ABILENE, Texas — At one point in her then-very young life, Barbara Pierce Bush thought that everyone’s grandfather, George H.W. Bush included, got an inauguration.
“I didn’t know what it meant to be president, so I thought that when you were a grandfather, you got an inauguration,” she said, recently speaking with her sister, Jenna Bush Hager, at the Sisters First Dinner, an event for the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health.
The Abilene Reporter-News reports the institute in Abilene works closely with Hendrick Health System to expand programs and opportunities that meet the needs of women.
The sisters last month shared heartfelt recollections of their famous grandmother, Barbara Bush, for whom Barbara Pierce Bush is named, as well as insight into growing up among American political royalty while trying to enjoy something resembling a normal life.
The pair, who have written a book, “Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life,” recalled not being thrilled when their father George W. Bush announced his plans to run for president.
He might lose. And he was certainly likely to ruin their lives.
“He wanted to promise everything we wanted, which was normalcy,” Hager said. “He didn’t have a guidebook. He had no idea. How could he predict what was going to happen?”
There were a few things that should have perhaps been self-apparent, she admitted now.
“When you’re the daughter of presidents, you shouldn’t buy margaritas with a fake ID,” she said, referring to one of the more infamous incidents that earned the twins media scrutiny during her father’s tenure.
Dealing with Secret Service could be difficult, whether you were trying to date a president’s daughter in the case of Hager’s future husband, Henry Chase Hager, or when dealing with a true national incident, such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Admitting that she was originally “prickly” to Secret Service personnel while attending Yale University, Barbara Pierce Bush said in the immediate aftermath of the attacks she came to see them as people, and friends.
Her protectors were based in 7 World Trade Center in New York City, one of the buildings that collapsed as others around it fell.
She watched agents express heartfelt, tearful concern for friends, colleagues and family. And for her.
“All of a sudden, they became my brothers,” Bush said, creating a bond that endures with some today.
As far as their famous and well-loved grandmother, Hager recalled receiving a letter from “The Enforcer,” as the family called the elder Barbara Bush, reprimanding her after some “bad behavior” at a family tennis tournament.
The shenanigans involved doing a body-shaking dance, “the worm,” among other infractions.
“She’d held the feeling of this bad sportsmanship in her heart for a couple of months, and she wrote me,” she said.
The letter was addressed both to her and to father for his perceived role in encouraging such behavior.
“He was also at fault for egging me on,” she said, her father cheering, “That’s my girl!” from the sidelines.
Barbara Pierce Bush said her grandmother’s nickname was earned because she demanded such high standards, and she said her absence looms large.
“I went to Maine really early this summer to be with my grandfather,” she said, who had gone there alone for the first time after his wife’s death.
“I had the strangest feeling of arriving and realizing that there was no one there that was going to be holding me to be accountable to be the best version of myself,” Barbara Pierce Bush said.
After sitting and reading to her grandfather, she remarked it was “quiet” without her grandmother’s presence.
He quipped: “Are you trying to say she talked too much?”
Famous for her own zingers, the elder Barbara managed to teach the sisters up until the very end of her life.
Learning of her failing health that led to her April death, at age 92, the sisters called her in tears.
A somber moment was soon deflected as their grandmother, as usual, took charge.
“Stop believing everything you read; they make it sound like I’m shriveling up here,” she reportedly demanded.
“She knew what was happening,” Barbara Pierce Bush said. “As humans, our biggest fear is death. And the opposite of fear is love, and she ended her life in a very loving way, choosing a way to go, surrounded by her family.”
It was a lesson in both grace and fearlessness, she said, something that Hager said that she, too, feels.
Reading an excerpt from the book, Hager related how her grandmother, married at 19, had by age 28 already had to endure her share of sadness, losing her mother in a car crash and burying a daughter, Pauline Robinson “Robin” Bush, who died at age 3 of leukemia.
“I’m not sure if Ganny was tough before or if she became tough because of her early married life, living far from her family, far from everything she knew, grieving alone in the dry, dusty West Texas,” Hager read. “By the time I got to know her, Ganny’s strength was so powerful, it had truly become a force, a life force for all those that knew her.”
Many times when she speaks, Hager said, “it’s my grandmother’s strong, impulsively hilarious voice I hear.”
All funds raised at the event will support scientific research related to women’s health; help translate science into practice by educating physicians and health care professionals; and amplify the institute’s community outreach efforts in Abilene.
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