, Newburyport, MA


March 16, 2013

On loss, and the lost art of letter-writing


In 2000, the Bushes decided to move the remains of their daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia at age 3 in 1953, to College Station, Texas, where the couple have a burial plot. In a letter to his pastor, Bush said his tears that day weren’t the tears of “devastation, loss and pain” he experienced when she died. “Instead,” he wrote, “they were tears of gratitude that we had her at all and maybe even tears of joy that she was still with us.”

The day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he wrestled with issuing a statement, as former President Gerald R. Ford and Clinton did. “It is not easy ... to sit on the sidelines now, not easy to not make decisions or take actions,” he wrote. “But I must continue to stay out of the limelight, out of the news, giving quiet support to No. 43.”

Then there is the letter he wrote to his first great-grandchild, Georgia Helena Walker Bush, when she was born 18 months ago. Here is the entire text:

“I haven’t seen you yet and I love you already — more than tongue can tell. You are one very lucky little girl. You have two wonderful parents who will always be with you and love you. You have grandparents who feel the same way. And you have two really old guys, great-grandparents, Barbara Bush and me, who worship the ground you will be walking on and who will be for you, at your side, for as long as we live.

So have a wonderful happy life, dear Georgia.”

He signed it: “Gampy.”

The Postal Service will tell you that letter volume is down. The epistolary novel, dating to the 18th century, is a relic of another time. But as long as Bush is alive, the ancient literary genre of the letter still breathes.

The letters that the second president, John Adams, exchanged with the third, Thomas Jefferson, are part of the classic literature of our country. The letters the 41st president shared with Americans of all trades and outlooks — the last presidential letters, you might say — also are an American treasure. All the best ...


North Shore native and Pulitzer Prize winner David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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