Jill Biden’s new memoir: 9 things we learned from ‘Where the Light Enters’
WILMINGTON – “How did you get this number?”
Those were the first words then-college student Jill Jacobs said to Sen. Joe Biden when he called her “out of the blue” to ask her out on a date. She told him no.
She had other plans that night.
In her memoir, “Where the Light Enters,” former second lady Jill Biden reveals details of the early days of her relationship with former Vice President Joe Biden. She writes about growing up as the oldest of five girls, being married and divorced before graduating from the University of Delaware and becoming a parent to two boys whose mother had tragically died just years before.
Dr. Jill Biden speaks before her husband Joe Biden takes the stage for his first public speech since announcing his candidacy for president Monday afternoon at the Teamsters Temple No. 249 in Pittsburgh. (Photo: Jerry Habraken, The News Journal)
Unlike Michelle Obama did in “Becoming,” Biden doesn’t address the 2016 election, discuss President Donald Trump or provide any insight into her husband’s decision to run for president for the third time.
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Instead, Biden, an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, incorporates quotes from some of her favorite authors in the 200-page book to describe both the joyful and heartbreaking moments of her life. (The book is on sale starting Tuesday, May 7.)
One of the most compelling chapters focuses on how she formed a relationship with Beau and Hunter, who were boys when Jill started dating Joe in 1975. Their mother Neilia and baby sister Naomi died in a car accident in 1972, just weeks before Joe was to be sworn in as U.S. senator.
“In our family, Neilia would always be Mommy, but I was Mom,” she writes. “There was room enough, there was love enough, for us all.”
Here’s what else we learned about the former second lady:
She pushed boundaries in her family
Jill Jacobs grew up in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, part of a tight-knit family in which she was the oldest of five girls.
Her father was a bank teller and her mother a homemaker. Family dinners were the center of the Jacobs family’s life — a tradition Jill keeps today. Yet when she was a teenager, she was the child who broke curfew, smoked cigarettes and broke into the local country club with her friends.
It led her to butting heads with her father, who was the disciplinarian. Biden writes later in the book that the birth of her daughter Ashley was her father’s “perfect revenge” as the two of them would get into mother-daughter arguments during those teenage years.
“It made me unafraid to push as hard as I needed to,” she writes of her parents’ love, “to take chances and pick myself up when I fell flat on my face.”
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Jill is the one who holds the grudges
Since she was a rebellious teenager, few people would have guessed she would have ended up with a politician like Joe Biden, Jill writes.
She describes him as a “statesman” who approaches his job with “grace and dignity.”
“This is one of his most admirable traits, but to be honest, his approach drives me a little crazy at times,” she writes.
For example, Joe will be friendly and make conversation with anyone, even if it’s a colleague who previously badmouthed him, she writes. He often forgets the person made the comment in the first place.
“But that means I end up being the holder of the grudges,” she writes. “I’m the one who wants to stomp up the hill to confront the mean kid. I remember every slight committed against the people I love.
“I can forgive, sure — but I don’t believe in rewarding bad behavior.”
Jill Biden waves to the audience as she arrives to speak at Pellissippi State Community College, Friday, Jan. 9, 2015, in Knoxville, Tenn., about new initiatives to help more Americans go to college and get the skills they need to succeed. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Photo: Carolyn Kaster, AP)
She was ’embarrassed and ashamed’ of her divorce
Before she was Jill Biden, she was Jill Stevenson — a married University of Delaware student.
At just the age of 18, Jill married Bill Stevenson, a former football player who would go on to open the famous Stone Balloon Ale House in Newark. Her parents loved Stevenson, she writes, and she thought at the time it would be a marriage that would last forever.
“Looking back, it may seem like that relationship was a mistake of my youth,” she writes. “But there was a time when I truly believed we were destined for each other.”
Biden attributes the end of the marriage to the couple being young and growing in “different directions.” Although she tried to repair the marriage, she didn’t want to “settle for a counterfeit love.”
When the couple divorced after a couple years of marriage, Biden writes that she felt like a failure, partly because she didn’t know anyone who was divorced.
“I questioned if I would ever find love, if I would ever have a family of my own,” she writes. “How could I give my heart to someone again?”
An excerpt from the Sunday, July 17, 1977 News Journal features an interview with the recently married Joe Biden. (Photo: News Journal archives/Newspapers.com)
Jill met Neilia Biden before she met Joe
It was Neilia Biden, not Joe, who Jill met first.
Jill’s first husband, she writes, was a big supporter of Joe’s improbable senate race in 1972 against incumbent J. Caleb Boggs. When Joe Biden won the senate race, Jill and her husband attended the victory party at Hotel du Pont.
