It was a shock, even though she was 92, to read that First Lady Barbara Bush was ill and refusing further treatment. Feisty to the very end, she passed away calling the shots for her last days—to be home surrounded by her family.
I admired her for decades and have read quite a bit about her, her marriage, family, and the Bush presidency. I believe it will take us awhile to understand how deep and wide her loss will affect us. She carried such wisdom, wit, and influence. I thought I would share a few ways she inspired me, as well as a flash fiction story from my very early writing days that came from something I had read about the family.
- She helped me see old fashioned romance carries few regrets. It’s well documented that Barbara married the first man she kissed, something she said nearly made their children want to throw up. At first, it does sound weird, but as a broken teen in search of anything to numb my feelings, her comment shook me. Although I can’t say I married the first person I kissed, I quickly realized girls with a lot of relationships seemed to have a lot of regrets. I didn’t date a lot, and the man I married was God sent.
- She embraced literacy. She believed literacy was the cornerstone for success, and I agree. I devoured reading and it came fairly easy for me, but I’ve always believed in the power of reading for all. A fan of Marc Brown’s Arthur, she chose Arthur Meets the President to be included in the National Archives, and invited Brown to tour with her for literacy initiatives. Arthur is my all-time favorite cartoon, so I always loved the partnership.
- She took the hits. Barbara Bush was outspoken and made it clear she’s fine being a target when it came to critics. Off limits were her husband and kids. She not only endured her husband’s presidency, but one of her son’s. Another son was a governor and briefly ran for president. The heckling Jeb received for that, you knew exactly how Barbara felt about it, and the people laughing. Her love for family was fierce.
- She had far more grace than we gave her credit for. Most everyone knows about her famous sons, but not everyone knew that they lost their daughter to leukemia when she was three. I have not lost a child, but we nearly did, and it changes you. I’ve watched parent grief from afar and Mrs. Bush never forgot her daughter, but didn’t allow her life to be bitter. I also didn’t know that she attributed her white hair to the grief. The color changed after their loss. I think that speaks volume to how deeply our bodies respond to trauma, and how difficult that loss was for her and her family.
When I first began learning the writing craft, I participated in weekly FaithWriter challenges. I can’t remember the theme that week, but one of my entries was inspired by the Bush family. The entire family, Barbara included, was notorious for their competitiveness. I read an article where Laura described meeting them, and how strong they came across, Barbara included, when it came to their love of sports and winning. Laura had some sass of her own, and her answer to their question won them over immediately. Here’s my own spin to it, a very rough draft called I Read.
“You’re not going to wear those shoes, are you?” I look down at my flat, taupe granny shoes. I know what my college age sister is thinking of me. I’m thirty years old about to meet my boyfriend’s family, and I stay sensible.
“If there is one evening I want to be comfortable, this is it.” Tracy puts her hands on her hips and makes a sweeping disapproval of my look. It’s what I wear at the library: black dress pants, stockings, granny shoes, solid red shell accessorized with my gold necklace adorned with little book charms. Greg loves me for who I am. A quiet librarian with sensible shoes. What family wouldn’t embrace a reader into her son’s life?
Tracy at least gets me to bring a floral arrangement out of mom and dad’s garden. Although we can’t pick a dandelion from an azalea, mom and dad are local senior center garden winners.
Greg Worthington is the one. Neither of us was looking for love when we separately went to a friend’s barbeque. I watched him play basketball and liked his fun attitude. He strolled up to me with the basketball and a goofy grin.
“John said you work at the library. I think you can make a lot of noise on the basketball court. ” I take the ball and look him straight in the eye. When I’m nervous, I can get sarcastic. It’s a habit, and God’s working on me. That night, I couldn’t help it. I made noise on the court all right, I played like a librarian. I slowly dribbled and shouted out every basketball fact I knew. I had the ball four full minutes. Greg was laughing so hard I knew he was interested.
He gave sparse info on the family but the library is again my resource. The Worthingtons’ are wealthy. Greg’s grandfather founded one of the first cable companies. Greg has an older brother Geoff and a younger sister Ginger. Greg’s mom and dad are active in church, charity and anything competitive. That’s what I got out of Greg.
Their summer abode is lakefront with all the outdoor fun: pontoon boat, jet skis, tubing, fishing boat, gazebo, and beautiful deck. The yard area is spacious. I see croquet in the side yard and the family is tossing the football as I drive in. Greg smiles and jogs up. I realize my palms are wet. I’m afraid if I touch the flowers they will wilt from a chemical reaction.
“Lauren you’re here, good!” He opens my door and I swing out. He notices my shoes.
“The library shoes? Honey we’re at the lake. I guess I thought you knew that meant.” Greg is cut off by a booming voice of authority shouting a warning,
“Heads up Gregory, I want to see how this girl can catch!” Brown pig skin comes flying right at me. I scream and of course miss the football. It lands with a thud on my flowers. Greg quickly looks at the horror on my face and grabs the ball.
“Hey dad, give us a longer warning next time. Say Geoff, catch!” The ball goes sailing over my head to a guy built just like Greg. I feel my knees trembling. I belong in this family like a mouse belongs with a herd of elephants!
Greg gives me a hug and picks up the tousled flowers. By now the family is at our side. I’m hugged, kissed, tapped, high fived, and verbally welcomed. Ginger holds out a tennis racket.
“You play? Oh wait. I guess you can’t in those shoes.” Disappointment fills her voice. Mrs. Worthington puts her arm around me and leads me to the deck.
“Now you all scoot. I want to get to know Lauren better. I’ll let you know when dinner is ready.” Greg looks for permission to get back to the ball. I nervously nod. His mom seems harmless. She sits across from me and just sighs.
“Lauren it’s a pleasure to meet you. You’re the first girl Greg has ever brought home. Did you know that? Now, you’ve seen us with the football and that we like swimming and boating and tennis and croquet, what dear, is it that you do?” Sweet as the bees going for the flowers, Mrs. Worthington is sizing me up. My answer is immediate but confident.
“I read.” Her cackle echoes over the waters.
“You’re going to do just fine Lauren. Welcome to the family.”