Saturday, April 2, 2016

Presidential Home, Library and Scarf

Recently Ron and I went back to a special place that we first visited in January of 1973: The LBJ Ranch in the Hill Country of Texas.

President Richard Nixon had named Ron to be the 8th Director of the National Park Service right after his re-election in 1972.  President Johnson had decided he wanted to give his Ranch to the American People . . . . but first he needed to size up the new director, and tell him how he wanted things done.

Ron and I flew from our nation's capitol to Austin and were driven to the Ranch by the Secret Service.  We were really nervous, and sat in the back seat holding hands.  We fully expected to be shown to a guest house and told when the President would like to meet with Ron.  Instead, the driver stopped at the front door and we were told to go inside as everyone was expecting us.  GULP.  As we entered the living room, several people were getting up from a dining room table close by.  Suddenly, this larger than life man, who I had seen on TV most of my adult life, was hugging me, "You must be Anne," he said, "What are you drinking darlin?"  GULP again, but before I could say a word he added that he had Michelob on tap and I managed to tell him that would be perfect.  And, of course it was.

We were to stay in the "Kennedy Bedroom", so called because President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy had stayed there.  It was a cheery, bright yellow room, at the top of the stairs, first door on the right.

For four days, we toured the Ranch and the surrounding area.  The President sat on a log at his boyhood home, and told us about his growing up, in this very place.

 He spent hours giving Ron advice on how to be Director of the National Park Service.  Mrs. Johnson often told him to go rest, but he'd only be gone for a few minutes and then show up to give us yet another gift.  Books, pens, a cowboy hat for Ron and a scarf with the "Wildflowers of Texas" on it for me.

When he found out that we were the parents of three little girls, he invited us to come back as soon as school was over. He told us, several times, "I want those girls to ride my horses, swim in my pool, and see Bird's wildflowers."

We watched the Super Bowl together, and then left to return to Washington.  President Johnson died less than a week later.  Ron and I were his last guests at the Ranch.

Mrs.Johnson honored the invitation the President had extended to our family, and we took our daughters to the LBJ Ranch when school was out.  Mrs. Johnson was a warm and gracious hostess.  The park service was just beginning to bring visitors through the ranch on buses, and each time a bus would go by the house, Mrs. Johnson would jump up, open the front door and wave at the people on the bus.  She'd shout that she was glad they were there, and hope they were enjoying the ranch.  What a thrill that must have been for those early visitors.

And all these years later, Ron and I are honored to represent the Richard Nixon Foundation on the Association of Presidential Libraries.  Larry Temple, Ron's counterpart at the LBJ, hosted the groups meeting this spring.  Thirteen Presidential Libraries are represented.  Soon President Obama's Library, now deciding between two locations in Chicago, will join the group.  The Foundations meet, and then the next day, they are joined by their governmental directors from the National Archives.

On the first morning, we were thrilled to join the tour of the LBJ Ranch.  I wore the wildflower scarf that President Johnson had given me 43 years earlier.  Nobody had seen it before, except Luci Baines Johnson, the Presidents younger daughter, who joined our group and told many wonderful stories about the ranch as their family home.

One very moving story was about the hustle and bustle that went on when they were preparing for President and Mrs. Kennedy's visit.  A pecan pie was in the oven, and the delicious smell added to the festive mood anticipating the visit.  When word came that the President had been killed in Dallas, everyone and everything stopped.  Silence.  Finally, the sobbing cook howled and said, "What are we going to do with the pie?"  Luci told us that everyone in America, at that time, was dealing with their own version of the same question.  What are we going to do with the pie?  And to this day, a ceramic facsimile of a pecan pie sits on the ranch house stove.  Waiting.

At a lovely dinner at the LBJ Library, Luci and I decided that the scarf should be given to Lady Bird's granddaughter and namesake, Claudia, who was about to have her 40th birthday.

                                                My "Texas Wildflower" scarf, the morning
                                            we left for our trip to Austin and the LBJ Ranch

It was an emotional visit, but also a real treat to re-trace our footprints of a special place so many years later.

Today, the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park attracts visitors from all over the world.  The ranch house furnishings are the original ones that the Johnson family used before, during, and after the Johnson White House years.  It's interesting to note that there are telephones EVERYWHERE.  And the television sets are a bank of three; so the President could monitor ABC, CBS and NBC.  Mrs. Johnson would often sneak off to her own room, to watch her favorite program, "Gunsmoke."

The NPS Superintendent at the park is Russ Whitlock.  Larry Temple said he was right out of central casting, cause he looks just like a park service ranger and superintendent should look.  Larry was spot on.  Ron and I enjoyed meeting Russ and all the park service staff.  We have since sent them our pictures and letters, and are proud to add them to the other archival ranch documents.
Postscript: I received a lovely note from Luci with many thanks for the special time we shared.  I loved this quote, "It was a joy sitting next to you at dinner at the LBJ Library.  Hearing the story of how you met my parents and your subsequent visit, reminded me just how much the National Park Service family feels like family to generations of Johnson's."
     As she thanked me for the scarf, she said, "Claudia's 40th was a very special family event full of the irreplaceable gifts of precious memories, but no gift meant more than receiving the scarf her grandmother had given you.  Claudia is as sentimental as Daddy was.  She instantly decided to frame your scarf to hang in her bathroom so she will see daily this precious memory of her Nini, through the kindness of a remarkable fiend she has yet to meet."


John Kinnear said...

Another very nicely told - and very interesting story Anne. We took all of our California grandchildren to the LBJ Ranch NPS several years ago. What a beautiful place. It is no wonder that the Johnsons loved it so much and wanted it shared by the public.


Lorna Collins - Author said...

We love reading all your memoirs. Please keep them coming!