Working as a librarian in Midland was never dull. Far from it! One blustery spring day a boy walked in with an agitated step and a runny nose.
I asked if he was looking for a book. “Ha! As if!” he scoffed, then scampered away. After trying in vain to sound out the signs on the mop closet and the periodicals section, he strode into the women’s restroom. Amid much shrieking, the poor young man took quite a beating from the handbags of several Midland matrons. (Believe me, we women of West Texas will stand our ground. My mother’s generation made their handbags from studded rawhide.) The local constable was ready to haul the frightened boy away before it dawned on me what the matter was.
You see, this unfortunate youngster did not know how to read.
I took the boy aside, dressed his wounds and blotted his pant leg, and read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to him. He was as transfixed by the text as by the Caldecott-winning watercolors.
Two dates later, the boy proposed. And although my George may not have managed a whole book yet, he continues to show steady progress.
* * *
After my youthful involvement in a fatal accident, marrying into the Bush family was a storybook ending. (Crime and Punishment is and always will be my favorite novel about the expiation of sins.)
The Bush clan is so full of vivid characters. Not for nothing is my George named after his father. The son is still just as fascinated by the barcode scanner at the supermarket as his father ever was. Both love to play horseshoes, though my George has a special fondness for the shiny ones.
And then there is George’s mother, Bar, from whom I have learned so much. I’ll never forget one of her mots, just days before the 2000 election when all our nerves were a bit frayed. “Those ghastly journalists are saying my poor thickhead was a drunken driver. Well, at least he never committed vehicular homicide, did he now, Laura? Pass the potatoes.”
Yes, I have learned so much from Bar’s wit and sparkle. That is the reason I begin most speaking engagements by lightheartedly comparing her to Don Corleone, Mr. Kurtz, or Anton Chigurh. A bond of love unites us.
* * *
When Iraq’s road to democracy started to become a bit rocky, George’s work habits changed radically. For the first two and a half years of his presidency, I had always tucked him in by 8:00 with a glass of warm milk and—if he had been good—a bedtime story. But starting in the fall of 2003, he would stumble into the bedroom long after midnight, smelling strongly of mouthwash and hiccoughing with fatigue. Several times he had worked so hard that he arrived at the bedside propped up by Karl Rove and Donald Rumsfeld, who would then lay him on the mattress with a kind word. Rove and Rumsfeld remain dear friends to this day.
After such late nights, George would often be a bit worse for wear and sometimes rather peevish. I remember one morning when he complained of a terrible headache, retched into his loafers, then told me snappishly that the gorgeous burgundy de la Renta gown I had just worn to the Japanese consulate looked “damn whorish.” I gave him a look, and he changed his tune right away. “Don’t worry, I’ll try to find it in my heart to ask God to forgive you,” said a penitent First Husband. “He and I talk every day you know! In fact, He’s the one who calls me, ‘cause I’m el Presidente, ain’t I? Now come over here and kiss me on the mouth!”
This is part of the deeply spiritual side of George that few people see. Believe me, it’s there.
* * *
The mounting criticism of the liberation of Iraq was something none of us could ignore. As ever, George’s mother was the first to rally to her beleaguered son. “Have you heard, some jumped-up little Spaniard is calling my boy a war criminal. Well, at least my little thickhead never killed anyone, did he now, Laura? Pass the carrots.”
I will always, it occurred to me as my wineglass shattered in my hand, cherish Bar’s wit and sparkle!
How will history come to view my George? It is, of course, too soon to tell. After all, Ronald Reagan was derided by historians during his presidency, only to be praised by them later. The same goes for Jesus, as George likes to point out at mealtimes. And ditto for Genghis Khan, in whose honor our second-favorite Chinese restaurant in Midland was named. History is indeed fickle, but I have perfect faith that my George’s presidency will surely be viewed as better than “worst ever.”
After all, didn’t George introduce the Dewey decimal system into Afghanistan, something that Alexander the Great and the Soviet Union both failed to do?
In the meantime, George’s mother, such a strong, steely woman, can’t help but heave a sigh now and then and wonder aloud what went awry. I will never forget one such instance late last August over lunch in Kennebunkport. “Honestly, where on earth were my thickhead’s advisers?” she asked us. “It seems that those nearest and dearest to my poor dim son failed him utterly. Utterly! Didn’t they, Laura? Didn’t they? Beet salad, choppy chop.”
I will always, it struck me as I accidentally spilled the bright vegetables all over her dress, cherish Bar’s wit and sparkle!
—as told to Chase Madar
Laura Bush is the former First Lady of the United States. Chase Madar is a lawyer in New York City.
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