Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Lyndon and Lady Bird

I'm at my parents', so that means different bathroom readers...and in one was a a series of "first meetings" of various presidents and First Ladies, and the one on LBJ and his Lady Bird caught my attention, so I thought I'd share!

Lyndon Johnson came on strong. In his first encounter with Lady Bird in Austin, he whispered an invitation to breakfast at the Driskill Hotel in Austin. Though taken aback by the brash Congressional aide, Lady Bird couldn't help being intrigued, and she accepted.

They shared breakfast the next day, then spent the whole day together - with Lyndon doing most of the talking. By sundown, he asked her to marry him. Lady Bird was slightly stunned, and could not believe he was serious. Lyndon returned to Washington and proved how serious he was. A relentless campaigner, Lyndon lobbied Lady Bird to marry him with a barrage of letters and phone calls.

Opposites from opposite ends of Texas, the two met shortly after Lady Bird's graduation from the University of Texas in the summer of 1934. The daughter of a well-to-do businessman, she was in the midst of mulling her options: should she embark on a career or help her father restore the family home? Well-educated and pragmatic, she had acquired a bachelor's degree in history and a journalism degree, as well as teaching credentials. Lady Bird may have been shy, sensible and self-contained, but she felt her future lay beyond Karnack, Texas. At the time she met Lyndon, she was inquiring about teaching positions in Alaska or Hawaii.

Lyndon, an aide for Texan Congressman Richard Kleberg, was swept up in the Washington world of power and politics. He wanted to do big things. To Lady Bird, Lyndon's energy, aspirations of wealth and power, coupled with his desires to help the poor and helpless, were irresistible. She had never encountered anyone quite like him, and she was in love at first sight. Thinking back to that first date, Lady Bird told biographer Jan Jarboe Russell, "I felt like a moth drawn to a flame."

Lady Bird was captivated by his energy and the attention, but she demurred his proposal. She thought it was too soon; she wanted to wait a year. For ten weeks, Lyndon courted Lady Bird long distance, admonishing her at times for her aloofness: "Honey, don't be so long between notes."

Then without warning, Lyndon arrived at Lady Bird's Karnack doorstep the morning November 16, 1934. He could endure the uncertainty no longer; he had arrived to marry her. He made it clear it was now or never, and Lady Bird's answer was yes. Lady Bird felt that if she didn't marry him, he might leave, and she could not risk losing that love. And he wanted to marry that same day.

They decided to get married the next day in San Antonio. Lyndon called up his friend Dan Quill who was in San Antonio and asked him to arrange all the details. While Dan spent the day hurriedly cutting deals to get the marriage license and persuade a minister to perform the no-notice ceremony, Lyndon and Lady Bird set out on the long drive.

On November 17, 1934, Johnson placed a $2.50 ring from Sears, Roebuck on her finger in a hurried ceremony at Saint Mark's Episcopal Church in San Antonio, Texas, with only Dan Quill and Lady Bird's college friend Cecille Harrison by their sides. The minister shook his head and expressed his doubt that the rushed marriage could ever last. How wrong he was. Lyndon showed Lady Bird all the excitement and adventure that she was seeking, while Lady Bird provided Lyndon with the steadfast emotional support and balance he needed. This balance sustained their marriage through very exciting, though often trying, times.

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