When Jenna Bush Hager and her twin sister, Barbara, were kids, they thought everyone’s grandfather worked at the White House. “He was just such a down-to-earth, humble person,” says Jenna, who loved to join him on early-morning fishing trips. Her grandmother was the mediator and disciplinarian, settling squabbles, posting rules around the house where they spent summers and reminding the girls to be polite.
In her new book, Everything Beautiful in Its Time: Seasons of Love and Loss, Jenna shares funny observations and moving stories about her grandparents — George H.W. and Barbara Bush and Harold and Jenna Welch — her sister and her parents, George W. and Laura Bush.
One habit she picked up from “Gampy” and “Ganny,” her nicknames for George and Barbara: writing letters. “When we weren’t together, they would send us letters,”she says. “They wrote longhand as well as emails, imploring us to stay safe and make good choices.”
Jenna even received a note from her grandmother just a month before she passed away. “It was just the way she communicated,” she says. Now it’s Jenna’s turn to share a few words about them:
You always taught me the importance of writing a thank-you letter to show your appreciation — here is mine to you.
Though 2020 marks two years since you’ve both entered heaven, the gratitude I have for you still grows each day. It’s why I wrote Everything Beautiful in Its Time. The world could all learn something from your strength and unending kindness, especially right now.
Gampy, you were so down-to-earth — it was among your greatest attributes. I’ll never forget the night you were babysitting us and getting ready to debate Michael Dukakis. Remember when Barbara was upset over losing her stuffed animal, Spikey? Instead of debate prepping, you organized a search party with the Secret Service to find it. It’s funny to think about now, but it’s a moment that will stick with me forever. You may have been a vice president and president, but you were a Gampy to your little pip-squeaks first and foremost. Even with such a demand-ing job, you knew the importance of family. You were happiest when those you loved were around.
Ganny, you were always the one who kept Gampy and the rest of us in check. You believed in discipline, especially when it came to making sure Barb and I finished all of our summer reading as kids. But you loved equally fiercely, always offering a bedtime story and a warm nook to cuddle in as we drifted off to sleep. I’ll never forget those late-night snuggles and you tucking me in. Everything just always felt right when you were there. I recall thinking to myself after you left Earth, Who’s going to watch over us and make sure we’re being the best we can be? It’s a question I think about even now.
I still can’t believe you both are gone. Going fishing in the early morning, gorging on blueberry pie at your house in Maine, sitting at the kids’ table and listening to your roaring laughter fill up the kitchen are all memories I’m grateful to forever have. Still, I miss you both terribly.
Gampy, when you left us in November, you know what my daughter Mila and my husband, Henry, talked about? She told him that of course you had to go to heaven before Christmas — Ganny needed some help up there decorating the tree. That was so comforting
to me because that’s how I choose to see you two, continuing your great love story — together for over 70 years and holding hands every day — while showering us with hope and wisdom.
I recognize that I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of all the important lessons you have ingrained in me over my lifetime and the love you shared with each other and built in your family. But if I follow your example of respect, humility and passion — and, of course, remember to always write thank-you letters — I know I’ll be on the right path.
This story originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Good Housekeeping. Subscribe to Good Housekeeping here.
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