details…little known facts

Secret Service agents in response at the assas...

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In summing up what I’ve learned about President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan from reading I Love You, Ronnie, a couple of details came to light which I’d not known before. And according to Mrs. Reagan, only those close to what occurred at the time, knew. The first dealt with the assassination attempt on the President’s life 3 months after he took office. The second was an incident that probably caused the premature onset of his Alzheimer’s. Only a handful, it seems, were privvy to both occurrences.

Waiting for news, Nancy Reagan sat with Sarah Brady, whose husband Jim had also been shot in the attempt on the President’s life.

As we waited, I looked out the window and saw how, in the buildings all around the hospital, people had thrown sheets out the window saying things like GET WELL, MR. PRESIDENT and WE LOVE YOU, MR. PRESIDENT. Every now and then, a nurse would come and report to me on Ronnie’s progress. At first, the doctors were having trouble finding the bullet, which was a devastator bullet, the kind that explodes inside. One time, the nurse came and said, “We just can’t seem to get it out. We may just have to leave it in.” Well, that didn’t sound so good to me. And then another time, she said, “They’ve found it, but the doctor is having a hard time removing it–it keeps slipping from his fingers.” Finally, she came back and told me that the doctor had gotten it out, but I almost lost him then. The bullet had been lodged an inch from Ronnie’s heart.

We were lucky–we didn’t realize how lucky, in fact–because when Ronnie had arrived, all the doctors were in the hospital for a meeting. No one had to be called in. Everyone Ronnie needed was right on hand, and there was no waiting. …

I wanted to stay there all night, but the feeling was that it would be better for the country if I left and went back to sleep at the White House. Otherwise, people would have assumed the worst and there would have been panic. As it was, Ronnie’s aides had to do all they could to calm the country down. The briefings made to the press were partial, to say the least. The assassination attempt was really a much closer call than people were led to believe at the time. Everyone was trying not to frighten the people in the country, but the fact was, Ronnie almost died. It was a miracle that he didn’t. And I knew all along how serious things really were. …

Needless to say, I was terrified. After the shooting, every time Ronnie walked out the door to make a public appearance, my heart would stop–and it wouldn’t start again until he came back home safely. Ronnie knew how scared I was. But if he was frightened too, he never let me know it. As always, he was cheerful and optimistic. God had spared him, he believed; there had to be a reason why. By making jokes…he tried to take the edge off my fear.

The Reagans wave from the White House after Pr...

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Who could fault the First Lady’s hovering over the President thereafter? No wonder her seeming control of his life, personal and public, for which the media liked to criticize her. I know because they had me convinced she was running the country with her husband, an unofficial cabinet member, as was constantly written and spoken of in the news. How the spinmeisters love to slant the facts. Readers, beware!

Fast forward to July 1989, after the Reagans had left the White House. Visiting with friends Betty and Bill Wilson at their ranch in Mexico, the President went riding. An accident occurred.

Ronnie had been thrown off his horse. He was riding with some other men, going up an incline, when one of the ranch hands had hit something that made a loud noise and spooked Ronnie’s horse.

The horse reared once, and Ronnie stayed on. It reared a second time, and Ronnie stayed on again. Two Secret Service men tried to move in and calm the horse, but they couldn’t do it. The horse reared a third time, bucking so hard that Ronnie fell off and hit his head on the ground, miraculously missing the jagged rocks all around.

President Ronald Reagan

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We got him on a plane and immediately took him to a hospital in Tucson, Arizona. He should really have stayed there, but it was my birthday and the Wilsons had planned a celebration, and Ronnie was determined to go back to the ranch. We went back–but at my insistence, we took a doctor with me.

The day after…we flew home. I was very uneasy and kept at Ronnie until he agreed to get his head X-rayed. We went to the Mayo Clinic, where we’d gone every year for checkups. It turned out that Ronnie had a concussion and a subdural hematoma. He needed to be operated on right away. It all happened so quickly that I think, once again, I was in shock. …

I’ve always had the feeling that the severe blow to his head in 1989 hastened the onset of Ronnie’s Alzheimer’s. The doctors think so, too. In the years leading up to the diagnosis of the disease, in August 1994, he had not shown symptoms of the illness. I didn’t suspect that Ronnie was ill when we went back to the Mayo Clinic that summer for our regular checkup. When the doctors told us they’d found symptoms of Alzheimer’s, I was dumbfounded. Ronnie’s fall from the horse had worried me terribly, of course, and I’d had to urge him to take time out to recover after his operation. But I had seen no signs of anything else.

