friday fictioneers: history rewritten…

Copyright - Janet Webb

For her, I’d give up everything. If I could  magically wish away my reality, I would.

When I’m holding her, we’re like a smoldering flame melting into one another.

Her laughter, like a child’s. She makes me feel like a boy again. A naughty boy.

She’s unlike any woman I’ve ever known. I know my parents wouldn’t approve, although dad would love a roll in the hay with Marilyn.

God! How I hate that man! I’d walk out on him and everybody else if I could.

Dear Caroline and John,

Forgive me. I can’t help myself.

All my love,

Daddy

something in common…an uncommon love affair

Official White House photograph of Nancy Reaga...

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I’m in the process of reading I Love You, Ronnie – The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan, and I must admit to loving it. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be interested in their relationship. Mostly because I have never, ever been a fan of hers. Silly reason being I always thought her head was too large for her body. Seeing the couple side-by-side only confirmed my opinion. I was always gaga about Reagan’s Greek god, good looks. As an actress, Nancy Davis had a pretty face in a plain sort of way, but it was larger than his, larger than anyone’s. But my opinion softened the more I glimpsed of her as First Lady. I’m certain her hairstyle did much to downplay the size of her head. In fact I thought she was very attractive while living in the White House. And now I know why. Nancy was radiant because of her all-consuming love for her husband.

Looking back now, I still can’t define what it was about Ronnie that made him seem so very perfect to me. I think we were just right for each other. And as the evening went on, I was more and more convinced. Ronnie had a great sense of humor, and he wasn’t like any other actor I knew–or anybody else in the movie business. He didn’t talk about himself. He didn’t talk about his movies. He talked about lots of things, but not about “my next picture, my last picture…” He was a Civil War buff, loved horses, and knew a lot about wine. In fact, he had a broad knowledge of a lot of different things. I loved to listen to him talk. I loved his sense of humor. I saw it clearly that very first night: He was everything that I wanted.

 Oddly enough I can relate to how Nancy Reagan felt. I met my husband when I was 17, and he was 18. I think it was “love at first sight” for both of us. Or maybe it was passion. Whatever the case, it seemed we were both hit by lightning when our eyes met.

I was a second semester freshman at the University of Hawaii, while my future husband was attending a small Catholic college nearby. Having returned from San Francisco a week earlier where he had been in a seminary, studying to be a priest, he was now one of many available “fish” in the sea. We met at the birthday party of a mutual friend. She and I shared a class at the University; he’d known her in elementary school. The party was in full swing when he rang the doorbell. When the hostess opened the door, all eyes were riveted upon the tall, dark, handsome guy standing there. If I’d have been a fly on the wall, I’m sure I would’ve witnessed all the girls eyes pop out of their sockets, and their mouths drop down to their chests, including mine! A huge Elvis fan, to me the guy in the doorway could’ve passed as a double.

I was introduced, as were all the other girls. But unlike most of them I was certain I didn’t stand a chance. Why? I’ve always had this perception that part-White, part-Asian girls are some of the most beautiful in the world. Still do. My husband is Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese. So of course he represented my viewpoint as it pertains to men. Naturally I assumed he and the girls with similar pedigree would go off and make beautiful music together. You can imagine my shock, and delight, when it was me he pursued! My best friend at the time watched with me, as he made his way from bar stool to bar stool to bar stool, until he was sitting right alongside me. The sizzles went right through me! I’m certain I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight, and I know I must’ve been grinning from ear to ear. I had only thought to make him comfortable when we first met, with my unflinching gift for blah, blah, blah. Well it seems I charmed the pants off my future husband from the get-go. And the rest is history, as they say.

Who would’ve thought that Nancy Reagan and I were sisters beneath the skin? Or in matters of the heart? Even as it applied to outsiders who seemed intent upon coming between her and her man. While we dated, and throughout our marriage, women seemed attracted to my husband. I could only wonder when a realtor asked me how it was he married me, or when a friend let me know that she was next in line for him, or when a sister-in-law teased that if she’d met him first, my husband would’ve married her. Then there were the sales women who lined up to kiss him on his birthday when he was in his early 20s, and a woman who offered her phone number should he ever visit her hometown, Chicago.

