The White House: The First Lady Bird

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Still, theirs is a marriage bulwarked by genuine, if sometimes uncomfortably showy affection. Lyndon keeps Lady Bird well-informed of his plans and decisions. At times, he will burst into a sedate White House tea, plant a kiss squarely on Lady Bird's forehead and loudly announce, "I love you." On a warm Washington evening, the two may saunter out of the White House, head for the grassy darkness beneath a giant tree. There Lady Bird may lie down with her arms stretched over her head. Lyndon may sprawl beside her, propped up on his elbow so that he can look into her face, and they talk quietly.

Dealer in Everything. Lady Bird* was born in a lonely antebellum brick house near Karnack, Texas, on Dec. 22, 1912. Her mother, Minnie Lee Patillo Taylor, a tall, eccentric woman from an old and aristocratic Alabama family, liked to wear long white dresses and heavy veils. She fussed over food fads, played grand opera endlessly on the phonograph, loved to read the classics aloud to tiny Lady Bird. She scandalized people for miles around by entertaining Negroes in her home, and once even started to write a book about Negro religious practices, called Bio Baptism. Naturally, most folks thought Minnie weird and standoffish. Says a longtime friend of Lady Bird's, Mrs. Eugenia Lassater of Henderson, Texas: "Mrs. Taylor was a cultured woman. But she didn't consort with Karnack people."

Lady Bird's father, Thomas Jefferson Taylor II, was a tall, bulky, money-minded man, son of an Alabama sharecropper. He had married Minnie Lee against her family's wishes, then took her to East Texas, where he started a profit-making career that eventually made him a rich man. He ran a truly general store; the sign outside proclaimed, "Dealer in Everything." Later he dabbled in real estate and money-lending at 10% interest, rented land and shacks to Negro tenants. Each day he rose at 4 a.m. to open his store, then returned home at sundown to spend the long night hours poring over his accounts and IOUs, checking and rechecking to see that his debtors were up to snuff on their payments. "Cap" Taylor did not share his wife's liberal views concerning Negroes. Says Mrs. Lassater: "The Negroes were kept in peonage by Mr. Taylor. He would furnish them with supplies and let them have land to work, then take their land if they didn't pay. When I first saw how he operated, I thought the days of slavery weren't over yet." Recalls Lady Bird's brother, Anthony Taylor, now the owner of a curio shop in Santa Fe: "He looked on Negroes pretty much as hewers of wood and drawers of water."

Aunt Effie. For nearly six years of her life, Lady Bird lived in the crosscurrents between the occult but enlightened aristocracy of her mother and the shrewd dollar-sign language of her father; her two brothers, Tony and Tom III (the latter died in 1959), were both much older and were away at school. Then in 1918 Minnie Lee Taylor fell down the length of the circular staircase in the old brick house and died—and Lady Bird was left with Cap Taylor.

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