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Heart to Heart With Laura Bush

The former first lady talks about childhood loss, public disappointments, and new happiness in Texas.

Laura Bush welcomes me to her Dallas home by pointing out the blossom-laden wisteria in back. It's part apology for the front yard, a mix of mud and upturned sod to make room for Texas-friendly salvias. The new flora symbolize a transformation in the former first lady's life: standing in the entryway of this cozy house is not the reticent political wife of George W. Bush we thought we knew.

In her just-published memoir, Spoken From the Heart, Bush, 63, reveals herself as a bereft only child who lost an infant brother, born "two months too soon; " as a guilt-ridden teen in the wake of a car accident in which she ran a stop sign and killed a friend; and as a concerned spouse whose husband "could be a bore" when he drank—until he quit for his 40th birthday.

For "AARP The Magazine," Bush looks back—with contentment and regret.

Q: Was writing a way to relive your childhood? 

A: I start with my first memory, looking into the nursery in Midland where my newborn brother was lying, when I was two and a half. My parents wanted a lot of children. I knew the emotional impact of losing that baby boy and, later, two other babies, from my parents' sadness. With the car accident, writing the book was the first time I really thought how deeply it affected my parents.

Q: How did Midland shape you? 

A: We grew up in West Texas in that environment of risk takers, gamblers, which is what oilmen were. The sandstorms, that stark background. There is not a lot of pretense when you live in West Texas.

Q: Your father drank. 

A: That was very accepted. It was the way things were in West Texas. Did you think that was too revealing?

Q: Did life change for you after September 11? 

A: I'm not a fearful person. September 11 made me more serious, [as did] the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. George and I knew anything could happen, but we certainly didn't expect anything like that.

<p>&quot;I am a great optimist, but I'm also a realist. What's reassuring is that time passes and things change, and war doesn't last forever.&quot;<br> </p>

Q: Any regrets from your time as first lady?

A: You don't get to wash your hands and say, "Education is fixed." Do I wish Afghanistan was more stable and that women there had secured equal rights? Yes, but that just isn't going to happen fast.

Q: You write about the latter part of your parents' lives. Your thoughts on your own next chapter? 

A: I have a wonderful model in my mother, who worked to anticipate the next stage of her life. As her world got smaller, she decided to move to a retirement community where she would be surrounded by old friends. She wanted to stay in Midland, rather than move in with George and me. I think it is important for all of us to make choices that keep our support systems—mental and emotional—strong.

Q: As a child you daydreamed of growing chilies under a big sky, as your grandmother did. Things turned out differently.  

A: It's not that much of a contrast. George and I have our ranch, where I grow prairie grasses. But my life is much richer than I could have imagined as a girl gazing out at the pecan farms outside El Paso. I never thought that after the dusty landscape of Midland I would see the dusty landscape of Afghanistan, or the lush jungles of the Thailand-Burma border, or so much of our own country. I've been more fortunate than I ever dreamed.

 

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