She is the genuine article, a mother figure about to become a role model who asks only that she not be compared to one particular former first lady. "I wish you wouldn't say Eleanor Roosevelt," Barbara Bush implores reporters sitting around her dining room table at the vice president's mansion. "I grew up in a household that really detested her ... My mother really didn't like her," says Mrs. Bush, who was a little girl at the time and personally had nothing against Eleanor Roosevelt. "So let's talk about someone else." She isn't kidding, either. At age 63, as at all other ages, Barbara Bush says what she feels like saying. Issues are something else, she says, serving notice that she is never going to be as outspoken as Betty Ford, whom she did admire, so "don't sit around under bushes waiting." She sips from a glass of ice water and obviously is relishing this wide-ranging preinaugural interview about everything from who will sleep in the Queen's Bedroom on inaugural night (George Bush's 87-year-old mother) to whether she will accept designer clothes if offered (an unequivocal "no"). But the question of a first lady's visibility and style hangs there in the air. What will hers be? How will she touch the nation her husband governs? She's been asked these questions a thousand times, but she still professes not to know the answers. "We grew up in a world where you didn't talk about yourself all the time. I will confess, this whole fall I felt like I'd been on the couch," she says, referring to the nonstop interviews she gave on the campaign trail. "I still look in the mirror and see a young 16-year-old whose tennis game could improve, but that isn't the way it is really." The way it is really is that after eight years of the Hollywood glitz, jet-set glamor and Seventh Avenue high fashion associated with Nancy Reagan, people are telling Barbara Bush that they like what they see, a "full-figured woman" -- her description -- who eschews makeup and hair color. "My mail tells me a lot of fat, white-haired, wrinkled ladies are tickled pink," she says, with unmistakable delight. "They're very sweet. I think it makes them feel better about themselves. I mean, look at me -- if I can be a success, so can they." And what will she do as first lady? "If you want to know what my role is going to be it's to see that George gets out of the White House," she says. "Even just sitting in different churches, which we've done every Sunday. I think it's been very good for both of us ... to be among people who come up and talk to you." She also expects to do what she has always done -- "I mean, truthfully, running the house, listening to my children's problems, passing them on to George, if they're important. I think we'll entertain an enormous amount there because George does that here." They won't waste any time getting started. Friday night, after the inaugural balls, 28 members of the Bush family will sleep at the White House and the next day, 250 relatives are coming for lunch. She has made bedroom assignments, although after talking to Eunice Shriver recently she feels a little badly about the Lincoln Bedroom. Shriver advised her to be sure to have her camera, recalling that the first night John Kennedy was in office the Kennedys took turns having their pictures taken jumping on the Lincoln bed. "So I've got to get film in the camera so I can get pictures of all my children," Barbara Bush says. "That's why I felt badly. I gave the room to {son} Marvin on the chart not thinking it was that historic." She doesn't want to disturb him and his wife Margaret, but she wants those pictures. "So now I've got to quickly take all their pictures in the Lincoln Bedroom." Everything about this move has been exciting, if also "agony" -- "maybe because I'm tired." She has packed many of their belongings herself, deciding which to ship to their home in Kennebunkport, Maine, which to Camp David (where they expect to spend many weekends), which to the White House and which into storage. "You see the little red dot on that picture?" she says, pointing to a large painting on one wall. "That means that goes to the White House to our upstairs living room. We've got dots on everything." A number of the pictures don't belong to the Bushes and will be returned to the museums that lent them. "If we don't end up with a museum piece at the White House that isn't ours, and our junk at the museum, I'll be surprised," she sighs. And, with just a touch of glee, she says, "You find yourself saying 'Goodbye, I'll see you in the White House' to things as they're packed." She says their living room "is being picked up and just stuck in {the Reagans'} living room," but that most of their belongings will be delivered after inaugural weekend. Having moved in and out of 28 different houses in the 44 years she and George Bush have been married, she describes herself as "a good mover-inner" but "a bad mover-outer." She and Bush personally have planned some of the inaugural events -- "five times more events for the public, we wanted very much for it to be for the people" -- and she has no guilt feelings whatsoever about how much it all is costing ($25 million). "It's raised privately," she says. (Congress has appropriated another $5 million for the ceremonial part.) She dismisses a question about whether that amount of money could also be raised for the homeless. "No, it couldn't," she says, her gaze steady, "because you wouldn't raise the money for that purpose. These people are raising it because they worked for years and years to elect a president. It just couldn't be done. If it could we would do it but no, I don't feel badly about it at all. It's putting a lot of people to work, giving a lot of people jobs. If it were federal money, I'd feel absolutely outraged. But it's not." She is a woman who feels strongly that "it's wrong to do things in life and not enjoy them," though she knows that not every aspect of the Bush presidency is going to be fun. "The deficit is going to be very difficult for George." As for her, her prime concern has been, and will continue to be, illiteracy. She says, for instance, that "AIDS is a major interest of mine," but adds quickly that