“She had an easy, natural beauty that made her look almost out of place in the frantic crowd,” Jill writes of Neilia. She and her daughter Naomi would die weeks later.
Jill didn’t meet Joe that night. Instead, three years later, Biden would call her after seeing her photo in an advertisement at the Wilmington airport. His brother Frank was a friend of Jill’s, and the two knew each other at the University of Delaware.
Jennifer Corbett, The News Journal
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden kiss while leaving A.I. DuPont High School after they voted together Tuesday morning.
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden kiss while leaving A.I. DuPont High School after they voted together Tuesday morning. (Photo: Jennifer Corbett, Jennifer Corbett, The News Journ)
Joe Biden proposed to her five times before she said ‘yes’
Although she knew she loved Joe and his boys, Jill wasn’t sure she could marry him.
“Being Joe’s wife would mean life in the spotlight that I had never wanted,” she writes. “I was a college student when we’d first met, and I liked living under the radar. Joe lived with constant public visibility.”
Beau and Hunter, 7 and 6 years old at the time, were also inquiring about marriage, telling Joe one morning: “We think we should marry Jill.”
Jill writes in the memoir that she was afraid she wouldn’t “measure up” as a parent, even though that was never a thought Beau or Hunter had.
By spring of 1977, before leaving on a congressional delegation trip to South Africa, Joe told Jill he was proposing one final time, saying he was “too much in love” with her “to just be friends.”
When he returned from his trip, Jill finally said yes.
Jill Biden (center) wife of Vice President Joe Biden, sits with her sons Beau Biden (left) and Hunter Biden (right) before the start of the vice presidential debate Thursday at Centre College in Danville, Ky. Mary Altaffer/AP (Photo: Mary Altaffer, AP)
Jill made sure to preserve Neilia’s memory
Jill writes that she was never “threatened” by Neilia since Joe has “always made sure that I feel his love for me.”
Even decades after her death, Jill made sure to preserve Neilia’s memory by having her photos throughout the house. As Jill writes, “there was no ‘us’ without her.”
One year for Christmas, the boys gave Jill their mother’s engagement ring.
Although Jill was touched, she thought it would be best to pass the ring to the first granddaughter in the family. Fittingly, it will go to Hunter’s daughter Naomi, who is named after his sister who died in the car accident with Neilia.
On the anniversary of the car accident, the family would go to church together and then Joe and the boys would go to the cemetery. Jill would make sure to have a spread of food ready when they returned and always bought a grave blanket with three white roses — Neilia’s favorite flower. She placed it in the backseat of Joe’s car.
It wasn’t until after Beau’s death in 2015 that Jill went to the cemetery with Joe for the first time.
“I owed her so much: my loyalty, my gratitude for the gift of these beautiful boys, and yes, my love.”
Joe and Jill really do fight
“If Joe and I had a disagreement,” Jill writes, “we didn’t feel comfortable hashing it out publicly, so we found other ways to do it.”
Biden writes she and Joe would sometimes fight by text message, even if they were in the same room, to avoid making the Secret Service detail feel awkward about the couple having typical marital spats.
But boy do they make up.
It’s a small detail in the book, but Jill reveals that last Christmas the former vice president wrote her a book of poems.
She includes her favorite, which centers around her finally saying “yes” to his marriage proposal:
I had lost all hope for the future
But the moment I saw you I knew
I worked so hard to get you to say I do
When you did — you made the world anew.
It’s still too hard for her to talk (or write) about Beau’s death
In the final chapter of the memoir, titled “Shattered,” Biden writes about Beau’s death in 2015. Despite being diagnosed with a rare and deadly brain cancer, Biden believed her stepson would live.
“I still don’t have much to say about his death,” she writes. “Words all feel hollow. Nothing can convey what we lost. Nothing can describe the hell we found ourselves living through.”
Vice President Joe Biden holds the hands of his wife Dr. Jill Biden (left) and his daughter-in-law Hallie Biden as they arrive for the dedication of his son Beau. The Delaware National Guard honor the late Beau Biden, a former Attorney General, and a Major in the Delaware Army National Guard, by naming the Delaware National Guard Headquarters, located at 250 Airport Road in New Castle, after him. (Photo: SUCHAT PEDERSON/THE NEWS JOURNAL)
Jill writes that she and Joe deal with the grief of Beau’s death differently. Her husband finds comfort reading the many letters the family received at the White House following their son’s death.
But Jill still can’t face them. She writes that she has kept her letters in her closet, where they remain unopened.
“I know two things as I write this: I am not healed, but I am also not alone.”
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