Most people were happy that former first lady Laura Bush came to town to give the keynote speech at the rededication of the University of Utah’s Marriott Library. There were, however, a small group of grumblers who thought the university should have picked a more illustrious speaker, someone who had distinguished himself or herself in the field of education, perhaps even an accomplished Utah writer like, say, Terry Tempest Williams, or the Mormon science-fiction author Orson Card. Or how about Utah’s own F. Monroe Bringhurst, the long-time librarian from Ephraim who invented the Dewey Decimal System?
The grumblers point to Utahns’ long history of sucking up to second-rate celebrities to boost their always-shaky sense of self-esteem. Now, the grumblers may be entirely correct in criticizing the choice of Laura Bush, even though she was a librarian herself before she hooked up with the feckless Bush boy, whom she met at a barbecue, tying the knot after knowing him for a very short three-month period (I bet Laura would like to have a do-over on that one).
I say, the grumblers may be right, but I can’t agree with them on this particular matter, given that I have a personal connection with the former first lady. I have to admit that I am prejudiced in her favor, and it goes back to when I was lucky enough to spend some time with her.
It was the summer of 1969. I had just returned from my mission to Paris, France, where I had spent the best two years of my life preaching the Gospel to the folks in France, for the most part a wonderful, if sometimes overly rational, collection of people. My close friend and constant missionary companion, Elder Mitt Romney, had already taken up residence in Provo, where he was determined to make the cheerleading squad at Brigham Young University.
I lacked Mitt’s self-discipline, and found myself at loose ends, often just hanging out at the U of U Union Building, playing billiards (sometimes A. Ray Olpin would join us in a friendly game) or bowling a few frames in the basement bowling alley, which, by the way, perhaps because of its low ceilings, emanated, on a permanent basis, the cheesy odor of rental bowling shoes.
It was on a lazy Wednesday afternoon (or was it Monday morning?) when I made my way up to the Huddle (the shabby old coffee shop just off the main lobby), feeling pretty good after bowling a 178, one of my top scores at the time. I immediately noticed a very attractive brunette sitting by the window. To this day I have a vivid image of the girl—she was wearing a red and blue SMU sweatshirt, emblazoned with a mustang on the front, beneath which one could discern the pleasant dimensions of her torso. In those days, girls did not wear bras.
I got a cup of coffee as quickly as I could and sat at a table close enough to see what book she was reading. Madame Bovary, Bantam Books, translated by Lowell Bair. She was lost in the novel, so much so that her cigarette (Tareyton) accumulated a long ash, and when she picked it up for a puff, the ash scattered across her sweatshirt.
“Oh, goodness me, I’ve surely made a mess,” she said in that soft, Midland, Texas, drawl, and looked over at me with that now-familiar twinkle in her eye.
Well, seeing as how the former Laura Lane Welch is now a respectable married woman (even though her husband is a pinhead), I will draw a discreet veil over the three summer days we spent together. All I knew was that her name was Laura and that she had just finished her first year of teaching second grade at the Longfellow Elementary School in Dallas, Texas. Also, she liked to read and liked to smoke. (And she liked the view of the temple from the old Hotel Utah.) I never found out why she was in Salt Lake City. In those days, you just went with the flow.
An interesting factoid: As we strolled across campus, a dedication ceremony was taking place at the brand new Marriott Library. Who would have thought that 40 years later ...?
In related news, the Utah chapter of the Society of Elderly Librarians is protesting President Michael K. Young’s remarks at the Marriott rededication that the new library is happily devoid of “elderly librarians shushing patrons.”