Remembering My Friend’s Mom: Barbara Bush
Neil Bush was her buddy at Tulane. Then she ended up hanging at the White House with Barbara.
I’m a native Washingtonian. Politics are personal here. You might think that a particular US senator is a crazy wingnut and you also hope she gets re-elected because your next-door neighbor works for her and you love your neighbor and don’t want her to lose her job and move away and not dog-sit for you and drink a whole bottle of wine with on your front stoop anymore.
Barbara Bush was so many things to so many people.
First, she was my friend and fellow Tulane University alum Neil Bush’s mom. He is such a sweet and lovely, brotherly guy. He gallantly rolled me back to my dorm on a catering cart after a crazy PoliSci department party one night. (And hello, speaking of strange Washington bedfellows, which I am literally about to do—who knew that I would go on to marry a man who wrote a NYT bestseller about Neil’s brother, George? Wait until you read what he has to say about the current occupant of 1600 Penn.)
Second and definitely not last, my sparent (a grown-up that you love so much that you think of her/him as an extra mom or dad) and mentor Vic Gold wrote Barbara Bush’s husband’s campaign biography. Vic got me my first job, interning at Washingtonian, setting the course for my whole professional life.
And that is how my childhood BFF Jamie Gold and I found ourselves in the White House master bedroom, sitting on the bed, with President George H.W. Bush. We were so young that we didn’t even have bags under our eyes yet. The president had been in office about a month, and he was jazzed to show us his fancy three-screen TV. It was 6:30-ish pm and President Bush was on all three screens. “Bar hates this,” he advised us, as he clicked the remote.
The Bushes loved to go out to restaurants. Vic introduced them to the Peking Gourmet Inn, our neighborhood Chinese restaurant in Bailey’s Crossroads, VA. My dad still calls it “Peking Around the Corner.” That tells you a lot about my dad. It’s all true. We’ve been going there so long that the son of the original owner, Robert Tsui, though a gentleman of a certain age, is known in our family by the nickname my mom gave him decades ago: “Cute Robert.” There are still a million pictures of the Bush family on the walls there. Get the leek dumplings.
Jamie and I were in bed with President Bush that night because we were all going out to dinner at a new hot spot, i RICCHI RESTAURANT. It’s still in business and it’s still delightful. President and Mrs. Bush invited Vic and his lovely and amazing wife Dale Gold and a small group to join them for cocktails and a motorcade. Vic and Dale rode to the restaurant in The Beast with the Bushes and the rest of us (including the Gold children and me) followed in a van. We were so awestricken that we were whispering in the van. We were in a Secret Service sandwich and we were loving it, blowing through red lights like we were Scott Pruitt. It was all so new that the people in the dining room stood up and applauded when we walked in.
I wore a blue velvet Laura Ashley dress that night. It had a pocket. In that pocket was a miniature Stieff teddy bear to keep me company because I was so nervous and not yet an actual adult. I rode up in the elevator at the White House, secretly clutching my teddy, and Barbara Bush was there when the doors opened in the residence.
The steward asked me what I would like to drink and I said white wine, because that’s what Barbara was having. She knew that I was a nervous liar with a bear in my pocket right away. She put her hand on my blue velvet arm and said, “Heather. You can have whatever you want.” Just like something my friend’s mom would say.
That’s what I’m remembering this week.
Heather Frank is a writer and editor in Washington, D.C.
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