Letter: My brush with President George H.W. Bush
Every time our family traveled to Boston to see my father's side of the family, the Ferragutos, we always made sure to spend time in Maine. How we love Maine, especially coastal Maine, and most especially Kennebunkport.
This lovely, amazing shipbuilding and fishing village of 3,700 was incorporated in 1663 and has remained a quaint, stunning and absolutely magical place. One of our trips in early 2000, we left Boston for Kennebunkport with the sole purpose of finding the George H.W. Bush compound. My cousin Phillip was very clear in his advice: “Don't ask anyone in Kennebunkport 'How do we get to the Bush compound?' because you'll get the New England cold shoulder. They protect the Bush compound like the U.S. military protects Fort Knox. But Phillip said, “Here's where you'll find it.”
Phillip gave me specific instructions. He told us which streets, backstreets and landmarks we needed to find to lead us there. After we shopped, ate lobster, bought our salt water taffy, Kennebunkport hats and T-shirts, we headed north to find the Bush compound. Of course, in spite of Phillip's precise directions, we ended up in an endless loop that got us nowhere. No compound. No Bush.
Frustrated and impatient, I decided to give it one more go. A missed turnoff led us down an unfamiliar road along the coast that I navigated slowly. Without intent, we stumbled onto this fabulous looking compound on a slight hill overlooking the bay. We were struck by the site of five black, imposing looking boats in the bay. These boats screamed “security” and were lingering in the water by the dock that led a sidewalk up to the majestic home.
As if scripted for a movie, we watched as President George H.W. Bush came out of his home with three young grandchildren in tow, to the dock where there was a seaworthy schooner waiting for him. As sound travels effortlessly across the water, we could hear that distinctive voice of our former president.
Here we were, perched on the bluff directly across the bay and in clear site of the president. It was me who was stupid (or brave) enough to shout “Mr. President!” He looked up to see the six Ferraguts from Fargo on the bluff, waving madly in hopes of a response. He looked up, clear as a bell said “Hi there!” and gave us a hearty wave back.
Bush lifted each grandchild onto the boat. He stepped to the helm of the boat and cruised out of the bay. There were two security boats in front of him, two security boats behind him and one left at the mouth of the bay that led to the Atlantic. The president's boat, in a voyage out to sea with his grandkids soon was lost on the horizon.
It was simply a perfect moment in time, a gift from God that allowed us to share an intimate moment with a man of grace, a true American hero and an icon for the ages. I'm reminded of a speech he gave shortly after he lost his bid for a second presidential term: “...for each and every one of you, we wish you a Merry Christmas. And we can never thank you enough for what you've done for us, for our country and the Bush family. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
The mark, the measure of the man, one who was a patriot, a war hero and the embodiment of what it means to be “president” was personified by George Herbert Walker Bush. And we are less of a country with his passing.