The twins had just spent Tuesday morning in Houston, visiting family and friends, while also volunteering to install a front porch and drywall at a home damaged by Hurricane Harvey.
At 7:30 p.m., the pair was set to take the stage in front of a sold-out audience at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, where they recounted stories and memories during a West Coast debut of their autobiographical book, “Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life.”
“Don’t mind us,” Jenna Bush Hager said in a private room as she brushed lint off her sister’s black dress. “We’ve had a lot of fun so far, and the volunteers we worked with today gave off the best energy.”
In “Sisters First,” the two wrote alternating chapters, sharing personal insights about their family, their roles as both presidential children and grandchildren, their loves and losses, and their bond as sisters.
“We thought if we shared our story, we could help lift other women up,” Jenna Bush Hager said.
Being born in a political dynasty brought a series of challenges for the sisters — at times, comedic ones, they said.
Barbara Pierce Bush, named after her paternal grandmother, the former first lady, reflected on her famous namesake.
“As an 8-year-old, I would offer to order pizza for our family, relishing my mature and responsible position,” she wrote.
“I’d like to order a pizza.”
“Great, your name?”
“This isn’t funny.”
“I was constantly hung up on. No one believed that first lady Barbara Bush wanted to order ‘Miss Nelson is Missing!’ Little girl, big name.”
They also opened up about emotional challenges on the pages, sharing painful memories of losing their maternal grandfather, Pa, to Alzheimer’s disease and a high school friend to suicide.
“That was a hard chapter and decision to make on whether or not to include it largely because of his family,” Barbara Pierce Bush said. “It was cathartic for me to share it and that moment impacted my life, making me the person I am now.”
“Writing a chapter like that of Pa felt therapeutic, and it was to pay tribute to our grandfather, who most don’t know about,” Jenna Bush Hager said.
The book follows their father’s White House years and Jenna Bush Hager’s life as a wife, mother of two daughters and correspondent on NBC’s “Today” show. It also delves into Barbara Pierce Bush’s work as CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps.
President George W. Bush and Laura Bush were protective, providing their children a normal life largely out of the spotlight. They said their father is a private man who loves his kids, is self-deprecating and a source of strength.
Barbara Pierce Bush said he was the first person she called after her first breakup. Each morning, he would send her a text message with a Bible verse followed by several emojis.
Jenna Bush Hager said when she conflated two Best Picture nominees during her NBC red carpet arrival show earlier this year, she received a message from her dad that reassured her that her family loved her.
Their mother read their manuscript and their father read two rounds, only making grammatical changes. No one in the book, they said, changed the content.
In the audience at the Yorba Linda presidential library were Barbara Pierce Bush’s roommates from Yale University.
“It’s OK if you didn’t vote for our dad,” Jenna Bush Hager said, eliciting laughs.
The Bush daughters also noted difficulty in watching their grandfather, George H.W. Bush, lose to Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election, but they admired his character in becoming close friends with the man who defeated him.
“Our family jokes that Bill Clinton is the sixth Bush,” Jenna Bush Hager said, “and Bill said, ‘Every family needs a black sheep.’”
Guests who purchased one of the night’s 1,000 autographed books said they were interested in learning more about the sisters’ bond.
Susannah Shortall of Villa Park learned of “Sisters First” by watching the “Today” show.
“I wanted to hear their perspective, being the parent of multiples, and they have a compelling story,” Shortall said.
Alexa Vander Meer of Brea attended with her three sisters.
“We’re all excited about that,” Vander Meer, 24, said of their plans to read the book.
The Bush twins will have stopped in 12 cities in a three-week period before they close their tour Nov. 18 in Atlanta.
As for plans to celebrate their 36th birthday on Nov. 25?
“We don’t know, something anti-climactic for sure,” Barbara Pierce Bush said.
“I probably need to see my children,” Jenna Bush Hager said. “We want a quiet birthday. We’ll talk in four years.”
For more information, visit sistersfirst.com.