it "very definitely ties into literacy." She says, too, that she plans to work for the homeless. "I'm really going to focus, though, on women and children." She says she doesn't have to push for day-care centers because that's an issue whose time has come. And she says she is particularly concerned about nonworking poor mothers with preschool children. "I would work through the private sector, with public-private partnerships. But I don't lobby George Bush and I don't lobby the federal government. There's plenty of room for partnerships," she says. She says, flatly, that she is not going to talk about the issues "you all want me to talk about. I never have. I'm never going to." Such as the Equal Rights Amendment. When that subject is raised, she scolds: "There we go, asking that question. I want equal rights for women, men, everybody, equal rights for every American, equal pay for equal work." But does she support an amendment? "No. I'm not against it or for it. I'm not talking about it." And that ends that discussion. As the mother of five who felt rearing a family was a full-time job, she says she does wonder how today's mothers manage to work and raise a family. "I don't question it. I just say it's a harder row to hoe -- a lot of people do it because they have to," she says. She thinks parents of children in day-long custodial care have to guard against fatigue and irritability when they return home at night. "You've got to bite the bullet and pretend you're not {tired and irritable}, at least until you go to bed. You've got to be loving. Men and women," she says. In fact, family values are something she wants to stress "by example if nothing else." The Bush children and siblings are a source of strength to her and her husband. "It's just always been that way, and more so now," she says. "It's a funny thing, but once you get into a position when you are isolated more and more from people, you count more heavily upon your children and your very closest friends." Her relationship with George Bush is "very candid" but not to the point of interference. She might tell him she disagreed with him on something but never that she thought he "messed up. I attack it a little different." She describes Bush as "a note writer," "a good listener" and a "put-together" person who doesn't panic or worry. For instance, only that morning she asked him how his inaugural speech was coming along. "George says, 'What speech?' " she laughs. "I said, 'God, George, you got a big speech coming!' " Also a "put-together person," she says she doesn't need someone on Bush's staff to run interference for her. "We'll aways be friends but I won't call them and say, 'This is what I want George to do.' I'll tell George." As for veto power over his schedule: "Wait a minute," she protests, "if I think George is overworked, I am certainly going to complain. That's a normal thing to do. I'll do it to him, his scheduler, anybody who'll listen, if I really think he's overworked. That's normal." Of Nancy Reagan's use of Reagan aides to exert her influence, Barbara Bush just shrugs. "We do things differently. I have always been able to do it through George." But she defends Mrs. Reagan, whose "debt" she is in for raising private money to fix up the White House, including the plumbing and the wiring in the family quarters where the Bushes will live. Just last week at dinner with the Reagans in the White House, she said she told Nancy Reagan she was going to tell the staff "Ditto -- just do what she did. It's perfect. I mean it's beautiful." She is sympathetic to Mrs. Reagan, who, she says, felt "besieged at times. I think she was criticized for things she shouldn't have been. I honestly think if someone raises the money privately to buy china for the White House, the American public ought to say thank you instead of being critical." She expects she will come in for her share of criticism in time, just as Rosalynn Carter and Nancy Reagan did, though not for influencing policy. "I don't think so. Who knows? You see, I'm not sure they were guilty." She does worry a little bit about the loss of privacy and spontaneity that go with life in the White House. She's been getting a taste of it recently. "I went to Bloomingdale's before Christmas. You can tell people are looking at you," she says. "Or better example: I went to Tiffany's to have my watch fixed and went downstairs just to window-shop and got to thinking, 'My gosh, they think I'm going to buy those diamonds.' A thousand people watching. I said, 'We gotta get out of here -- people think we're shopping.' " In the same vein, she adds that she is "so sick" hearing about pork rinds and wishes George Bush had never said he liked them because they started arriving by "the caseloads." And she is amused that everything she does or says now seems "ragingly important." And just the idea of trend-setting makes her laugh. "You're being downright rude right now," she kids a reporter who suggests she may be, although so far her multistrand fake pearls are about the closest she's come to it. "You know what my sister told me? You can't buy pearls in Hartford, fake pearls. Bernie {Shaw, CNN anchor} just asked me why I wear fake pearls. I said, 'Because I don't have real ones.' Why not?" She looks as if she has lost weight, although she shakes her head no. "Not a pound. Guess I'm nervous -- just eating my way through." Her white hair seems to have a jaunty flip on top and she is wearing lipstick and eye shadow for a change. "Well, I've just been made up," she explains. When someone asks if that means they won't see her like this again, she laughingly nods. "Look now." She won't discuss her inaugural ball gown because "that's fun," keeping it a secret. But she is not so coy about whether she would accept designer clothes, despite the demands on her wardrobe. "They are overwhelming," she concedes, but "we've never done that." She adds that she did accept a dress once, but declared it. "George paid taxes on it or whatever you do." She also refuses to compare herself with Nancy Reagan. "I mean, I'd love to be like Mrs. Reagan but I'm not. I don't compare." Then she laughs. "I might, if I came out well on that scale."