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Bush Goes From Pennsylvania Ave. to a More Simple Life in the Lone Star State

In his return to private life, former president has maintained tranquility by adhering to a basic philosophy: his legacy is yet to be determined.

Until then, some neighbors have decided to treat 10141 Daria Place as just another house in Preston Hollow, despite all indications otherwise. The day after the Bushes arrived, the local Cub Scout troop visited their cul-de-sac as part of its annual drive to collect canned food. The troop's supervising parent, Nancy Burke, drove over to Daria Place a few days in advance to ask the Secret Service for clearance.

Sorry, the agents said.

Burke stopped by twice more and received the same answer before finally winning approval from a scheduling aide in Bush's office. An hour before she took the boys to Bush's house, Burke met with them to discuss logistics. Only 30 people could enter the cul-de-sac. The Scouts, ages 7 to 11, needed to wear their full uniforms. A raffle determined which two children would receive Bush's cans. Burke taught them how to talk to the media: "Think about their question before you speak." She demonstrated how to shake a president's hand. "Look him in the eye and shake firmly."

Just after 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 21, two nervous Cub Scouts approached Bush's front drive. As he opened the door, the former commander in chief could have been any Preston Hollow retiree donating cans that Saturday morning: 62, gray hair, loose slacks and a plastic bag filled with canned carrots. Except Bush wore a blue windbreaker with the presidential seal over the left breast, and Burke noticed the Secret Service agents eye the Scouts as they wrapped their arms around Bush and posed for pictures.

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The Bushes departed Washington less than 90 minutes after Obama's inauguration. They boarded a helicopter and flew to Andrews Air Force Base, where 4,000 invited guests and military families waited in an airport hangar. The crowd waved American flags as Bush stepped to the lectern and said, "We served with conviction." Then he disappeared onto a charter plane, where about 75 friends and family members greeted him with a standing ovation.

As the plane flew toward Texas, the entire party jammed into the conference room to watch a video tribute. Beneath the clouds, television stations replayed Obama's inaugural address, a somber assessment of a country in "the midst of crisis." At cruising altitude, Bush's guests watched for 20 minutes as leaders including Bill Clinton, Barbara Bush and Tony Blair retold their fondest memories of Bush's presidency. White House staff members testified to his kindness; longtime friends recalled his courage and fortitude.

"There were a lot of people that got teary-eyed," said Israel Hernandez, a close friend of the Bushes. "It was emotionally overwhelming."

Bush landed in Midland, Tex., his home town, for a rally attended by 20,000 supporters and then spoke to 4,000 more in Waco. He told them that, when he looks in the mirror, he will "be proud of what I see." Then a helicopter took Bush to his ranch in Crawford, where he arrived just after dark.

"Since the moment he got back home, you can see that he is a much more relaxed, lighthearted person," said Jim Francis, one of Bush's closest friends. "He's in a place where people appreciate and understand him, and a lot of the stresses of being president are not things he's going to miss. The relief is visible to anyone who knows him. This is where he's comfortable."

The Bushes coveted a house in Preston Hollow because they remembered their previous stint in the neighborhood as idyllic, friends said. From 1988 to 1995, the couple lived on a block lined with oak trees and single-story houses, nice but unpretentious. Their twin daughters attended a private school nearby. Bush jogged outside in the morning, frequented the local pizza joint and hosted the neighborhood's annual Halloween party. At night, as the owner of the Texas Rangers, he attended baseball games with friends and contemplated an underdog run for governor. Why not? He had a famous name, popularity and his own booming career.

"Everybody -- everybody -- just loved him," said Mark Langdale, a former next-door neighbor who now oversees planning for Bush's presidential center.


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