There’s no telling if President Reagan would have enjoyed more years of retirement, free from the debilitating symptoms of Alzheimer’s. How fragile the brain, with only the skull as protection from the hazards of everyday life…like horse back riding. Spared from the assassin’s bullet, Reagan succumbed to no less a devastating end. As his devoted wife, and true witness to her husband’s last 50 years on earth, Nancy Reagan suffered Alzheimer’s alongside him.

Senator Corker greets former First Lady Nancy ...

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…First of all, there is a feeling of loneliness when you’re in this situation. Not that your friends aren’t supportive of you; they are. But no one can really know what it’s like unless they’ve traveled this path–and there are many right now traveling the same path I am. You know that it’s a progressive disease and that there’s no place to go but down, no light at the end of the tunnel. You get tired and frustrated, because you have no control and you feel helpless. We’ve had an extraordinary life, and I’ve been blessed to have been married for almost fifty years to a man I deeply love–but the other side of the coin is that it makes it harder. There are so many memories that I can no longer share, which makes it very difficult. When it comes right down to it, you’re in it alone. Each day is different, and you get up, put one foot in front of the other, and go–and love; just love.

I try to remember Ronnie telling me so many times that God has a plan for us which we don’t understand now but one day will, or my mother saying that you play the hand that’s dealt you. It’s hard, but even now there are moments Ronnie has given me that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Alzheimer’s is a truly long, long good-bye. But it’s the living out of love.

Photograph of Newlyweds Ronald Reagan and Nanc...

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…blest by true love…even in the face of adversity…hugmamma. 

 

not so friendly skies

 Hearing about a Delta Airline flight whose passengers were closeted in a plane for 3 hours on the tarmac, inspired me to write this post. An engine problem was said to be the culprit, but upon close inspection nothing was found to be amiss. To Delta’s chagrin, the event was broadcast worldwide on YouTube. A very resourceful passenger captured his image with the camera on his cell phone.  Beads of sweat were shown cascading down his bald scalp, over his brows, and onto his cheekbones. It wasn’t a pretty sight. I can’t imagine that it felt any better than it looked. This picture ran countless times throughout the newscast. The Network drove home its point, and then some. Of course they included snippets of an interview with the passenger. In it he underscored how awful the situation was by explaining, that as a soldier, he’d served in Africa where temperatures soared well over 100 degrees. He’d also endured grueling conditions as a navy Seal. But nothing, he said, NOTHING could compare with the abhorrent conditions he experienced onboard Delta’s “flight from Hell.”  

Pictures of fellow passengers showed their disgruntled faces. Children’s cheeks were flushed from the heat. The air-conditioning was left off because of the supposed engine problem. A lone flight attendant finally took it upon herself to distribute bottles of water. Meanwhile, no announcements were made to explain the situation to the passengers. And according to the man in the picture, no apology was extended by Delta. I don’t remember what was contained in a formal letter sent by the airline. But judging from the man’s demeanor, it didn’t contain the mea culpa he expected. My husband and I experienced a similar situation on a USAirways flight leaving Philadelphia, but the outcome was considerably different.

Taxiing out on the runway, we were lined up with other outbound flights. It wasn’t clear if a passenger forced the captain to relinquish his place in line when she went to the bathroom, ignoring the “fasten your seat belt ” sign. I gathered that’s what happened because announcements were made to that effect. Pulling out of position, the plane went to the back of the line. Then Mother Nature stepped in, and “leveled the playing field.” All flights were delayed indefinitely because of bad weather in the Midwest. 

TV newscasts showing scenes like the one described earlier, drifted through my mind. I let myself go numb, knowing there was nothing to be done but settle in for the long haul. Getting agitated wouldn’t resolve the situation, and the accompanying stress would go against my resolve to stay healthy, and avoid Alzheimer’s. You know the old saying “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.” 

Unlike Delta’s indifference to its passengers, USAir kept us apprised of the status of our delay. It was like having an open phone line between the cockpit and the cabin. When the captain wasn’t on the line, the flight attendants were. At the time I was slightly annoyed. (I told you I was calm, not dead.) I just wanted them to stop talking and do something, anything, to relieve our discomfort. Even in business class, the seats were HARD. More disturbing, you’d have thought there was a party going on! (Helllooo…am I the only one wanting to get underway here?)  The  flight attendants strolled the aisle, smiling and laughing while serving up cups of water, and casually visiting with passengers who got up to remove items from overhead bins. All around me were voices chattering, while I sat with furrowed brow.

