When President George H.W. Bush passed on, it was very emotional for many around the world, but more so for many Texans. Even though he was not originally from Texas, we adopted him and his lovely wife, and they became honorary Texans.
Many of us watched the funeral service as our way of paying respects at that moment. Of course, when he was loaded onto the Bush 41 train and taken to his final resting place in College Station, Texas, tens of thousands of people lined the tracks to pay their respects. There were people of all ages, religious beliefs, ethnicities, and colors standing side by side for the man everyone called Bush 41.
We traveled to College Station to pay our respects to George H.W. and Barbara Bush as well as see the Bush Library and museum. Neither Charlie or I had been to the Bush Library, and considering we live so close, it was due time we visited. From Houston, it is a little over an hour’s drive north on Hiway 290.
The Bush Library is located on the grounds of Texas A&M, a university steeped in history. It sits in the southwest corner of the campus next to the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center. The university covers more land than I care to think about, and unless you map it using your phone, you could easily get lost amongst all the buildings.
We knew that the parts of the Library would be closed due to the government shut down; however, the rotunda and burial site were still open for visitors, so we weren’t surprised when we weren’t able to see everything. The entrance to the Library is beautiful, with a large fountain circled by American flags flying. It’s a beautiful place just to sit, reflect, and take in the surroundings and the moment of being at the Library.
The rotunda of the Bush Library is beautiful, with the sun shining down through the atrium ceiling enveloping the enormous American flag as a reminder of our freedom and casts a warm glow over everything. When we walked inside, we were greeted by a beautiful portrait of President Bush behind three guest books.
As I signed our names and paid our respects, I thought about how many thousands of people have walked through the Library and museum. I’m sure that since his passing, the amount of traffic through the halls has increased tremendously with people from all over the world wanting to pay their respects.
There is also a small memorial table set that has the notes from the eulogy given by his son, as well as the famous photo of President Bush’s service dog Sully lying in front of the casket. For me, it was very emotional to see. I had watched the funeral on television and had seen the photo of the dog making the rounds online, but for some reason, seeing the actual picture made it more real.
Everywhere you look, there are lovely reminders of who President Bush was, from the early years to the presidency. Large banners hang all around with photos of him as a ballplayer at Yale, with his family, and when he was President.
As you make your way to where one of the entrances to the actual museum is, there is a beautiful painting tucked away in an alcove. It is a rendition of both Presidents standing side by side. While they are both dressed in suits, it is a reminder of the special bond the two of them had. Not only as presidents of our great country but also as father and son.
Even though the museum and Library were closed, there was a small area where we could get a glimpse of the entrance. There, on display, is the actual limousine that was used on the day of the President’s inauguration. I was a little disappointed that we were unable to go in and take in everything, perhaps on our next trip.
Behind the building that houses the Library and Museum is a beautiful pond with a walking trail around it and benches to sit and reflect. Even though many of the trees and flowers were in their winter sleep, there were still beautiful tea roses in bloom as well as seasonal pansies planted for additional color. It’s hard to believe that, amongst all this, beauty and serenity is an entire university campus.
Just beyond the pond is a gate and bridge over a lovely creek that leads towards the walkway to the family burial plot. Everywhere you look while walking, there are native Texas trees and plants that make the stroll so beautiful and peaceful. I’m sure when Spring comes, the walk will be even more impressive as the leaves wake up and come out into the sun. Considering how hot Texas can be, even in the Spring, the addition of the canopy of leaves will be a welcome respite as they give shade to the walkway.
As we made our way along the pathway, we came to the family burial plot. Surrounded by a beautiful black wrought iron fence decorated with the Texas star lay George H.W., Barbara, and their daughter Robin. While Charlie was able to walk up and pay his respects, I was quite emotional. For whatever reason, I could not immediately walk up and be that close. Perhaps it was because I was reminded of my parents passing over 20 years ago.
Eventually, I managed to pull myself together enough to stand and pay my respects. It was all so surreal for me. There lay an American President, his wife, and their daughter with the Presidential Seal front and center. It just didn’t seem possible to me, for some odd reason, to be standing there at the foot of a president’s final resting place.
One thing I noticed, as did many other visitors, were the coins lying on the presidential seal. While some may know the reason for these coins and placed them thoughtfully and intently, others may have simply put a coin to say they did it. There is a very significant meaning behind the coins that date back for generations.
Usually, when visiting the gravesite of a veteran, the visitor would place a coin on the headstone to let the family of the deceased know that they had visited. For military veterans, there is another level to this tradition. The tradition of leaving coins dates back to the Roman Empire, but the practice became more common in the U.S. during the Vietnam war.
Leaving a coin was seen as a more practical way to communicate that you had visited the grave than contacting the soldier’s family since that could sometimes start an uncomfortable argument over politics relating to the war. Others left the coin as a form of “down payment” for a beer or game of poker when the two were reunited again.
- A penny means you visited.
- A nickel means that the visitor and deceased trained together at boot camp.
- A dime means that the visitor and deceased served together.
- A quarter indicates that the visitor was with the deceased when they passed.
Once we paid our respects and reflected upon the moment, we headed back out towards the pond. There, standing tall, was a beautiful Great Egret. It paid no official attention to all the people walking around or the children chasing each other and having a great time. He was more focused on catching lunch from the pond.
We took a stroll around the pond, taking in the beautiful roses that were trailing over the arches heading towards the gazebo. Then, over the bridge towards the Egret. Again, he paid no attention to us and walked towards us at one point, stopping as if to pose for his picture to be taken.
On the back wall of the building are the poignant words said by President Bush, beautifully engraved in the marble wall for generations to come to read and ponder.
As we headed towards the parking lot, we passed the statue of President Bush and stopped at the “Day The Wall Came Down” sculpture. Artist Veryl Goodnight designed the sculpture. The sculpture is a beautiful depiction of 5 stallions jumping over a 2-ton piece of the Berlin Wall, a dedication to the fall of the wall. President Bush was in office at the time the wall fell. The sculpture intends to depict freedom and remind us of the oppression that others still experience. A very poignant reminder of how truly blessed we are to have the freedoms we have.
Visiting the Bush Museum and Library was something that I had wanted to do for a very long time. Regardless of one’s political affiliation or opinion, it is well worth the short drive from Houston. You can find more information about the museum and grounds at www.bush41.org, including hours and information on the President H.W. Bush Library Foundation.
If you happen to find yourself in the College Station area, I highly recommend you take the time to visit the Library as well as take a stroll around the pond and visit the gravesite. It’s a beautiful reminder of the legacy the Bush’s have left as well as a chance to reflect on your legacy and freedoms.