My role models: Barbara Bush and Grandma Nola

The summer of 1988 was hot, including record-high temperatures coupled with a devastating drought. Wheat averaged a mere 15 bushels per acre in North Dakota that year. I was 9 years old and didn't fully understand the dire extent of the situation.

Katie Pinke
Katie Pinke

The summer of 1988 was hot, including record-high temperatures coupled with a devastating drought. Wheat averaged a mere 15 bushels per acre in North Dakota that year. I was nine years old and didn’t fully understand the dire extent of the situation. My mom broke her leg that summer, which made for hectic times with three kids. During harvest, I stayed with my grandma to help her with dinner (that’s what we call a big meat and potatoes noon meal on the farm), “lunch kits” to take to the harvest crew in the field for a mid afternoon break and evening supper, which was also served in the field.
The kitchen was hot and steamy in my grandparent’s farmhouse, which was built in 1919 with no air conditioning. Early one evening, while cooking in the kitchen, I remember my grandma saying, “Katie, go turn on the news and let’s see what Barbara Bush is wearing.”
I flipped through the four channels and the evening national news programs. I’d watch Dan Rather, Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw for a few minutes but then move on to the next channel until I caught a glimpse of Barbara Bush. My grandma rarely left the kitchen when she was busy cooking, but she did for the chance to see Barbara Bush.
I remember watching one particular news story about President George H.W. Bush and the First Lady. I don’t remember the angle of the story, but Mrs. Bush was wearing a beautiful medium blue suit and pearls. My grandma smiled and said, “She likes blue as much as me and wears her hair even like me.” (I tease my grandma about her fondness for the color blue, particularly her beloved royal blue carpet.)
From then on, I followed Barbara Bush’s life and thought Grandma Nola was like her, even though their lives were drastically different. After earning a college degree in 1951 from North Dakota State University, my grandma went on to serve her family and farm for decades, raising five children. I know life was hard in 1988 for my grandma but Barbara Bush’s class (with a bit of sass I’ve came to appreciate) made Grandma step away from her work, smile and teach me early lessons about the importance of role models. Mrs. Bush’s dignity, grace and deep commitment to her husband reminded me of my grandma.
When I heard Mrs. Bush died this past week, I called my grandma, now 88 years and still cooking in the same farm kitchen, to share this memory. Grandma said, “I always watched what she wore and how she cared for her family.” I’ve been admiring Grandma Nola care for her family since my childhood and trying to live by her example and do my best to care for my own family.
While Barbara Bush came from a wealthy family she came across as an everyday American, who wore $29 shoes and fake pearls with a designer dress to her husband’s presidential inauguration. She didn’t color her hair and wasn’t known for her fashion-forward style. Her five children referred to her as the “enforcer” and emphasized the importance of their family saying in 1990 at her Wesleyan College address: “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child or a parent.”
I’m thankful for my everyday role model, Grandma Nola. She lost her beloved husband of 65 years last summer but their legacy and example as husband and wife lives on. You won’t see Grandma Nola on the news but it’s a blessing she’s able to come to visit our family next week. She is definitely an “enforcer” in my life and always the happiest when wearing blue like Barbara Bush.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at , or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.

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