books on them to her funeral. I think it is fitting that she was laid to rest on the grounds of a library, the presidential library in College Station, Texas.
She had a WICKED sense of humor. She was self-deprecating, often joking about her looks. She spoke at an event saying she had been asked to speak at many gatherings, but never a convention of plastic surgeons. 🙂 Then she made that sly face of hers. I heard her speaking while campaigning for one of her sons. She said, “I swore I would never campaign again after we left the White House. Yet here I am. I guess I should have said ‘Read My Lips.’ ” 🙂 For those of you too young to remember, she was referencing her husband’s famous “no new taxes” debacle while President. He vowed no new taxes and told the public to “read my lips.” Then he raised taxes.
She spoke her mind. So many times over the last week I heard people who knew her speak of how she would always say what she was thinking. That is part of what earned her the name of The Enforcer. Yet they also spoke of how she was able to do it in such a way that didn’t leave you feeling bad. She had the ability to remain true to herself and her opinions without hurting others. That is a skill I would love to have. I tend to speak my mind, but it almost always comes out wrong and I’ve pretty much had to stop talking until I learn how to do it like she did. 🙂
She wasn’t a whiner. I cannot tolerate whining, and those who knew her spoke of how Barbara Bush could not either. One of her sons speaking at her funeral talked about how she would never allow them to wallow or whine. He said, “There were no safe spaces or microaggressions with Barbara Pierce Bush.” 🙂
She endured the unspeakable grief of the loss of a child, their daughter Robin who passed away at the age of three. That chapter of her book is heartbreaking, and if you want an ugly cry, read the letter her husband wrote to his mother about the loss of their baby. Yet she wrote in her autobiography, “No man, woman, or child ever had a better life.” She also once said, “You have two choices in life: You can like what you do, or you can dislike it. I have chosen to like it.”
She seemed comfortable in her skin. I look at pictures of her and see something so different than what other women choose to look like. She had that lovely head of white hair, and a face soft and wrinkled. I personally find it refreshing to see a woman who wears those things comfortably when we live in a world where so many women look like they are perpetually stuck in a wind tunnel. As I watch my own face soften and succumb to gravitational pull, I confess I’m not comfortable with it. I hope one day I will be. I have to think Barbara Bush earned every one of those lines on her face from a life of joy, tears, excitement, and laughter.
And lastly, but absolutely not least, PEARLS! I have worn pearls forever and love them. Mrs. Bush joked that she wore pearls to try to hide some of her wrinkles. 🙂 But over the last week, she singlehandedly ignited a full-on Pearl Jam in Houston and beyond. Women everywhere were dusting off their pearls and posting photos of themselves wearing them with the trending hashtag #pearlsforbarbara. (I even saw a few men and puppies sporting a strand or two.) 🙂
Even billboards got in on it.
Our female news anchors wore pearls all week, and I seemed to see them everywhere. And the world hasn’t looked that lovely in a long time. So anyone who can get that many women in pearls is okay in my book.
I think I feel sad when someone like Barbara Bush leaves us much the same as I do when the Olympic cauldron is extinguished. It isn’t only the loss of the physical presence, but also what they take with them when they go. Barbara Bush was dignified, gracious, smart, witty and kind. Those things matter. We live in a vulgar world. One where Kendrick Lamar is awarded a Pulitzer for an album titled DAMN! One where Cardi B is famous. One where a flatulent Honey Boo-Boo and sloppy drunk Jersey Shore reunions draw large viewing audiences. It takes a lot of grace and dignity to offset stuff like that. I hope that those who were impacted by Barbara Bush will internalize some of the qualities that made her so memorable and try to make the world a more gentle place.
Mrs. Bush laid in repose on Friday of last week and I was struck by the kaleidoscope of mourners. I saw the very young, the very old, hipsters with pink hair, every race, people from all walks of life. All waiting patiently together and getting along. For a brief time, her husband was there with his daughter, shaking hands with every mourner who passed by. I was surprised but not really to see him there. I read that he did not plan to attend but was so moved by the number of people paying their respects to his wife that he had to go. People paid their respects as late as midnight that day.
For a woman who may have questioned whether she did anything with her life, I think the response to her passing would indicate that she did.
While I am sure the Bush family is bereft at the passing of Mrs. Bush, I know they didn’t lose her. Her faith was strong and they know EXACTLY where she is. And I think it was beautifully illustrated with this lovely cartoon by Marshall Ramsey of Jackson, Mississippi:
Barbara Bush was first, and always, a lady. She will be missed.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Barbara Bush. Feel free share in the comment section.