For all the political snickering over how many houses John McCain owns, his daughter Meghan, 23, says the heart of her family lies in just one place: The creek-side collection of cabins and sheds near Sedona, Ariz., where she and her siblings whiled away their weekends, holidays and summers.
“It’s a really beautiful part of my childhood because it’s so pure and so unjaded,” Meghan tells PEOPLE. There, the Budweiser is on tap (an homage to mom Cindy’s family beer empire) and the walls are hung with the children’s old artwork. “They’re everywhere. It’s really embarrassing,” says Meghan. “But my mom is obsessed with it all.”
In a series of recent interviews, Cindy and John McCain and their daughter Meghan opened up to PEOPLE about the joys, heartbreaks and everyday details of their life together with Bridget, 17, a junior in high school; Jack, 22, a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy; and Jimmy, 20, a Marine home between deployments to Iraq.
On Bonding with the Kids
Cindy: Meghan’s my artist and so I would try to nurture her painting. Jack and I built a racecar together. He and Jimmy and I learned to scuba dive together. And, Bridget and I both love computers. I’m kind of a tech-head that way. So she and I will play around together with art and music programs. Not games. Everything has to have an educational purpose.
John: Each of our children has different characteristics, talents, strengths and weaknesses. They’re all
different and they’re all close to each other – and I’m happy about that.
On Dad’s Soft Spots
Cindy: John’s soft with the boys in understanding their frustration, on occasion, with the military and that life. It is an abrupt change having to come out of a home, you know. He understands.
On Mom’s House Rules
Cindy: If you’re home and going [to be] out after midnight, you have to call and check in with me. I want to know you’re safe. Just because you’re 24 and on your own doesn’t mean I don’t worry about you. And if you use the car, fill it up when you’re done. It drives me nuts to find an empty gas tank and everyone gone.
On Jimmy’s Send-Off to Iraq Last Summer
Meghan: It was terrible … Everyone is standing around crying and they’re playing bagpipes. And it’s like, I equate bagpipes with funeral music … If my father is elected, there really should be some kind of beautiful ceremony or something that’s a little less morbid.
John: I just expressed my pride and my admonition that he try to stay safe. One thing about men and women in the military – they all think they are bulletproof. They are so brave.
On Cindy’s Painkiller Addiction in the Early 1990s
Meghan: I can remember seeing a news clip on TV about it when I was young and then our housekeeper turning off the TV … My mom’s been very open about it, how she got to that place, how she suffered with addiction, and got over it and went to rehab. Now, she still won’t take anything stronger than Tylenol or Advil. She doesn’t want to risk anything.
On Mom’s Silly Side
Meghan: She’s a perfectionist to some degree, but not nearly the way it’s been exaggerated. I wish people could really see my mom’s silly side. Sometimes I just like to shock her and say the dirtiest jokes I can possibly think of and she’s like, “Oh, Meghan!” I think she secretly enjoys them.
For more on the McCains – and a rare portrait of the extended family (including John’s three children from his first marriage) – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.
• Reporting by LIZ MCNEIL