My April trip took me to Fredericksburg Texas, and also to the Lyndon B. Johnson childhood home and the “Texas White House”, his ranch on the Pedernales River in beautiful Texas hill country. Blue bonnets were in bloom, and we were reminded of the legacy of Lady Bird Johnson. Although we could take photos inside the childhood home, the National Park Service does not allow photography inside the ranch house. But here are the photos I did get.
I was grateful to Lady Bird Johnson that she had the foresight to pack things away whenever she did updating of the house, so that it could be returned to the look it had when LBJ was there. All that 1960’s aqua-green Naugahyde! LBJ had a wall of three TV sets in his office, a reminder that you could get all the news on just three channels in his time.
I also loved the typical LBJ stories. In the garage, beside the impressive Presidential cars, was a little funny-looking car, like a Nash Rambler, if you’re old enough to remember them. He would load it up with guests, and drive it toward the river and start yelling that the brakes were failing and they were going into the water. Okay. It was an amphibious automobile, quite comfortable floating in the Pedernales.
And how Lady Bird and LBJ lived together all those years is a mystery. She had refined tastes, and liked to decorate in country casual, but with polished furniture and nice pieces of art. She got a beautiful dining room set with chairs carefully matched to the table. However, one day, LBJ dragged one of his overstuffed leather cowboy chairs in to the head of the table. There it stayed beside the telephone that was attached to the table in case he got a call during dinner. Both totally out of place in the lady-like decor.
He had nearly 70 phones installed around the ranch so he would never miss a call. Wouldn’t he have been in heaven with a Blackberry!
I used to wrinkle my nose at his down-home paeans to Texas hill country and his beloved Pedernales. But by golly, standing there on the lawn of the Western White House and looking past the bluebonnets and across the road, through the live oak trees at the narrow strip of muddy water across the road, I could totally understand why he spent more than 1/3 of his Presidency in this lovely spot.
The humble childhood home seemed similar to the white clapboard homes in small town Ohio where I grew up, although this was a generation older and I never actually had to put up with an outhouse. The most striking thing about that small house was learning that his mother taught elocution to the town children on the front porch after regular school. Her love of literature and poetry and public speaking fills in a gap in my knowledge about LBJ.
The homes and the surroundings go farther in explaining the President than any biography could ever do.
Have you visited LBJ’s home or other President’s homes? What do you get out of the experience?
Disclaimer: I went there on a press trip as the guest of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.