A fun-loving George H.W. Bush

Bush VP

The photo was taken at the Vice President’s residence in 1984. But this excerpt from my memoir, Jackhammered, provides a rare peek into the lives of the fun-loving Bush family:

“In the summer of 1983 Lana and I sailed our 31-foot sloop, Salute, from Galesville, Maryland to the Penobscot Bay in Maine. On our return to the Chesapeake Bay we anchored in the Kennebunk River and dinghied ashore.

“Lana saw a pay phone and said she was going to call Vice President George Bush. The Bush family has long owned a marvelous home on Walker Point on the north side of the entrance into the river. I pooh-poohed the idea, saying he would not appreciate the interruption, but Lana ignored me.

“Within minutes, she had Vice President Bush on the line and he told us to wait where we were. Shortly, he came roaring up to Chick’s Marina in a fast cigarette boat, followed by another boat full of Secret Service agents. It was low tide so he had to climb up a long ladder to reach the place on the dock where we were waiting.

“He was dressed in an old floppy hat and a suede jacket that must have been twenty years old. He was enjoying every minute of the beautiful summer day.

“He invited us to come to Walker Point for lunch and a swim, so Lana, our daughter Paige, and I piled into his cigarette boat and off we went. He gunned it as we left the river, cackling as he dodged one lobster pot after another.

“We tied up to a private dock and walked up to the house where Barbara Bush and the vice president’s eighty-two-year-old mother, Dorothy, met us. We had a nice lunch with soup made from bluefish that the vice president had caught that morning. Then we sat for several hours around the pool. Mrs. Dorothy Bush asked me a lot about my congressional district and the issues of importance to me. We talked about several, but when I mentioned my opposition to the production of a new age of nerve gas, it set her off. She was on my side, in opposition to the Reagan Administration. I quickly changed the subject because her son, the vice president, was obliged to support the president’s position on nerve gas. He had been in the meeting that I had with President Reagan in the Oval Office on May 25, 1983, just three months earlier, when Clem Zablocki (D-WI) and I argued against the nerve gas program. (In 1989, Vice President George Bush became president of the United States. In 1990 and 1991, he took several bold steps that led to a ban on the production and use of chemical weapons.)

“When we got to the subject of sailing, Mrs. Dorothy Bush asked me where we were going after Kennebunkport. I told her we intended to stop in Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and then head on to New York City via the Long Island Sound. She said, “Oh, you must see Cuttyhunk, it is magnificent. You must tell your captain to stop there.” I told Mrs. Bush we would stop in Cuttyhunk, but that we had no captain. She was stunned that we had sailed a thirty-one-foot boat from the Chesapeake to Maine without a professional captain.

“The Bush family has money, lots of it, so Mrs. Bush’s vision of a blue water cruise was quite different from ours. I finessed my way out of the delicate moment by telling Mrs. Bush we had decided long ago that I would be captain of Salute, but Lana would be the admiral, and as such she would make the strategic decisions about where to go and how long to stay. Mrs. Bush liked our division of labor and wished us well, but with characteristic feistiness, she repeated her insistence that we stop in Cuttyhunk.

“As we were getting ready to leave Walker Point, I mentioned that I had tried to catch a fish on the way to Maine but had had no luck. The vice president, claiming to be a “great bluefish fisherman” got out his tackle box. He showed me several lures, proudly explaining how each had landed a record bluefish. Then he gave me a strange looking lure and guaranteed it would catch a fish.

“I trolled that lure all the way from Walker Point to the Chesapeake and never got a strike. I have reminded Mr. Bush of that ever since, and he always gets a big laugh out of it and then says, ‘It must be the fisherman because that is a great lure.'”