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Published: Friday, 7/13/2007

Fly Away Home...

I had a Barbie doll with hair like Jacqueline Kennedy until my younger sister decided to cut her hair. My doll's hair, not Jackie's.

But the presidential wife I was really aware of wasn't Mrs. Kennedy, a lady I mostly associated with interesting hats -- but Ladybird. Lady Bird Johnson. What an interesting name. Who names a child Lady Bird? What did her friends say to her in school about that name? Or did she attend schools rich in unusual names, where such a thing would go unremarked, names like DonnaBee, and Placenta?

It seemed only logical to me that Lady Bird would lead a campaign to beautify America. I remember my mother telling me about it, and it seemed like such a nice and lady sort of activity. As a child I read National Wildlife, and they carried an article about Lady Bird and her beautification campaign. I didn't read it, though. I only read articles on animals. I made a single exception that I recall, reading an article about the "greenhouse effect."

I never knew she was really named Claudia Alta until she died this week. I certainly didn't know she studied history and journalism in college.

I also didn't know she didn't like it that her conservation efforts were translated as "beautification." I guess it was the times. Ladies beautified. In the 1960s, only farmers and hunters were conservationists. I didn't know I had this in common with Lady Bird. I was an ardent conservationist as a girl, constantly sending away for information on the subject. I ended up receiving two hunting magazines for years as a result of my interests. I never subscribed to them. They just showed up. Boys were conservationists. Girls were beautificationers or something.

I guess I should have read that National Wildlife article.

I feel a little guilty that when I got an email alert the other day that Lady Bird had died, I was surprised to hear she was still alive. Here she was, one of the first prominent environmentalists in politics, and she had disappeared from view.

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