While in the White House, Nancy Reagan was unattractively depicted as being overly protective of the President. At the time I was probably swayed by the media to agree. But in light of what I’ve read, I give her credit for having the confidence and obvious self-esteem to stand up to the criticism, or ignore it altogether. I had neither, and so I felt like a doormat as women left their off-putting remarks and actions imprinted upon my fragile psyche. But like the Reagans, my husband and I have weathered the years like 2 buoys bobbing up and down in rough seas, or like 2 seagulls sitting atop the glassy surface of calm waters.

Of course none of us are saints, even though I called my husband one during one of our first arguments as a married couple.  With tears still glistening in his eyes he told me how hurt he felt when I had yelled “Do you know how hard it is living with a saint?” I promised never to say such a thing again. But I’m sure I failed to honor my word, at least once or twice thereafter. Any woman who’s lived with an ex-seminarian knows what I mean. When we’d argue, I’d be on both sides of the fence. I’d be just as vociferous about his inability to comprehend my woman’s needs, as I was about fighting for my rights as an equal partner. The nuns did a great job instilling guilt into my moral fiber. I’m still picking off the leftover lint to this day.

It came as no surprise that the Reagans were like other married folk. They didn’t always sail the ocean blue without so much as a white cap.

Like any other couple, we didn’t agree on everything, of course. But we never really argued. We worked on things. And I think that’s why, beyond our love for each other, our marriage has always been so happy. What we felt was right out there, just as it is the letters.

In response to a letter from a bride asking for tips towards succeeding in her marriage, Nancy wrote:

I’ve been very lucky. However, I don’t ever remember once sitting down and mapping out a blueprint. It just became “we” instead of “I” very naturally and easily. And you live as you never have before, despite problems, separations and conflicts. I suppose mainly you have to be willing to want to give.

It’s not always 50-50. Sometimes one partner gives 90 percent but then sometimes the other one does, so it all evens out. It’s not always easy, it’s something you have to work at, and I don’t think many young people realize that today. But the rewards are great. I can’t remember what my life was like before, and I can’t imagine not being married to Ronnie. When two people really love each other they help each other stay alive and grow. There’s nothing more fulfilling than to become a complete person for the first time. I suppose it boils down to being willing to try to understand, to give of yourself, to be supportive and not to let the sun go down on an argument.

I hope that yours will be a happy road ahead. I’m afraid I’ve rambled a bit, and of course, I can only speak for myself. However, when I married, my life took on an added meaning and depth and truly began. I’m sure yours will too.

I couldn’t have said it more eloquently myself. And like Nancy to this day I dread my husband’s business trips. In my 20s I would cry the entire week before he left. I no longer succumb to youthful self-pity, but I miss my husband’s presence. He likewise confesses to being unable to sleep when he’s not nestled comfortably in his own bed, with me by his side.

When Ronnie traveled now, I missed the little things most of all–the ways he loved and cared for me, how he would cover my shoulder with the blanket every night before we went to sleep, how we always slept on the same sides of the bed–him on the left, and me on the right–how we had breakfast on trays in bed together on weekends, which we started doing in our new house in the Palisades. I hated it even more then, when he went away. No matter how necessary it was for his work and the family, I never got used to it.

And then there’s Alzheimer’s. Those of you who’ve been reading hugmamma’s mind, body, and soul since the beginning of time, know that I’m proactive in my efforts to battle the disease which had my mom in its iron grips for nearly a decade before she died. Knowing of the Reagan’s devotion to one another over the course of 50 some years, I have great empathy for the loss she suffered when Alzheimer’s made off with her husband. All who have become one in body and spirit with their partner, would feel similarly. But thanks to Ronald Reagan’s propensity for writing, his presence lingered on in his love letters to Nancy.

President Ronald Reagan cutting in on Nancy Re...

