Read an excerpt from the forthcoming commemorative edition on the life and legacy of George H.W. Bush, from Time Inc. Books, a division of Meredith Corporation:
George Bush will never be remembered for soaring rhetorical flourishes. His legacy as a speaker will be defined by abrupt — and much mimicked — phrases such as “Wouldn’t be prudent” and “Read my lips.” But as much as he may have seemed at times to be distant at the podium, the man who put pen to paper in private was less self-conscious, at times personable and at times combative and, on occasion, quite funny. Unlike most presidents who author autobiographies shortly after leaving office — both to pay the bills and to offer an unchallenged defense of events that happened on their watch — Bush declined such offers, leaving historians the task of assessing his tenure. Instead he assembled a lifetime of letters and other writings into the revealing 1999 bestseller All the Best. What follows is a small collection of excerpts that capture pivotal moments in his life in his own words.
‘I KISSED BARBARA AND AM GLAD OF IT’
To his mother
1942, written at the Wold-Chamberlain Naval Air Station, Minneapolis, Minn.
Kissing is not an obligation a girl owes a boy regardless of how often he takes her out or how much money he spends … but I don’t think that it is entirely wrong for a girl to be kissed by a boy. Let us take this famous case [Barbara] Pierce vs. [George] Bush summer ’42. I kissed Barbara and am glad of it. I don’t believe she will ever regret it or resent it, and I certainly am not ashamed of it. I’d tell you, Mrs. Pierce, or anybody but at the same time I might as well tell you I have never felt towards another girl as I do towards her. Whether the feeling is mutual I cannot say. To get back to my example, however, if Barbara sort of forgets me, which is not unlikely, as I have no chance to see her at all, I don’t believe she will ever dislike me more for having kissed her. She knows how I felt towards her and she must have shared some of the same feeling or she would not have allowed me to kiss her. I have never kissed another girl.
‘YOU LOOK YOUNGER THAN I THOUGHT’
November 7, 1987, warming up for the presidential campaign
Brandon, Iowa. A tiny little town. More people in the middle of the little town than lived in the town. They came in from everywhere. The firemen, dressed in yellow coats, holding the crowd back. Young kids, banners, homemade signs welcoming the Vice President. I go into the Brandon Feed Store, and just before walking in I was shaking hands with all the people and an older woman said to me, “You look younger than I thought.” I said, “A lot of people say, taller.” She said, “No, I say a lot younger.” I said, “Well, I’m 63.” She said, “No shit?” Everybody heard her. All of the people standing next to her looked shocked, looked kind of held back. I laughed and then they laughed like mad. It was absolutely fantastic. One of the great moments in my life politically.
‘I HATE BROCCOLI’
Journal entry March 23, 1990
The broccoli war is heating up. On March 21st, the Broccoli Association announces they’re sending a couple of tons of the stuff, but I’m sticking with my position that I hate broccoli. I think I’ll get Barbara, who likes broccoli, to go out and greet the broccoli caravan. I refuse to give an inch on this, and I so advised the press. I can’t stand the stuff; it smells up everything; and I’m against it.
January 20, 1993, last day in the White House
My last walk around the [White House] grounds. It’s clear, blue, crisp, cold, and I think of the many walks I’ve had around here and what a joy it’s been. …
The worst will be saying good-bye to the staff today, but if I lose it, too bad, they’ve been a part of our lives and they know we care. …
And so time goes on and I’m sitting here now alone, the desk is clear and the pictures are gone. I leave a note on the desk for Bill Clinton. It looks a little lonely sitting there. I don’t want it to be overly dramatic, but I did want him to know that I would be rooting for him.
I think of the happiness we’ve had here. Somebody points out, “Well, the polls look good today—you’re leaving with people liking you.” And I’m saying, “Well that’s nice, that’s very nice, but I didn’t finish the job.” They may be pleasant in that way, but I don’t think they know my heartbeat.
‘I AM GETTING OLDER NOW’
To his children
September 23, 1998 [Bush ends his book with this letter]
This letter is about aging. Not about the President’s Conference on Aging and how we should play lawn bowling, get discounts at the movies, turn into skin-conscious sun blockers, take Metamucil and grow old gracefully. No, it’s about me, about what happened between last year and this, between being 73 and 74. …
Last year I could fly fish on the end rocks at the Point, and not be too concerned about losing my balance. Oh, if I’d been casting at one target for a while way back in the summer of ’97, my spike clad feet firmly placed on two rocks, and then I turned fast I’d feel a little—what’s the word here—not “wobbly” but “unbalanced”—that’s the feeling. …
Then there’s memory. I’m still pretty good at faking it. “Well, I’ll be darn, how in the heck are you?” or “long time no see!” or “What you been up to?”…
If I try to read after dinner I fall asleep on the third page no matter how gripping the mystery. Read a briefing paper in bed? No way—Sominex time!
No there is a difference now and maybe when we reconvene next year, you’ll notice even more of a gentle slide. I hope not. I want to put this “aging” on hold for awhile now.
I don’t expect to be on the A team any more, but I want to play golf with you. And I want to fish or throw shoes. And I want to rejoice in your victories be they political, or business, or family happiness.
Read more in a forthcoming commemorative edition about the life and legacy of George H.W. Bush, from Time Inc. Books, a division of Meredith Corporation, available soon at retailers and on Amazon.
LETTERS REPRINTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF SCRIBNER, A DIVISION OF SIMON & SCHUSTER, INC., FROM ALL THE BEST, GEORGE BUSH: MY LIFE IN LETTERS AND OTHERS WRITINGS, BY GEORGE H.W. BUSH. COPYRIGHT © 1999 BY GEORGE H.W. BUSH. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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