The spouse of the former senator from New Jersey speaks about her history and emotional life.
In an autobiography characterized by such thoughts, Ernestine Bradley reveals that sometimes she thinks of herself as “a mangrove tree with roots hanging in the air,” a conceit prompted principally by her childhood in postwar Germany. What with American soldiers, ersatz sausages, lice, and a truck that was fueled by wood, it seems to have been the worst of times for kleine Wuschi and her family in the Bavarian town of Passau. She had, it appears, two fathers. There was the loving biological one, who was a member of the Luftwaffe, and then there was the hairdresser, a member of the Nazi party, who was a temporary loving father of convenience for a while. It’s little wonder that an operatic attitude dominates the first part of this before-and-after story. In the 1950s, when she was 21 (and had excellent language skills), Ernestine emigrated to the US and the excitement of New York, working as a Pan Am stewardess. Soon, she was living in Atlanta, the wife of a physician and the parent of a daughter. But that life didn’t work out. Next, divorced and back in New York, she met the smart pro basketball player. She joined the academic world and settled in New Jersey, married to terrific Bill Bradley. He is, she assures us, the best of husbands, especially during her victorious bout with breast cancer. There are certain lacunae, to be sure, with virtually nothing relating to Senator Bill’s career or his run for the Oval Office. Rather, here’s Oprah-style self-awareness, presented with careful skill. It might not have helped a presidential campaign, anyway.
With its bit of Teutonic flavor, this isn’t the story of a typical Jersey Girl—nor is it the most unusual or gripping of revelatory journeys.