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. ,, ………………… W’s Family Home in Midland, Texas Photos courtesy of George W Bush Childhood Home Inc. Sledding Through a Bush Family Fantasy FTERIVORD BY RUTH PENNEBAKER G rowing up in West Texas marks you forever. Mountain ranges give me the creeps. Rain was such a stranger that I still can barely manage to open and close an umbrella without a nervous breakdown. Even after all these years, my idea of pure freedom remains driving fast along a flat, straight road, drinking beer and playing country music so loud my eardrums almost burst. Around Midland, where I went to high school, the land is hard, unforgiving, and flat. My father worked in the oil business, so we moved from town to town in West Texas, always buying new houses on the edge of town, always planting a spindly tree in the front yard. We had to stake the new trees so they wouldn’t bend in the fierce winds that blew almost every day. When we moved to Midland in 1965, the city had a gritty energy and drive I hadn’t seen in the other sleepy towns. Dust might have been in the air, but so was money. I heard stories about dentists quitting their jobs and making fortunes from oil strikes, surveyors who claimed narrow plots of overlooked land that yielded millions of dollars in mineral rights, Midlanders who had bowling alleys in their basements and flew to Dallas to shop. When your father works as an accountant for an oil company, as mine did, you don’t have any dramatic stories of sudden wealth to tell. You learn to watch and listen. In a city of doers, hustlers, gamblers, optimists, and oil visionaries, introspection is for sissies with too much time on their hands. Midland is a great place to watch and listen as long as you don’t mind feeling lonely now and then. The Midland I knew growing up is different from the one George W. Bush talks about. He recalls small-town values of neighborliness, a safe place where kids could ride their bicycles all over town, and families gathered for impromptu picnics and barbecues. The Midland I recall was richer and edgier, and not nearly as wholesome, fueled by alcohol and boredom and empty horizonsmore Larry McMurtry than Reader’s Digest. “They always said George W. used to be wild,” a 70-year-old veteran of Midland’s faster lanes once told me. She was dressed in a short skirt and cowboy boots, with a carefully painted face and stiff, well-coifed hair that could have withstood the fiercest norther. She sniffed loudly. “Well,” she said, “he wasn’t really wild. Not by Midland standards.” Visiting Bush’s childhood home in Midland now, there is nothing to suggest that anything wild by Midland’sor any other city’sstandards happened when the Bush family lived there from 1951 to 1955. At 1412 West Ohio Ave., it’s the idyllic memories of a child that are preserved and recreated. Now owned by the nonprofit George JANUARY 25, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29