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'Dear Residents of Heaven, Straighten Up!' Gospel Icon Larry Gatlin's Fond 'Remembrins' of Barbara Bush



I have so many fond "remembrins" of Miz B – I call them "remembrins" – that it's impossible here to tell them all: inaugurations, "singin's" at the White House and Camp David, on the campaign trail.

But of all those "remembrins," my very favorite is swimming with Miz B from a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea back to the cruise ship that had been provided by Captain John Latsis for the Bush family and a bunch of their friends.  

But first, a little context.

I first met plain old Mr. George H. W. Bush and Mrs. Barbara Bush in Odessa, Texas, my hometown, sometime in the 60s, when just plain old George H. W. Bush was running for Congress. Steve, Rudy, our sister LaDonna and I sang at a fundraiser for Mr. Bush at Floyd Gwynne Park in Odessa.  We must not have raised enough money because George H. W. Bush lost that race.  Mrs. Barbara Bush was at his side that day in Odessa and remained at his side until yesterday.  Actually, she is still at his side - just on a higher plane.

Our next meeting was at the White House at the after-party for the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan.  I walked up to Mrs. Bush and began introducing myself.  Before I got halfway through my introduction, she sorta laughed and said, "You're that little Gatlin boy from Floyd Gwynne Park in Odessa aren't you?"  I said, "Yes ma'am, I am."  She said, "Well you've done pretty well for yourself, haven't you?" I said, "Yes ma'am I have, and I'm very grateful to God."  Then I said, "You and the vice president have done pretty well for yourselves too, haven't you?"  She chuckled and said, "Yes, we have and I am also grateful to God."  

For a couple of minutes we talked about some of our West Texas friends and then she excused herself and left to go "work the room" – the East Room of the White House.  

Over the coming years, Steve, Rudy and I would sing at her husband's inaugural (only one inaugural, unfortunately) and many other events – all wonderful "remembrins."  But of all those "remembrins" the one that I cherish the most is the day on a beach covered with scantily clad and, in some cases, not clad at all, sunbathers on a small Greek Island in the Aegean Sea.

President Bush and Miz B had invited Janis and me to sail with them on their annual cruise of the Greek Islands.  It was quite a thrill for us cruising with the Bush family and their friends – politicians, celebrities and "just good old guys and gals" from West Texas.  

One morning at breakfast Miz B looked at me and said, "Larry Gatlin, can you swim?"  I said, "Yes ma'am. I swim for 20 minutes three times a week at the Barton Creek Country Club in Austin."  She then said, "Well, if you think you can keep up with me for 45 minutes, go suit up and we'll go for a little swim"– so that's just what we did.

Then came that fateful day, a couple of days later, when President Bush, Miz B, Greg Norman, Chris Evert and a handful of other cruisers boarded one of the big boat's tenders and cruised over to a small island where the sunbathers weren't wearing much in the way of swimming attire – or anything else.  

Miz B took a cursory glance at the "beach bacchanal" and said, "Larry Gatlin, I'm swimming back to the ship right now.  You coming with me?"  I said, "Yes ma'am."  She gave her beach bag to one of her assistants. Two Secret Service agents immediately jumped into the water and Miz B and I waded out into the beautiful turquoise water of the Aegean Sea and swam back to the ship.

Please don't get me wrong. Mrs. Barbara Bush was not provincial, prudish or narrow-minded. She was a very cosmopolitan, prescient, intelligent and wise woman.  But, "nekkid" and near "nekkid" Greeks frolicking on a beach was not something she was going to put up with on her vacation.

When I heard the news of Mrs. Barbara Bush's passing, I thought of my own mother's passing last September. My mother was very much like Miz B. So, I say to all the residents of heaven, with the exception of the Almighty Himself, Christ the Son and the Holy Ghost, straighten up.  There's a new sheriff in town.  And I don't think she's gonna allow any "nekkid" sunbathin' or any other shenanigans to ruin her first week in heaven.

P.S. Mama, go look for Miz B, introduce yourself, and suggest to her that y'all might oughta try splittin' up the sheriffin' duties.

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