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Posted: January 7, 2014 10:00 p.m.

First ladies are fascinating

Bucket lists come in many varieties. Mine is a little more grounded than, say, skydiving, tasting all the foods of world cuisine, or visiting the outer reaches of the atmosphere.

Mine is finding out the fascinating qualities shared by the small group of women we have come to know as first ladies. I have been collecting their books.

As I was researching our first ladies, such as Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Eleanor Roosevelt, I was looking for a quality to link them. I settled on fastidiousness.

I thought at first that our first ladies must surely be special, but then I said, no, they have much in common with you or me. They married, just as countless other women around the world do, but then their husbands became leaders of the United States of America.

After reading about all of them, I learned that I share some of their beliefs. It doesn’t matter that I came from a different economic background, geographical region or race. We are all ladies of America.

All of our first ladies have reflected the times in which they lived. Each amazed me in her own way.

I first remember hearing about a first lady as a student learning about Martha Washington. While I can’t relate to her time period, I can relate to her being a strong person; same thing with Mamie Eisenhower, who inspired me as a young girl growing up after World War II. Both were first ladies to men who led armies in battle.

Stories of first ladies of the 20th and 21st century are my present interest — Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lady Bird Johnson, Thelma "Pat" Nixon, Elizabeth Ann "Betty" Ford, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, being more relatable for me. As the "first lady" of my own home, I can relate to them on a very small level.

All of our first ladies have dazzled us, gracing the White House with their own styles.

Take, Eleanor Roosevelt, for instance. She was a first lady, social activist, diplomat and one of the most beloved women of the 20th century. While reading about her in "Grandmere," a personal history, I learned that she was born into a distinguished yet deeply troubled family, something many of our families have in common with hers. She was an eloquent champion of the rights of blacks, working people, women and the poor. This great lady also greeted a troupe of white-gloved English debutantes in her wet bathing suit, exclaiming, "invited you to a picnic." Sounds like a woman I would have enjoyed meeting.
Our present first lady, Michelle Obama, is a woman whose family my family might have gotten to know if we’d stayed in Chicago. My family was part of the black flight from the South to the North for a better life. We also lived on the south side of Chicago. Michelle Obama’s father had multiple sclerosis; so does my only brother. Also, both of our parents were working-class people.

We would have many things to discuss: She fights for causes that concern children and families. We’re also both veggie gardeners, Mrs. Obama in the White House and me, in Covington.

Mrs. Obama’s journey is not and will never be just about being "first lady,’’ as she is the first black first lady. If I could choose, I would just consider her our "first lady,’’ not our "first black first lady.’’

Barbara Bush, who is in her late 80s and recently was hospitalized, was first lady to one president and mother to another. What a public life she has had. She has lost a child, which seems almost unbearable. I understand that she is witty, and her candor and compassion, along with her devotion to her husband and family, are well-known, as are mine, which makes sense since we are both Geminis.

Many Americans admire and a have fascination with the "woman called Jackie" — Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She is the only first lady in my lifetime who remarried after leaving the White House.

When I read about Laura Bush, I discovered that I also could have some interesting conversations with her. She had to live with a president who sent troops to war, keeping her mind and shoulder open to pain. Also a teacher, she filled her memoir with humor. I could feel her grace reach out to me as I read each page. Lastly, I would surely like to have a sit-down with Hillary Clinton. Many want her to become our next president, the first female president of the United States. She has been admired, vilified and scrutinized.

I always felt that in my lifetime, there would be a man in the White House who wasn’t a white man. I also believe that in my lifetime, I will see a woman president.

One day, I may read memoirs of "first men.’’

Dorothy Frazier Piedrahita welcomes reader comments. She can be reached at ufrazier2001@yahoo.com.

 

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