From diary entries, to personal photos, her new book, “Reflections: Life After the White House,” is vintage Barbara Bush. Behind that smile, the signature pearls, she is unpredictably candid, funny, and self-deprecating. Read an excerpt from the book below:
January 20, 1993, was a tough day for us. But we had two and a half months to get used to the idea, and my mind had already gone home to Houston. We spent the last few weeks saying some very emotional good-byes to the Republican members of the Senate; George’s cabinet; the military at Camp David; all the armed services at Fort Myer; the White House staff; and our many dear friends who lived in Washington.
The hardest good-byes were to our children who lived there, Doro and Bobby Koch, Marvin and Margaret, and all their children. How we had loved it when they dropped in. They all left town the week of Bill Clinton’s Inauguration with the exception of Bobby who stayed in Washington and came for dinner our last night in town along with our dear friends, Ann and Alan Simpson, senator from Wyoming, and Cathy and Lud Ashley, whom we had known since George’s Yale days.
Another memory from those final days was a phone call George received from Billy Graham. Because of our close friendship, he was worried about what we would think if he accepted Bill Clinton’s invitation to give the inaugural invocation. George assured him that nothing would please him more, and he meant it.
By this time I was sort of out of tears, emotionally wiped out. I wrote in my diary:
Well, this is the day. Both of us are ready. The news and TV programs are full of end-of-term stories about George, his successes and his failures, and “the new beginnings” by Clinton. All this was expected, but we need to get out of here. The Los Angeles Times has George leaving office with a 68% popular vote. We have felt no ill will.
We came home to Houston to a totally unpacked house, and flowers in the house and garden, all done by our new neighbors and friends. Longtime friends and next-door neighbors Jack and Bobbie Fitch were the ringleaders in this thoughtful, life-saving deed.
Our days were spent getting used to being back on our own, living in a rented house with two dogs after four years in that glorious house with ninety-three staff. George set up his office, and we both had thousands of letters that needed answering.
We realized fairly quickly how much life had changed. George W. came for dinner a few days after our return home. He wanted pasta, as he was running the Houston Marathon the next morning. (He was nervous about the race as he wasn’t sure he could make it. He finished in the middle of the pack.) I had not cooked in twelve years, so it is not surprising that my pasta was not too good. In fact, it was dreadful. George W. was polite, but his dad said, “I like my pasta rare.” By that time, I had cooked about five meals, and I figured I was two for five. George told me the good news was that he had lost two pounds without even trying.
I also hadn’t driven in twelve years and was panicked about driving for the first time. It seemed easy, but I confess that I did not stray too far away from our neighborhood for a long time. George told everyone in speeches that if anyone saw a blue Sable station wagon on the road-get out of the way!
One weekend we went to Galveston-just a short hour’s drive from Houston on the Gulf of Mexico-and stayed in our friend Hugh Liedtke’s house on the water. When George went in to get a fishing license, the woman said to him, “You look familiar. Have we met before?”
Something very similar happened to me, although a while later. My good friend and neighbor, Mildred Kerr, and I went to Luby’s cafeteria for lunch. A perfectly strange, attractive woman came over, put her face in mine, and said, “Aren’t you somebody? I know I know you.” She never took a breath and continued, “Are you a teacher? Have you waited on me in a store? Didn’t you help me at Sears?” I never had a chance to say a word, but just kept nodding. She left as quickly as she arrived, muttering as she went: “I thought she was somebody.”
Here are some of my diary notes from those first few weeks after we left Washington:
February 14-Pop and I have had a lot of fun since we’ve been back playing house, after 12 years of being waited on hand and foot. We have all modern equipment, and our needs are not great. My cooking leaves a lot to be desired, that’s for sure.
February 19-I, of course, have deep tinges of regret, but mostly for George. I have been so proud of him. He is not bitter, but just cannot seem to focus in on anything yet, but it has only been one month since the Inauguration. The office in Houston is going strong with a small paid group and a large group of volunteers. I guess there are tons of mail . . . I am working away on my book.* It is so much fun looking back.
Before we had left the White House, our lawyer Terri Lacy came to see me and asked me how I planned to pay my staff. I couldn’t believe my ears. What did she mean? Why would I need a staff? She explained that former first ladies received lots of mail, including invitations and other requests, all of which would have to be answered. I would need someone to answer the mail and to schedule me. She had checked with Betty Ford’s office and although they had been out of office some 16 years, Betty still spent $100 a month on postage alone. I felt like crying. Everyone knew that I had never earned any money as I had never seriously worked in the 48 years we had been married. So besides losing the election, now at 68 years old I was going to have to make some money. I honestly thought Terri was slightly crazy. Fortunately, several book publishers and a speaking bureau came to my rescue shortly after that, and I could afford all the above. I am a diary-keeper and I had so much information [for a book] that I was like Yogi Berra-I “had insurmountable opportunities” or too much information.
From “Reflections: Life After the White House,” by Barbara Bush. Copyright (c) 2003 by Barbara Bush. By permission of Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.