Finally, the captain announced that our plane would be returning to the terminal. Once there, the door was opened and a ticket agent came aboard. From the cockpit came a further update that our delay would depend upon reconfiguration of flight patterns due to the thunderstorms and lightning. What came next must have surprised my fellow travelers as much as it did me. We were told that, because of new government regulations, passengers were free to disembark to make other arrangements if they so chose. Now THAT caught my attention! Wow! An airline wasputting the passenger ahead of the “bottom line.” Of course they had their “neck on the block,” but no matter. While it didn’t make a loyal fan of me, USAir won my respect.

My husband and I have both worked in the airline industry, he with Pan Am, and me with Iran Air and TWA.  Airline employees enjoy very nice perks, foremost of which is traveling free or at greatly discounted rates. It does involve going “stand by,” where they literally stand around waiting to hear their names called if space is available on the aircraft. This can be nerve-wracking, especially when accompanied by young children who wonder aloud “Why can’t we get on yet?” The wait is worthwhile, however, if they’re upgraded to first class…for free.

When we flew our own airlines, we awaited takeoff, giddy and delighted at our good fortune.  Gazing out the window, we’d admire the planes bearing the company logo. We felt proud, and special. Proud to be employed by companies who transported people all over the world. Special, because we were part of what seemed a fantasy, air travel. We dressed accordingly, suit and tie for my husband, dress and heels for me. Stewardesses were fashionistas, carefully groomed from head to toe. How I admired, and wanted to be one of them. But they seemed an elite class. Pilots too seemed like mythical beings, ensconced in their private domain, the cockpit. Catching a glimpse inside was a treat, sitting in one during flight was memorable. I had that privilege once, on an Iran Air flight.  Reminiscing about air travel in decades past, makes me think how different it is today.

I’ve agreed with friends that flying today is like riding a bus. Line up; get your ticket punched; squeeze into a seat; read your book or paper; eat food you’ve brought aboard; get to your destination, deplane, and go your own way. Flight attendants are likened to waiters and waitresses, except they may, or may not, serve you something. These days, you couldn’t pay me to be one of them. I’d much rather sit in my comfy jeans, “catching 40 winks” or some part thereof. Now, passengers try to cram as much as possible into carry-on luggage, not wanting to hand over $15, $20, or $30 for checked bags.

Airline travel has certainly changed. Deregulation enabled airlines to set their own rates which allowed consumers more options in popular markets; not so much, in  less traveled markets. Big companies scrambled, some eventually closed their doors, or merged with others to survive. Small companies like Southwest and Jet Blue grew to prominence with travelers who wanted the biggest “bang” for their buck. The industry continues to expand and contract, mirroring the economy upon which it depends.

My initial experience with Southwest was terrible. Traveling with my husband and daughter, we stood in the haphazard line waiting to board. People were sitting on the floor or standing, luggage at the ready, making sure they’d get a good seat, for it was “first-come, first-serve.” Then unexpectedly a voice was heard over the loudspeaker calling out a gate change. A mad scramble ensued. Everyone made a dash for the new gate. Upon arriving there, our family was nearer the front of the line than before. Eventually we heard murmurings at the back that there was another change. Slowly the line unraveled, people running in another direction. Finally making it aboard the plane, my husband, daughter and I managed to sit together in one row. There and then, I made my husband promise never to book another Southwest flight again. He promised. 

Fast forward to now, and Southwest is my airline of choice. Management figured out that herding passengers like cattle wasn’t good for public relations. A new system was put into effect lining people up according to positions assigned upon check-in, A-1 through 30, B-1 through 30, and c-1 through 30. People are more civil; boarding runs more smoothly. Without the lengthy process inherent with other airlines, it seems Southwest is in and out of the gate more quickly. Service on board is comparable to major carriers, sometimes even besting them. Air fares are comparable or better.

Current air travel is a “free-for-all.” Passengers get, or don’t get, what they pay for; airlines make, or don’t make, a profit. Fate seems to have the upper hand these days. I’m not sure what to think.

what do you think?…hugmamma.