"You may think the president is all-powerful, but he is not. He needs a lot of guidance from the Lord."
That was Barbara Bush commenting as the countdown continues to a showdown in the Persian Gulf. The First Lady told school kids yesterday that "I think you ought to know, my husband prays and he believes enormously."
She was speaking at an assembly at the Church of the Immaculate Conception elementary school in the Shaw neighborhood. Peace was very much on her mind -- and around her neck in the form of paper medallions with doves and the word "peace" drawn on them by 16 kindergartners.
"Like everybody else in America," she said, she and President Bush are praying for peace.
"We're all praying for it. We really have prayed. I don't want you to think we haven't," she said again later as Monsignor Joshua Mundell escorted her from the church sanctuary, which she was visiting for the first time.
Gesturing to one of her Secret Service agents, Mundell told her that the young man, a Catholic, had reminded him that a first-time visitor gets three wishes.
That was easy for the First Lady: "All three were the same." The Bushes say their prayers every night before going to bed. But not on their knees.
"George confessed the truth on David Frost," Mrs. Bush told Mundell, referring to the Bushes' television interview with the British journalist last week. "George said, 'I hate to speak for my wife and give her away, but usually it's in bed.' "
Mundell understood perfectly. He gave up praying on his knees "a long time ago," he told the First Lady. "I woke up in the middle of the night too often on my knees." America's first and 41st presidents share more than their first names, as Barbara Bush learned yesterday. No, not the Republican Party; George the First was a Federalist. But George Washington and George Bush were both married on the same day of the year -- that is, Jan. 6 -- 186 years apart.
This conjunction of stars in the presidential firmament comes to light now, thanks to the ever-vigilant Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, which keeps track of such momentous coincidences involving George the First. And it surprised nobody more than the First Lady.
"Were they as lucky? Did they last as long as we have?" she wanted to know of the first First Couple, who married in 1759.
They didn't: Washington died in December 1799, just before his and Martha's 41st anniversary.
"Did they go to church on their anniversary?" Mrs. Bush also asked.
Not unlikely, since the Washingtons were regular churchgoers.
Certainly the Bushes went to church on their 46th anniversary Sunday at Camp David, where good friends Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady and his wife, Kitty, joined them for the weekend. But there was no anniversary cake or exchange of gifts -- "we're not that kind of people" -- though there was "lots of love," the First Lady added.
And a kiss or two maybe?
"Sure," she said. "We do that every day."
Besides the common wedding day, both Georges were military men when they popped the question. Washington, however, resigned his Army commission on his way to the wedding at his future wife's Virginia spread, which was known as the White House Plantation -- it had nothing to do with the White House in Washington, completed after his presidency.
Bush was a pilot in the Navy but did not resign his commission on his way to the altar because World War II was still going on. He and Barbara Pierce had planned to be married in December 1944 but had to delay the ceremony for 19 days because his plane was shot down in the Pacific. Their nuptials took place at the First Presbyterian Church in Rye, N.Y.
Christine Meadows, curator of Mount Vernon, says the wealthy young widow Martha Custis doubtless had a number of suitors but "was looking for someone honest and trustworthy, someone she could depend on.
"After all, her new husband not only had to take over her vast accounts, but also had to take on the responsibility of caring for her two young children and overseeing their inheritance. And she certainly must have been attracted to the tall and handsome young soldier."
As for Barbara Pierce, her attraction to George Bush was nothing more complicated than love at first sight.
"I married the first man I ever kissed," she has readily told interviewers. "When I tell this to my children, they just about throw up." Seeing skid marks in Washington's fast lane these days? Well, recession or no recession, there's still "Entertaining People," the showcase that reminds us every year how the other half entertains and in the process contributes its proceeds generously to improving the quality of life for those residing at the Washington Home, which houses incurably ill patients.
Barbara Bush, a longtime supporter of and volunteer at the home, is serving tea at the White House today for the show's committee, exhibitors and designers. This year's lineup will include Broadway's Marvin and Terra Hamlisch; the Kennedy Center's James and Elaine Wolfensohn; fashion designer Mary McFadden; CBS correspondent Bob Schieffer and his wife, Pat; Sen. Ernest Hollings and his wife, Peatsy; Sen. John Danforth and his wife, Sally;actress Jean Simmons; tennis star Pam Shriver; French Ambassador Jacques Andreani and his wife, Donatella; and show chairman Jane Sloat, who is stepping down after nine years to join the President's Commission for the Arts and Humanities.
From the design side come two newcomers, Keith Irvin and Vincente Wolfe, plus some old favorites, including Bunny Williams, back for the third time. The three happen to have been designated by the New York Times as the best in their field.
Show dates are Feb. 12-17 at the Mayflower Hotel. Chairing the children's party will be first daughter-in-law Margaret Bush and Gigi Ourisman.