I met her over tea at the White House and found our conversation so easy that I felt relaxed enough to kick my feet up. We talked about everything from those 36 stressful days last year when her life was on hold as votes were counted and recounted—"We were wishing it would get resolved so we could just know, " Laura said—to the fact that Americans still aren't quite sure who she is.
Laura Bush is the only child of Harold Welch, a housebuilder who died in 1995, and Jenna, who kept the books for her husband's company and taught Sunday school in their close-knit hometown of Midland, Texas. From 1968 to 1977, Laura taught in public schools in Dallas, Houston, and Austin and worked as a school librarian; she and Hillary Clinton are the only two first ladies to have advanced degrees (Laura has a master's in library science).
Hillary Clinton was the first president's wife to work out of the West Wing alongside other policymakers; Laura Bush has moved the first lady's office back to the East Wing, where the living quarters are. "It's more convenient," she says simply.
She showed me the Queen's Bedroom, the Lincoln Bedroom, and other rooms in the residence and explained that much of the furniture and art originally belonged to previous first families. On my way in, Laura pointed out a French desk that Jackie Kennedy brought here in 1962. There is actually a warehouse filled with beautiful furnishings from previous administrations. "It's like a museum," Laura said. "In fact, one set of furniture that we brought back from the warehouse for the president's upstairs office in the Treaty Room was Grant's. It's a Victorian set that Grant probably had in the same room, because that would have been the president's office before the West Wing was built." The first family can also borrow art from the National Gallery.
Our tea was served in the East Wing's Yellow Oval Room. As I stood looking out the ceiling-high windows at the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument, I wondered what it must be like to wake up in the White House every day. I imagined the president and the first lady must feel connected to all those who came before them.
Before Laura and I settled in for our talk, the president, who was on his way to Camp David, surprised me with a short visit. "I just wanted to stop in and say hello to the next president," he joked. He introduced me to Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, and Chief of Staff Andy Card. Then, as he walked out the door, he said, "Thank you for coming to see Laura and letting her show her stuff."
As we chatted, Laura couldn't have seemed more comfortable with herself or been more forthright about what she hopes the next four years will and will not bring.
Start reading Oprah's interview with Laura Bush
Note: This interview appeared in the May 2001 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.