Barbara Bush, mother of war criminal George W. Bush, died on April 17, 2018. Geraldine Comley, my mother, died April 17, 2011. Bush was called the matriarch of a Republican political dynasty. For years, my mother was chairwoman of the local Republican Party in Nicholasville, Kentucky, however she eventually rejected the Party, leaving it when George Bush was elected president. She’d watched the news, his campaign, and pronounced him stupid.
My mother, whom we called Gigi, was the smartest woman I’ve ever known, inquisitive, a voracious reader, engaged in broadening her knowledge. Long before George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, she said that someday the U.S. would be involved in a religious war, a war that would be disastrous and chaotic. When her grandson Chase made a decision to enlist in the Marines, she was devastated. Yes, this was his choice, but she blamed George W. Bush. And when Chase was killed in Iraq, she agreed to be interviewed, criticizing U.S. foreign policy and the Bush White House.
I have this powerful memory of her, her passion and energy. After Chase’s death, she was enervated by grief.
Here’s a juxtaposition: In the run-up to the Iraq War, Barbara Bush was asked about her decision not to watch much TV. She said: “But why should we hear about body bags, and deaths, and how many, what day it’s going to happen, and how many this and what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it’s, it’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that? And watch him [George W.] suffer.”
You can bet a limb or both kidneys the xenophobic Mrs. Bush didn’t give a damn about the suffering of the Iraqi people—the suffering of anyone, really, but her own and her family’s.
Back to my mother. She also predicted, worried, that someday the U.S. would initiate a conflict over water. Again, a juxtaposition: After Katrina, when refugees who’d fled their homes and were housed in the Houston Astrodome, Barbara Bush made what must have been an obligatory appearance at the site. She said: “What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”
Tuesday, April 17, I was preoccupied with Gigi images. My younger son H and his wife V had been here on Sunday, working on a project for me. They were exhausted. He wanted to go home and return the next evening to finish the task. She wanted to stay the extra two hours required to complete it. I began a question I knew would make them laugh but got only partially through it before bursting into laughter. Just like my mother. Exactly what Gigi did. This was an exquisite little reverie to have amid thoughts of those days in April of 2011 when the Sisterhood, Laura, Erma, and I, were at her bedside during the days of her dying.
George W. Bush visited his mother in the hospital during her last days. According to this Peter Baker tribute, Mrs. Bush said to her doctor: “You want to know why George W. is the way he is? Because I drank and smoked when I was pregnant with him.” When I read this, I recalled my mother’s statement that George W. Bush was stupid. Yet Barbara Bush’s drinking and smoking don’t support that “way he is,” that way he really is—an imperialist/capitalist former president. More sinister influences than alcohol and tobacco shaped the mass murderer.
As politicians and the corporate media gush over the racist Barbara Bush, let’s note the undertaking that Mrs. Bush began while her husband was vice president–championing literacy. Then think of this George W. Bush-ism: “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?” Perhaps Mrs. Bush selected her particular pet “duty” for very personal reasons, guilt from serving her son a prenatal diet of alcohol and cigarettes.
Missy Comley Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.