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When Ronnie and I were married, on March 4, 1952, I had of course no idea what the future would hold for us. I only knew that I loved Ronald Reagan, and being his wife was then, as it is today, the most important thing in the world for me. “My life really began when I met Ronald Reagan,” I said some years ago, and I also said, “I can’t imagine life without Ronnie.” Those statements, for which I was criticized back then are just as true for me today as they were five decades ago–despite Alzheimer’s, aging, and all the things that have happened to us. As the years have gone by and Alzheimer’s has taken away Ronnie’s ability to share our happy memories with me, his letters have come to mean even more. In fact, they are a kind of lifeline–preserving the past, Ronnie’s wonderful voice and humor, his character, and his special way of seeing things and expressing himself. As they bring back Ronnie in his own words they help me go on into the future. Many people have said to me after reading I Love You, Ronnie , “I had no idea Ronald Reagan was like that.” But I of course always knew, and I treasure these letters especially because they bring back the Ronnie I have always loved.

The inevitable, final parting awaits all of us. Perhaps it need not be without its own happy ending, “a la” Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

…as I reflect some more on the life Ronnie and I have shared, I would add that saying how much you love each other–to each other and also in letters that can be saved, read, and reread over the years–is a wonderful way to stay close. It is especially important in our busy lives to keep alive what really matters most: love, caring for each other, finding concrete ways to say it and show it, every day and in every way you can. It’s what endures, after all, and what we retain and hold on to, especially in our hearts.

…Ronnie’s letters move me to this day. They are his gift to me across the years, and throughout the decades of love.

Former President Ronald Reagan and First Lady ...

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…an uncommon love affair that continues to endure…

…like mine…hugmamma.

 

 

 

getting my mojo back…with love letters

It doesn’t take long to settle into the rut that is my life. I say that with my usual tongue-in-cheek humor. But after the last few weeks of unexpected twists and turns, I’m glad to be doing the same old, same old. There’s comfort and bountiful pleasure in just being able to muddle along…contentedly. Small things mean a lot at this stage of my life.

Cover of

Cover of Elvis in the Twilight of Memory

Half-Price Books at Crossroads Mall is where my eyeballs become the size of saucers. You know, cups and saucers. The biography section being my favorite. It’s always inevitable that a title or two or three will beckon me to buy, and I usually do. Books about celebs from the Golden Age of Hollywood, or singers whose songs got my foot tapping or my heart beating, or historical figures who let their guard down, always get my attention. Skimming the jacket covers I decide if, in fact, they’re worth my time and money. The titles I brought home tonight? Herbert G. Goldman’s Fanny Brice – The Original Funny Girl, Paul Alexander’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams – The Life, Times, and legend of James Dean, Elvis – in the twilight of memory by teenage girlfriend June Juanico, The Bluebird Cafe Scrapbook – Music & Memories from Nashville’s Legendary Singer-Songwriter Showcase edited by Amy Kurland, Mark Benner & Neil Fagan, and I Love You, Ronnie – The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

If you’re a regular to hugmamma’s mind, body and soul, you already know you’ll probably be reading a review of one or more of the above-mentioned books. But the one that most impressed me tonight was the slim paperback containing Reagan’s love letters to his wife, Nancy.

Unlike most of America it seems, I was more enthralled with Ronald Reagan the actor than Ronald Reagan the president. Not that I didn’t think he was fine, but after all he was a Republican, not necessarily my brand of politician, although I might’ve voted for him. Neither was I a huge fan of Nancy Davis, preferring Jane Wyman, the first Mrs. Reagan. But all this is ancient history, as they say. What was obvious then, and now, is how devoted the Reagans were to one another. That’s why I was intrigued by the book of letters. Following are 3 of the many contained therein.

July 13 (1954)…a.m.

My Darling
     The first day of shooting and like all first days I can’t tell you good bad or indifferent. Everything is hectic and upset what with the truck caravan arriving from L.A. in the dark last night. Most of the morning was spent getting the trucks unloaded and the equipment straightened out. Ben. B. is on hand so things can really get buggered up. I think Alan D. is trying to get some of the story holes plugged and this morning changed one scene “a la” a suggestion from “guess who.” However, our opposition is B.B. himself so I only whisper in an off-ear and let them fight it out. So far “Lady S.” is no help–taking the attitude of “who cares in these kinds of pictures.”
     However there is one golden glow warming my soul in this first sunset–I’m twenty-four hours closer to you. Last night was another one of those nights–just too beautiful to stand. So tonight I’ll probably be looking at the Moon which means I’ll be looking at you–literally and figuratively because it lays far to the South of this mountain top and that’s where you are. That takes care of the “literal” part–the “figurative” part requires no direction, I just see you in all the beauty there is because in you I’ve found all the beauty in my life.
     Please be careful and don’t get too good at covering your own shoulder at night–I’d miss doing it. Be careful in every other way too–nothing would have meaning without you.
     Now if two “Muffins” I know will exchange a kiss for me–my good night will have been said.

