Fittingly, tributes have poured in from around the world for President George H.W. Bush, who is being laid to rest this week, following a long and by all accounts, a joyous life. I, like so many, was moved to tears by the remarks George W. Bush made in honor of his father. My heart ached when he broke into that gasping sob recalling what a wonderful father he had. I, too, have known such grief. But of all the accolades heaped upon this man of decency and dignity, what has moved me the most are the stories and memories shared by his grandchildren.
“My grandfather was the center of our family,” said granddaughter Lauren Bush. “And truly a good and kind man publicly and privately.”
A letter writer all of his life, Bush wrote letters to his grandchildren upon their births. Recounting the one her grandfather wrote to her three days after her own birth in 1984, Lauren quoted from her grandfather’s letter: “It’s a funny thing when you get older, even if you have an exciting life surrounded by interesting people and have a chance to meet all the world’s leaders, even with all that – what counts is family and love. We love you already more than tongue can tell. Devotedly, Gampy.”
Of all the remarkable things Bush did in his life – and he did do remarkable works even as he did questionable works – the greatest of his legacies was as husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Granddaughter Barbara Bush said that everyone in the family knew that the summer of 2018 would likely be her grandfather’s last. They did not take it for granted. She moved up her wedding so that her grandfather would be in attendance. Through tears, she recalled her grandfather telling her that day that she had never looked more beautiful.
Hearing Barbara Bush say that if you asked each of the grandchildren who was Gampy’s favorite, every one of the grandchildren would say they were, I had to laugh. I have heard that very same remark said of my own mother by more than one grandchild.
Even at Mama’s funeral, one of the 13 grandchildren stood before the gathering and declared that she was grandmama’s favorite. The remaining 12 just rolled their eyes. They knew that each one of them could have stood at that podium and made the very same declaration, and it would be every bit as true for each one of them. Grandma Shelby was the center of our universe, just as George H.W. Bush was the whole world for his grandchildren.
My own Granny Leona was the heartbeat of my universe. As a military child, I didn’t get to spend much time with her. But as early as first grade I was writing her letters, a habit that I would continue until her death. The last time I saw my granny alive was during the Christmas season of 1979. She was living in Colorado with my Uncle James at the time. I took my newborn son, Stephan, to meet her. He would be the only one of my four children to meet my grandmother. He has no memory of that visit, but I do and I cherish it.
My sister, who has worked for decades as the church preschool director, tells me that it really doesn’t matter if a grandchild sees a grandparent daily or if they only see them yearly, their abiding love for their grandparents is all the same. “Grandkids love their grandparents.”
Fortunately for the grandchildren of President George H.W. Bush, they got to spend a goodly amount of time with their Gampy. Granddaughter Barbara said she could never pick just one special moment with her grandfather because she had thousands of memories of time spent with him.
“We knew we were important to him because that is how he acted,” Barbara said.
And that is a lesson for us all, isn’t it? That the most honorable thing we can do for our grandchildren, or even the stranger we happen upon is to live and love in such a way that others always come away knowing that they are important to us.
“To show that love is a strength,” said Jenna.
Indeed, it is the tie that binds us all.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Christian Bend, a novel, Mercer University Press.