While presidential hopeful Donald Trump prepared a raucous speech downtown Thursday, former First Lady Laura Bush offered a decidedly less political presentation that same day as the inaugural speaker at the newly unveiled performing arts hall at Edgemere retirement community.
“Our lives are back to normal but I think I might have forgotten what normal is,” she laughs, explaining that it took some time for her husband, President George W. Bush, to realize no one was going to pick up his wet towels from the bathroom floor after their eight years in the White House.
“Nothing could have prepared us for taking up residence there,” she recalls.
She remembered Sept. 8, 2001, the date of the inaugural National Book Fair in Washington D.C., which she championed. “That was probably the last time people could gather at an event like that without any fear…” she says. “Like all of America, we woke up on Sept. 12 to a different life.”
She remembers being told by a Secret Service agent that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. She remembers being awoken late that night when security spotted another plane headed for the White House, luckily it was a false alarm. But still, clad in only their pajamas, she and the president were ushered to a secure bunker that “looked like it was modeled during the Truman Administration.”
It was the start of the most challenging time in recent American history, sparking wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I was also a wife,” she says. “I was with my husband on the days that every president dreads.”
After working with women and girls in the embattled nations, she believes military forces are still needed in both countries. “It was a mistake to leave Iraq and now we see what’s happening there. It would be a mistake to leave Afghanistan,” she says. “Things are getting better there but they do not want us to leave, they don’t want American troops to leave, they need the security.”
Much of her talk focused on lighter topics, including their newest and most satisfying role to date as grandparents to Mila, 3, and Poppy, 1 — Jenna Bush Hager’s two daughters. “As George says, it’s the only thing that’s not overrated,” she laughs. “It’s even better than everyone says.”
She adds, “Have you noticed how grandparents are now choosing their own special names? … It’s sort of like choosing a name for your cat.”
In addition, both Laura and George Bush have been working on new books. Laura and daughter Jenna recently penned the children’s book “Our Great Big Backyard,” which pays homage to our National Parks. She is also working on a book featuring the personal stories of women she has met doing her work with the Afghan Women’s Project, set to be released soon.
Husband George, meanwhile, has been busy writing and painting, Laura says. He is painting the portraits of Wounded Warriors, men and women injured fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each portrait will be shared along with that soldier’s story, in a book to be released in the near future.
Laura Bush’s speech allowed Edgemere residents to fully enjoy the retirement community’s new performance hall, which features exposed beams and extensive windows for a light and airy feel. It is part of a $36 million expansion currently underway, which will add 35 more units to the campus along with overhauling the gym and dining options, adding a movie theater and other upgrades. Edgemere Managing Director John Falldine says it’s all about staying competitive, and offering a growing population of seniors more activities.
“We’re just constantly looking for ways to improve,” he says. “We asked ourselves, if we were going to [build Edgemere] again, in this day and age, what would we do differently?”
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