Spoken from the Heart – Laura Bush

In this brave, beautiful, and deeply personal memoir, Laura Bush, one of our most beloved and private first ladies, tells her own extraordinary story.

Born in the boom-and-bust oil town of Midland, Texas, Laura Welch grew up as an only child in a family that lost three babies to miscarriage or infant death. She vividly evokes Midland’s brash, rugged culture, her close relationship with her father, and the bonds of early friendships that sustain her to this day.

When Grandma Welch came to visit, Daddy would still drink, but out of deference to his mother, he poured his bourbon into a Coca-Cola bottle.

When I was little, we drove to Lubbock every other weekend to visit my grandmother so that Daddy could check on her, make sure her house was tended to and her bills were paid. She came to our house for Thanksgiving and peaches that she put up each summer in heavy glass jars.

Each Christmas she would make her famous coconut cake. Santa would leave a big, fresh coconut in my stocking, and then Daddy, with great ceremony, would crack the coconut with a hammer. My grandmother carefully drained the clear, sweet milk and grated the coconut meat with a hard box grater, which if you weren’t careful, would cut your fingers raw. Then she sprinkled the tender curls over the frosting like a fine, white snow. She would spend Christmas Day making the cake for Christmas dinner. I’m not sure if she had a recipe or if she merely mixed the proportions in her mind, but every bite was delicious.

The Christmas after I turned eight, she carefully wrapped two pieces of jewelry, a pretty gold bracelet and a gold pin that my grandfather had given her, and put them under the Christmas tree for me. She sent my little cousin Mary Mark two other pieces of jewelry, including her opal ring.

For the first time, in heart-wrenching detail, she writes about the devastating high school car accident that left her friend Mike Douglas dead and about her decades of unspoken grief.

When Laura Welch first left West Texas in 1964, she never imagined that her journey would lead her to the world stage and the White House. After graduating from Southern Methodist University in 1968, in the thick of student rebellions across the country and at the dawn of the women’s movement, she became an elementary school teacher, working in inner-city schools, then trained to be a librarian. At age thirty, she met George W. Bush, whom she had last passed in the hallway in seventh grade. Three months later, “the old maid of Midland married Midland’s most eligible bachelor.” With rare intimacy and candor, Laura Bush writes about her early married life as she was thrust into one of America’s most prominent political families, as well as her deep longing for children and her husband’s decision to give up drinking. By 1993, she found herself in the full glare of the political spotlight. But just as her husband won the Texas governorship in a stunning upset victory, her father, Harold Welch, was dying in Midland.

In 2001, after one of the closest elections in American history, Laura Bush moved into the White House. Here she captures presidential life in the harrowing days and weeks after 9/11, when fighter-jet cover echoed through the walls and security scares sent the family to an underground shelter. She writes openly about the White House during wartime, the withering and relentless media spotlight, and the transformation of her role as she began to understand the power of the first lady. One of the first U.S. officials to visit war-torn Afghanistan, she also reached out to disease-stricken African nations and tirelessly advocated for women in the Middle East and dissidents in Burma. She championed programs to get kids out of gangs and to stop urban violence. And she was a major force in rebuilding Gulf Coast schools and libraries post-Katrina. Movingly, she writes of her visits with U.S. troops and their loved ones, and of her empathy for and immense gratitude to military families.

She also talks about the poverty in Africa and the AIDS spreading.

Africa as a continent is life-changing. In so many places, the scenery is beautiful beyond description and the wildlife a marvel of creation.

Barbara, who loved her little cat, India, with all her heart, once told me, “The existence of cats proves that there must be a Heavenly Creator,” and indeed to look at lions and tigers in their full majesty is to glimpse some of that splendor.

Barbara and Jenna and I were mesmerized as we drove through the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa, amid the lions, elephants, and warthogs, accompanied by a cacophony of hundreds of birds. But too often, mere steps tremendous human suffering.

In that Cape Town hospital, Barbara held tiny babies as they struggled with the ravages of AIDS. About 70 percent of the globe’s AIDS patients live in Africa. I saw the reality of those numbers for myself when Jenna and I drove to the Khayelitsha township, where the streets were little more than packed dust and the houses woven together from strips of tar paper and tin. The bathrooms are a line of Porta-Potties strung along the edge of the township, and the walk to them is fraught with peril. Almost daily, women are raped and abused.

About the Author: Laura Bush was First Lady of the United States from 2001 to 2009. She founded both the National Book Festival and the Texas Book Festival.

GOOD BITS: It is a nice book to read and it shows honesty and eloquence in her narration. She is very gracious in her descriptions and the story is lovely rendered.

BAD BITS: First half is very boring. They tell you what flowers they selected for a dinner at the White House. I bet she used a ghost writer… or used a PR person.The book feels more along the lines of a press briefing of episodes during the political part of her life, and it was boring.

Second thing I didn’t like was the VERY RICH vibe I got from Mrs Bush. All of her reactions in the book come from a place high above, looking down at the misery of human kind but unwilling to touch it. Have a look at the quote I extracted about the AIDS in Africa. She talks about the continent, about cats, back then to the misery and poverty. She went on a safari trip and then made an appearance at a hospital where she shook some hands and took pictures.

I’ll give you another example:

if gang members could be taught work skills and could get good jobs, they would choose a different path.

I don’t think it works that way. I admire her optimism and desire to change things but her lifestyle has been sheltered.. Here’s another:

I had my sisters-in-law. Margaret Bush, Marvin’s to exercise with me in the White House gym. George’s sister, Doro Bush Koch, and her husband, Bobby, and their children frequently came for dinner and joined us at Camp David.

The richness of their friendship and their love for me and for George was of great solace as we waited for improvement in Iraq. The Bush children had seen their father lead the nation during the Gulf War; now it was their brother, in a longer, more difficult fight.

They understood, as few people could, the burdens of leading a nation in wartime. And this was a war unlike any our country had ever faced.

I can just hear her saying: Oh Bush baby, why won’t you go play the war games in another room so we can socialize here properly?

Hmm, maybe I’m politically biased or don’t have a proper understanding of what a First Lady should be / do. Michelle was better.

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