By Andrew Hager, Historian-in-Residence
I owe my job to Barbara Bush.
No, she didn’t hire me. She may or may not have known that a Presidential Pet Museum existed. What she did do–what I have been grateful for since 1990–was to write Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush.
I was nine years old then, with dreams of being: a). an author, and b). the president. (I wasn’t sure which would come first, and I didn’t much care.) As such, when I heard that President George H. W. Bush’s dog had written a book, my mind was blown. The First Lady, I thought, must be some kind of dog whisperer, or at least she was playing with convention (even if I couldn’t have explained what literary conventions were).
I desperately wanted a copy.
Of course, being nine, I did not have an income that would support such an extravagant purchase. Moreover, my parents were raising four kids on a single income, and–while they were solid Republican voters–the book couldn’t take precedence over the mortgage.
Around this time, my fourth grade teacher announced that we were going to write letters inviting Mrs. Bush to read at our small elementary school. In my letter’s post-script, I asked her to send me a copy of Millie’s Book, citing the above financial situation. She never made it to our school (though she did write the class a letter), and I received no special packages.
I finally got the book for Christmas. It’s the only thing I remember from my gifts that year. I spent the afternoon poring over its photos and reading Millie’s tale of life at the White House.
I didn’t think much about Millie over the next two decades, although the election of George W. Bush in 2000 certainly reminded me of my youthful obsession with his mother’s dog. It wasn’t until January of last year when I realized how important that book would be to my adult life.
“What do you know about presidential pets?” my friend Tricia asked over coffee.
I told her what I’ve now told you.
“My boss is the new director of the Presidential Pet Museum,” she replied. “Wanna work there?”
And so I read about the passing of Barbara Bush with sadness beyond what is typically appropriate for such passings. Her book had meant something to me, and the connection between author and reader is strong, even after three decades.
Thank you, Barbara Bush, for the inspiration. I hope Millie is once again curled at your feet right now.