Almost everybody living in the Kennebunks has a story about or special memory of Barbara Bush.
They’ve seen her decked out in red, white and blue at the Memorial Day celebration in Dock Square or spotted her walking her dogs on the big crescent beach in the morning mist. The shock of white hair, the never-ending smile, that signature string of pearls — Mrs. Bush’s visible presence was as treasured as the colorful flower garden created in her honor that sits at the base of the River Green.
Over the years, I met Mrs. Bush numerous times — at golf tournaments and parties at the Kennebunk River Club — but HONESTLY, I knew I was a face in the crowd to her. So whenever seeing her again, I invariably said, “Hello Mrs. Bush, I’m Val Marier and it’s so nice to meet you….” She quickly interjected, with a smile, “Of course I know you.” Fabulous fibber too.
An early memory that still tickles me: after buying a home in Kennebunkport more than 30 years ago, I realized my condominium had unwanted “residents.” I went to Port Hardware and explained my problem to the clerk. Leaning over the counter, he whispered, “Well, Mrs. Bush was here this morning and they have the same problem out at Walker Point. I just sold her a carton of d-Con mouse repellent.” I walked out the door with my own six-pack. Connected!
One of the most popular attractions in the Kennebunks is the granite outcropping known as Walker Point, home to the Bush family. Near daily in almost any weather, tourists gather there along Ocean Avenue to “Bush-Watch.” They focus their Bushnells and Canons and gaze over the cove, hoping for a wave from “41” or “43” or any member of the family, for that matter. Most of them leave satisfied with having photographed the Texas flag that flies when the Bushes are in residence.
One sunny morning a few years back, I took my morning walk along Ocean Avenue towards the Presidential compound. A crowd of 40 Bush-Watchers were eyeballing Walker Point, their backs to the road, oblivious to anything other than the nine bedroom grey-shingled house across the water.
And who came driving along Ocean Avenue in her sporty blue convertible? None other than Mrs. Bush. We made eye contact. I smiled and pointed surreptitiously to the crowd who had no idea she was 10 feet behind them. She laughed and mouthed the words, “Wonder who they’re looking for?”
Perhaps my favorite memory of Mrs. Bush includes my sister Robin. One morning during an August visit, Robin and her wonderful partner Shirley took their unruly dog Pepper to the beach, hoping to run the critter into exhaustion. Robin let Shirley tend to Pepper and strolled towards the water’s edge. She soon realized she was five feet away from, and walking parallel to, a woman she immediately recognized but didn’t want to bother.
As they continued to walk in tandem along the shoreline, Mrs. Bush said, “Isn’t this a lovely morning.” And so a conversation began.
Over the next 15 minutes, Robin and Mrs. Bush discussed a misbehaved dog, the joy of August in Maine, and the undeniable pleasure of a beach in the early morning hours. No names or handshakes were exchanged, but when my sister returned to our house, she was glowing. “I just had the most wonderful private conversation with Barbara Bush,” she said.
Nearly a year later I happened to be at a party at the Kennebunk River Club, also attended by President and Mrs. George H. W. Bush. They sat outside on the veranda overlooking the river, surrounded by friends.
At one point I noticed they were alone. I walked over and introduced myself, to which she replied, “Of course I know you.”
I said, “Mrs. Bush, last summer you gave my sister the most wonderful memory. She and her partner had taken their completely undisciplined dog to the beach one morning….” Mrs. Bush immediately said, “How is that bad boy Pepper? I gather he was quite the mischief.”
She not only left us wonderful memories, she had an incredible memory herself.