Editor’s note: Our CultureMap staff recalls two charming and personal stories regarding former first lady Barbara Bush.
Barbara Bush’s practical beauty and a unique housewarming gift
David Gow, CEO of Gow Media
In 1963, my father got a job working for George H.W. Bush, and so my parents moved to Houston. To welcome my mother to town, Barbara Bush threw her a housewarming party — a fun gathering of about a dozen young Houston moms.
Toward the end of the party, the women sat in a circle and my mother opened a bounty of housewarming gifts. She received a toaster, a cake-holder, a knife set, etc. — everything a young woman setting up her home might need.
Or so she thought. Barbara Bush stepped over and handed my mom a large trash bag. At the least, this gift did not “show” as well as the others.
My mom pulled out the contents one by one: old bath towels, carefully cut into pieces of four.
My mother tried to seem just as delighted with this gift as she had with the others. Bath towels, old bath towels. Well, “thank you,” she said.
The room got quiet. And then Barbara explained: When she had moved to Houston, people had given her all kinds of nice things. But what she found she lacked — what she needed — was old hand towels for cleaning. Barbara’s explanation, delivered in her matter-of-fact manner, seemed to strike a chord. The women all laughed with approval.
My mother used to love to tell this story about Barbara. To be sure, she was proud that Barbara Bush (!) had thrown her a party; but far more, she loved what the story revealed about Barbara. Barbara was a practical person who understood and cared about the practical needs of others.
Hearing the remembrances this weekend, I was reminded of this story. This attribute is what people loved about Barbara. Her top charity was a practical need: literacy. As a mother, she did not indulge, but cared for her children — with everyday diligence. As a first lady, though thrust into elegance, she exuded authenticity. She ascended to fame, but always remained grounded. Now she has ascended again, to the heavens. My mother, who passed away two years ago, will be there to meet her — likely with a large bag of towels, exactly what Barbara would want.
Barbara Bush kept me out of jail
Steven Devadanam, editor of CultureMap Houston
The Bush compound seemed so storybook, nestled atop rocks that jutted out of the Atlantic. I can still remember the sounds of waves massaging the Maine shoreline in the quiet calm summer night of 1999, as I approached the president’s sprawling, shingled home — dead set on trespassing.
My family and I had spent a picturesque day in Kennebunkport; we dined on lobster and strolled the quaint shops of Dock Square. We nibbled on ice cream cones and taffy; chatted with locals; and immersed ourselves in the effortless charm of this quiet Maine town, which the Bush family called home in the summers.
All that resplendent charm? Not charming enough, as I was hell-bent on “visiting” the Bush compound and securing evidence, say, a small rock.
My girlfriend at the time thought that a rock from the Bush home would be a charming addition to her mantle — and easy to procure. (Ah, privilege.)
It seemed an easy plan: I’d simply saunter up, find a suitable rock, and escape. (Selfies weren’t a thing yet.) It was well past 9 pm when I made my way — against the wishes, nay, orders of my family — onto the long Bush family driveway. I made it to the gate. Was I inside? I needed to find a rock.
Why was a rock so hard to find on the rocky Maine coastline? That thought turned to terror as blinding lights flashed into my eyes. I stood still — perfectly still. A jeep pulled up, manned by a very serious pair of men. The gravity of the situation dawned on me. A young, suspicious Indian man was standing on the property of one of the most powerful families on the globe.
“Can we help ... ” they started, but I interrupted in panic.
“I’m so sorry. God, I’m so sorry. My girlfriend told me to get a rock from the president’s home. She’s a big fan of Barbara’s. Please don’t kill me. I’m from Houston and my mom works in Tanglewood and has met President Bush and I’m an Astros fan and I’m here on vacation but my family lives in Boston, but ...”
I couldn’t stop talking. Why wouldn’t I stop talking?
After several minutes, I heard them on their phone: “Yes ma’am. We’ll tell him.”
They turned to me sternly, but with a slight air of bemusement.
“She says you can get your rock. And go. She says hi to your girlfriend.”
I never got the chance to thank the former first lady. But I got my rock — which I kept, for my trouble. And I have eternal gratitude to the rock of America’s royal family.