The Austin Chronicle

Texas Book Festival 2017: Sisters First:
A Celebration of Sisterhood

By Elizabeth Banicki, November 5, 2017, 4:45pm, All Over Creation

On a muggy Saturday morning in the Capitol's ornate House Chamber, Laura Bush sat poised in a fat leather armchair. Her hair was perfect (as always), and the heavy strand of pearls around her neck matched the buttons of her pink cashmere sweater. “It’s Mom’s birthday!” Jenna Bush Hager elated from the podium near her sister Barbara.

With help from the event’s moderator, Brooklyn Decker, the sisters led the crowd of 300 or so in singing "Happy Birthday" to their mother, who stood in the middle of the room smiling with her hands clasped in front of her tiny frame.

Laura Bush founded and has chaired the Texas Book Festival for 20 years, but on this morning she was there to support her daughters in promoting the book they co-wrote, Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life. The sisters giggled and shared with the audience stories of flipping up their skirts at family tennis tournaments to the horror of their grandmother Barbara. They recalled a letter their grandmother had written to them about her waxing habits and how she had been pleased that it had been included in the collection. I listened and found myself thinking, “Do all the Bush women wax?”

The book was titled that way because, “We wanted to take the word wild back,” Barbara Pierce Bush said. “Life is wild. We’ve seen that headline about ourselves and so we took that word back and wrote it the way we wanted it.”

The session was an emotional one for the sisters. While touring for the book, Jenna has been away from her own two daughters Mila and Poppy, and even at the mention of their name she teared up. “Are some of your hormones coming over to me?” she asked pregnant Brooklyn Decker. The women, who described themselves in their youth as “well fed, really well fed, tanned, and permed Texans” talked further about dating, moments of confrontation with their dad on issues like gay rights, and bike riding with the secret service.

Barbara, who founded and runs Global Health Corps, an organization devoted to health equity, came across as compassionate, smart, and reserved. I had to leave the session early because my phone was vibrating. My close friend who is now in Northern Iraq wanted to update me on the status of her family. They’ve been displaced due to long-running conflict in the region.

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