The White House: The First Lady Bird

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Never one to neglect business, Cap took the little girl to his store every day for a while, sometimes let her sleep at night on a cot in his second-floor storeroom near what she recalls as "a row of peculiar long boxes." Her father told her they were "dry goods," but Lady Bird later learned they were coffins.

Soon Cap decided he couldn't both make money and raise a daughter all by himself. So Lady Bird's upbringing fell to her mother's sister, Aunt Effie, who moved from Alabama to Texas. Under Effie's strict discipline, Lady Bird read prodigiously, plowed through Ben-Hur when she was eight, memorized poems that she can still recite today. But the dainty spinster aunt could never really fill a mother's role. Says Lady Bird now: "She opened my spirit to beauty, but she neglected to give me any insight into the practical matters a girl should know about, such as how to dress or choose one's friends or learning to dance." In her early teen years, Lady Bird was a wallflower.

Mrs. Naomi Bell of Marshall, a schoolmate of Lady Bird's, says, "Bird wasn't accepted into our clique. There were 18 of us girls, and we couldn't get Claudia to cooperate on anything. She didn't date at all. To get her to go to the high school graduation banquet, my fiancé took Bird as his date and I went with another boy. She didn't like to be called Lady Bird, so we'd call her Bird to get her little temper going. My mother would call her Cat. She'd say, 'All right, pull your claws in, Cat.' And when the rest of the gang was in the house. Bird would sneak in the back door and talk to my mother. She was a chatterbox. But she was timid. When she'd get in a crowd, she'd clam up."

Boys v. a Man. At the University of Texas in Austin, Lady Bird had a Nei-man-Marcus charge account and unlimited use of Cap Taylor's checking account. But. as Eugenia Lassater recalls, she was "stingy." She still wore Aunt Effie's old coat around campus. But her social life picked up a little. She learned to dance the Louisiana Stomp and acquired at least a sipping acquaintance with bootleg cherry wine. When she graduated in 1934, she had degrees in liberal arts and journalism.

It was at about this time that she met gangling, rawboned Lyndon Johnson, 26, who was down from his Washington job as secretary to Texas Democratic Congressman Richard Kleberg, a member of the famous King Ranch family.

For a first date, Lyndon and Lady Bird breakfasted at the Driskill Hotel. Lyndon was a fast worker. Says Lady Bird: "He told me all sorts of things that I thought were extraordinarily direct for a first conversation—his salary as secretary to a Congressman, how much insurance he had, his ambitions, about all the members of his family."

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