NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

March 16, 2013

On loss, and the lost art of letter-writing

He was getting older, he worried about losing his balance fishing on the end rocks, and his hearing was failing him. So was his short-term memory. He could recall, surprisingly vividly, how the bottom of his mother’s feet looked, but he forgot the names of some of his house guests. He was going to bed earlier, and waking up earlier, too. Three times, people told him his zipper was undone.

So, George H.W. Bush did what he has done so often, what came so naturally to him. He sat down and wrote a letter, this time to his children. One was the governor of Florida, another was the governor of Texas and two years from the White House. No matter. He started the letter “Dear kids.”

That was 15 years ago, and Bush was 74 years old. But he sensed what was happening — “This year if I turn fast, I wobble” — and he wanted to share his experience, his perspective, with his children.

“I remember a lot of detail about all five of you when you were little — all happy memories I retain; but alas I am vague on recent details in your lives,” he wrote. “I am passionately interested, but factoids escape me.”

Scores of Bush’s letters were assembled a dozen years ago in a book called “All the Best,” his signature sign-off. The book was reissued Tuesday with letters written since the original publication, including those covering the election of his eldest son to the White House, the terrorist attacks of 2001, and his remarkable reconciliation with the man who defeated him in 1992, Bill Clinton.

The result is a revealing look at the 41st president, repudiated by the voters in his re-election bid but rediscovered, even revered, by Americans in recent years and basking in a new revisionism as he approaches his 89th birthday.

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