13 July 2007
lady bird johnson died the other day. and i'm quite sure most of america's response was: she was still alive??? and it's hard to imagine that she really was. she and LBJ seem so long ago. so far away from when we were even born.
first ladies are important, people. i've had this argument time and again when some fool has gone off on a "what did jackie ever do?" tangent. i refuse to fold.
it has to be quite possibly the hardest thing in the world to be "the wife of..." of anyone- let alone a president. clearly, the entire status of a first lady derives from being "the wife of..." but there's more to it than that. i'm pretty sure it's a damn tough job.
let's imagine being married to LBJ. a man most known for two things: 1) being incapable of cleaning up JFK's mess in vietnam, and 2) showing his apendectomy scar to a roomful of reporters. privately, he was a bit of an ass. an aggressive politico, a brilliant legislator, an unfaithful husband, and an extremely insecure, proud man whose primary negotiating tactic was to bring someone into the bathroom and ask them incriminating questions while they were pissing. classy.
and let's imagine being the followup act to jackie kennedy. fun times there.
so lady bird had a bit of a rough ride, as they all probably do. and yet, despite the rather demeaning nickname, she was tough stuff. she had her own money. she owned her own radio station. she was the main proponent of the highway beautification act and she won the congressional medal of honor. bravo.
and there she was the other day, passing into history with little more than a 15 second obit on CNN. which is both sobering and terribly inadequate.
i wrote lady bird johnson once. after jackie's death, in that summer of 1994 when i was manically, unconsciously gathering information for the something i was going to do ten years down the road. liz carpenter, her press secretary of a bazillion years, wrote back. an ivory sheet of paper curiously scented of lilacs and that smell that paper gets when it sits out in the sun. it answered all my questions with only the occasional smudge of typewriter ink.
i like to think that the pair of them, little old ladies in their eighties by then, sat out in their lawn chairs amidst a field of wildflowers answering correspondence all day long under the texas sun. leaving the pages atop the buds waiting for the ink to dry.