The world knew George and Barbara Bush as president and first lady, anchors of a Texas political dynasty.
But to Jenna Bush Hager, they were Gampy and Ganny, the man who took her fishing and the woman who encouraged her to make the right choices.
"The night my grandmother passed, for some reason I wrote a letter," Hager said in a recent phone interview. "I turned on the TV and there were all these people talking about her, and none of it sounded like my Ganny. I heard about the politician’s wife, but I didn’t hear about her love of reading, her love of us, her love of gardening and loving the simple life and the simplest parts of nature."
What started that night eventually became "Everything Beautiful in Its Time: Seasons of Love and Loss" (HarperCollins, $26.99), Hager’s new memoir. It sketches an acutely personal portrait of the elder Bushes, her maternal grandmother, Jenna Welch, and the lessons learned that Hager has carried with her as an adult.
Planned for publication in April and rescheduled because of the pandemic, "Beautiful" arrives on shelves Tuesday. Hager will discuss the book virtually the same day via the Long Center, in conversation with Austin actress and entrepreneur Brooklyn Decker.
"Beautiful" is a love letter to Hager’s grandparents, but she also makes clear that it’s a book about grief.
"In 13 months, I lost my three remaining grandparents," she said. "That love is so universal. … It’s so hard to lose grandparents even when they’ve had these long, full lives. I do think other people will see themselves and their relationships in this, and their pain and sorrow, but also their joy. In order to grieve someone, you have to have loved them really deeply."
There are sad moments — Hager openly admits she’s a crier and quips that recording the audiobook was like "therapy in a little cage by myself" — but plenty of joyful ones as well. We see Hager and her twin sister, Barbara, as teens (and occasional sparring partners) and follow Hager as she forges a career path that led to her current role as co-host of "Today With Hoda and Jenna." University of Texas fans will particularly appreciate this juxtaposition from her White House recollections: "We even met the Queen of England and managed to see the Texas Longhorns after they won the National Championship."
She spotlights regular trips to the elder Bushes’ Maine cottage, where simple rituals like walking to the gate after dinner and early-morning fishing trips became blessings over time.
"I think that’s why for me they felt like such really special relationships, because we spent these uninterrupted special times with them," she said.
"And we also have such different grandparents," Hager adds. Ganny was fond of order and lists and didn’t shy away from telling Jenna what she thought. As children, they’d refer to Laura Bush’s mother, Jenna, as "the nice grandmother."
Jenna "Grammee" Welch let them make messes and stay up late, taught them about constellations and had them eat breakfast outside before the Texas heat drove them indoors. "She was never rushed," Hager writes in the book. "You could tell in everything she did that she appreciated the earth beneath her feet and the sky above her head."
Yet Hager never questioned that she was loved by each of her grandparents, and she grew to appreciate her Ganny’s strength. George and Barbara Bush’s marriage was an inspiration, she adds.
"There’s no love story I look up to more than my grandparents’," she said. "I read their love letters, I sat in the midst of the glow of that love. … They complemented each other. He was the gentler one, but he always stood up for her. I witnessed their really breathtaking, beautiful, complementary love. I realized that’s something to admire, always."