I love you
Ronnie

Newlyweds Ronald and Nancy Reagan, March 4, 1952

Image via Wikipedia

Feb. 14 (1960)

Darling Mommie Poo
     Feb. 14 may be the date they observe and call Valentine’s Day but that is for people of only ordinary luck.
     I happen to have a “Valentine Life” which started on March 4 1952 and will continue as long as I have you.
     Therefore realizing the importance of this to me, will you be my Valentine from now on and for ever and ever? You see my choice is limited, a Valentine Life or no life because I love you very much.

Poppa

According to Nancy Reagan “The assassination attempt made us realize how very precious our lives were. It made us all the more devoted to each other. I think this comes through very strongly in Ronnie’s Christmas letter of 1981, written nine months after the shooting.”

The White House
Washington

Dec. 25 1981

Nancy Reagan says her last goodbyes to the pre...

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Mrs. Reagan 2

Image via Wikipedia

Dear Mrs. R.
     I still don’t feel right about your opening an envelope instead of a gift package.
     There are several much beloved women in my life and on Christmas I should be giving them gold, precious stones, perfume, furs and lace. I know that even the best of these would still fall far short of expressing how much these several women mean to me and how empty my life would be without them.
     There is of course my “First Lady.” She brings so much grace and charm to whatever she does that even stuffy, formal functions sparkle and turn into fun times. Everything is done with class. All I have to do is wash up and show up.
     There is another woman in my life who does things I don’t always get to see but I hear about them and sometimes see photos of her doing them. She takes an abandoned child in her arms on a hospital visit. The look on her face only the Madonna could match. The look on the child’s face is one of adoration. I know because I adore her too.
     She bends over a wheelchair or bed to touch an elderly invalid with tenderness and compassion just as she fills my life with warmth and love.
     There is another gal I love who is a nest builder. If she were stuck three days in a hotel room she’d manage to make it home sweet home. She moves things around–looks at it–straightens this and that and you wonder why it wasn’t that way in the first place.
     I’m also crazy about the girl who goes to the ranch with me. If we’re tidying up the woods she’s a peewee power house at pushing over dead trees. She’s a wonderful person to sit by the fire with, or to ride with or just to be with when the sun goes down or the stars come out. If she ever stopped going to the ranch I’d stop too because I’d see her in every beauty spot there is and I couldn’t stand that.
     Then there is a sentimental lady I love whose eyes fill up so easily. On the other hand she loves to laugh and her laugh is like tinkling bells. I hear those bells and feel good all over even if I tell a joke she’s heard before.
     Fortunately all these women in my life are you–fortunately for me that is, for there could be no life for me without you. Browning asked; “How do I love thee–let me count the ways?” For me there is no way to count. I love the whole gang of you–Mommie, first lady, the sentimental you, the fun you and the peewee power house you.
     And oh yes, one other very special you–the little girl who takes a “nana” to bed in case she gets hungry in the night. I couldn’t & don’t sleep well if she isn’t there–so please always be there.

     Merry Christmas you all–with all my love.

Lucky me.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

 I Love You, Ronnie should be required reading for men and boys everywhere. Maybe then both sexes would be from the same planet…Venus. Now I “get” the passion between Nancy and her Ronnie. Perhaps if this book had been published at the time he was president, onlookers wouldn’t have been so disparaging of her. But then again the naysayers would have probably faulted her for self-promotion had she made the letters known back then. Or worse, the couple might’ve been ridiculed for being more absorbed with one another than they were already viewed as being. Whatever the case may be, I’m glad Nancy Reagan gave us a peek inside her love affair with Ronald Reagan.

…always room for one more pair of star-crossed lovers…another Romeo and his Juliet…hugmamma.