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by Martha F. Barkley
Let's celebrate all summer long President George H.W. Bush's 94th year here, most every summer for him spent at Walker's Point, Kennebunkport, Maine. His love of the family place and bringing world leaders there to share tennis, fast golf games, and even faster speed boat rides are legendary.
When historian Jon Meacham spoke at Barbara's memorial service in Texas recently, I came to realize that Meacham was the official biographer of our very respected 41st president. Even for the crowds attending his wife's funeral, President Bush was out there greeting children and parents with his beloved daughter "Doro" at his side. [Barbara Bush passed away in April, at age 92.]
Upon his arrival in Maine for this summer without Barbara, President Bush attended the local pancake breakfast and ended up hospitalized a few days. Apparently he likes to party too much, according to a news report! Such a dynamic man, even from his wheelchair.
I bought the $20 paperback, only 601 pages, but readers of biography will find this book one of the finest. Maybe because I like President Bush One, I call him, to differentiate his office from his son's…maybe because Barbara Bush always charmed the press, maybe because we all agree Maine is the best place for summer!
During our recent presidential campaign, it was Barbara Bush who said that voters were tired of both the Clintons and the Bushes. How wise she was. How smart of George to find her at a college party when Barbara was visiting from her Ashley Hall School in Charleston, SC. How young they were to promise early marriage and off he went as the youngest pilot in WWII.
The 21 locations shown on a double-page map really brings to mind how important Kennebunkport, Maine was during his many moves in a constantly changing political life. I also had this same impression when reading the life of JFK, a much shorter life, cut off by an assassin. Vacation homes seem to anchor us as ordinary people and also leaders like JFK and the Bushes, both father and son.
It really amazed me to read that Barbara had recurring depression. She naturally experienced this when their dear daughter Robin died of leukemia. Later, however, when Bush was head of the CIA, Barbara had a six month rough patch where her husband constantly supported her and urged counseling. Somehow, she luckily snapped out of it, as Barbara has remarked publicly.
People who are so very public and privileged as the Bush family certainly guide us in our own lives. I look at the map of so many moves and think how lucky I have been to not move so often.
Summer in Maine is our common ground whether we live stable lives or move around a lot.
When George was Vice President, our family happened to be at a motel up above Walker's Point. We looked out from the balcony as a few Secret Service trotted by while Bush had his morning jog. There he was running the narrow road along the gorgeous rocky coast. The Coast Guard boat was out in the ocean guarding with our American flag waving. Later we stopped for a meal at the local lobster shack.
All of a sudden, the tiny restaurant was invaded by suits and ties, not usual attire for Maine vacationers. They looked around and went back to the kitchen. Soon, in walks the lovely, white-haired Barbara and a few friends...since 9/11, I suppose it is all too complicated to explain security.
Riding bicycles in China by both Bushes impressed me. What an adventure they had there and finally their son George travelled abroad to visit his parents. Color photos reveal how happy they were serving in China for two years.
As newlyweds, George and Barbara were quite of one mind to move from New England roots to the wilds of Odessa, Texas. Care packages from Barbara's mother included laundry detergent and other necessities, maybe not available out there on the frontier! Midland, TX and Houston became their roots, but Maine was the place for SUMMER.
Sometimes it is fun to read the index of a huge biography like this one. Just look up Kennebunkport and read all the Maine antics. Have fun celebrating with me President Bush's 94th year with practically every single summer of his well-lived life in our favorite state of Maine.