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George and Laura: Portrait of an American Marriage

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Chapter One

September 11, 2001

A Tuesday

He rolled out of bed just before 6 A.M. at
Sarasota's Colony tennis resort, pulled on shorts and an old
T-shirt, then laced up his favorite pair of frayed-at-the-edges,
broken-in-to-perfection running shoes. Thirty minutes later, in the
half-light of dawn, the President of the United States was pounding
around the palm-lined perimeter of one of Longboat Key's most
exclusive golf courses, trailed by puffing Secret Service

Richard Keil, White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and a
former All-American distance runner, chatted with the President
while they ran. "He was clipping along, and talking very
comfortably," Keil recalled. "If you're not in real good shape and
running that fast, you can't carry on a conversation." Running,
George W. Bush explained, was his way to "cope with the stress of
this job."

This morning the President would cover just four and a half miles
-- two laps around the course in just over thirty-two minutes. Then
it was back to his hotel suite and a quick shower before changing
into the gray suit, blue shirt, and burgundy tie that had been
spread out on the bed for him by an aide. Before he left, the
President was given his daily intelligence briefing. The heightened
threat of terrorism was mentioned this morning, as it had been
nearly every morning since George W. Bush took office.

Nine hundred miles to the north, Laura Bush also started the day
early. In her husband's absence, the job of taking Spot the English
springer spaniel and their frisky black Scottish terrier Barney for
their morning walk had fallen to the First Lady. Afterward, Laura
returned to the second-floor family quarters for a quick breakfast
with her in-laws. George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara had spent
the night at the White House and were about to board a private jet
bound for a speaking engagement in Minnesota.

Laura had always had an easy, comfortable relationship with the
ex-president and his first lady, but now they rightly sensed their
daughter-in-law was preoccupied. This morning, the former
schoolteacher was going to appear before Senator Edward Kennedy's
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to plead
for more federal funding of early childhood education. She took
even greater care than usual in picking out just the right wardrobe
for the occasion: tailored red suit, a three-strand pearl necklace,
matching pearl earrings.

Laura kissed her in-laws good-bye, checked her purse for the
essentials ("lipstick, hairbrush, Altoids"), then headed for the
White House limousine waiting to take her to Capitol Hill. It was,
she said to no one in particular as she stepped out into the
brilliant September sunshine, "a beautiful day, just beautiful."
But as she walked the few steps toward the car, a member of her
Secret Service detail took her aside to tell her he was getting
some disturbing news over his earpiece. Something terrible had just
happened in New York ...

The presidential motorcade was making the twenty-minute trip from
the Colony to Emma E. Booker Elementary School when Press Secretary
Ari Fleischer's pager went off. There were early reports that a
plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers of New York's World
Trade Center just minutes before, at 8:48 A.M.
President Bush had emerged from his car and was shaking hands with
local officials standing outside the school when Chief of Staff
Andrew Card sidled up to him with the news.

A terrible accident, Bush thought to himself as he walked into the
gray-carpeted second grade classroom and, smiling broadly, took a
seat to the immediate left of the teacher. Scrawled on the
blackboard behind him was the slogan "Reading Makes a Country
Great!" Less than twenty-four hours before, the President had been
cheered at Jacksonville's Justina Elementary School as he declared
"war on illiteracy." Sarasota was the second stop on a whirlwind
tour of the Southeast to promote his administration's "Putting
Reading First" initiative, and to muster support for an education
bill that had stalled in Congress.

The eighteen students seated in two rows before him had just begun
to take turns reading aloud a story about a goat when Card
reappeared. He walked to the head of the classroom, leaned down,
and whispered in the President's right ear. "A second plane has
just hit the World Trade Center," he said. "America is under

The President, sitting with his legs crossed and his hands folded
in his lap, was intensely aware of the television cameras that were
recording his every expression. "I have nobody to talk to," he
thought to himself as he tried to absorb it all in an instant. "My
God, I'm Commander-in-Chief and the country has just come under

There was no way he could conceal his feelings of shock and dismay
at the horrible news. There was a fleeting look of panic in the
President's eyes as Card stepped back. "It was a surreal moment,"
Card later said. "It was immediately obvious that it was neither an
accident nor a coincidence."

But without all the facts at hand, George Bush had no intention of
upsetting the schoolchildren who had come to read for him. The rest
of the children's story about the goat did not register with him at
all, but the President, raising his eyebrows and nodding,
interrupted the second graders to praise them. "Really good
readers, whew!" Bush told the class. "This must be sixth

At the end of each chapter, the students read the line "more to
come," and at one point the President asked them if they knew what
that meant. "Something is happening!" several excitedly replied in
unison. Something is happening …

Excerpted from GEORGE AND LAURA: Portrait of an American
Marriage © Copyright 2002 by Christopher Andersen. Reprinted
with permission by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. All
rights reserved.


George and Laura: Portrait of an American Marriage
by by Christopher Andersen

  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0066213703
  • ISBN-13: 9780066213705