My earliest memory of politics came during the presidential election between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. There was a girl named Misty in my first-grade class in Texas who was a master of the playground. To this day, I still have a clear vision of Misty pumping her legs back and forth on the swing set, chanting… “Reagan! Reagan! He’s our man! Carter belongs in the garbage can!”
I remember Misty getting riled up during milk break, once. “Man, I wish I could vote,” she said. “If Jimmy Carter keeps being President, our cars won’t have any gas.” I remember being troubled by her statement. we lived in a small town then, and the closest Pizza Hut was a good 40 minute car ride away. I had never cared about politics until that moment when I realized my own enjoyment of supreme pizza and a good game of Ms. Pacman might be threatened.
The day Ronald Reagan claimed his victory, Misty came into class elated and declared to all of us… “That peanut farmer finally got the kick in the nuts he deserved.”
So, it really shouldn’t have surprised me when Harper came home from her first day of first-grade having had an intense political conversation with a playmate.
Me: So, who do you sit next to in school?
Harp: A boy I just met this year. He said Barack Obama is a liar. Is that true?
Me: What? No! That…That is not a nice thing to say.
Harp: I told him George Bush is a liar.
Me: OK, well…Also not nice. What’d he say?
Harp: He says George Bush chopped down a cherry tree. Is that true?
Me: Wrong Geor…Nevermind. No, not true.
Harp: His sister says they are going to give Barack Obama a peach and then he will move out of the White House. Is that true? They aren’t going to give Barack Obama a peach, are they mommy? You know how much I love him.
Me: What?!?! OH… Impeach him… No. No one is giving Barack Obama a peach.
Harp: I told him we went to the Ronald Reagan library this summer and he didn’t even know who Ronald Reagan was.
Me: (Stunned) And this kid has the audacity to call himself a republican?
For those who don’t know… Los Angeles might be the most liberal city in America, but just North of the San Fernando Valley lies every young republican’s mecca… The Ronald Reagan Memorial Library in Simi Valley, California.
My friend Jolene was visiting with her kids (Marina and Spencer) from San Diego, so we all ventured deep into the heart of republica-ville, that shining city on a hill, Simi Valley!
The powers that created this wonderland took Reagan’s words literally. The library is smack dab on top of a large hill. Lights ablaze, it is a shining city on a hill, or at least a shining building. As we wound our way up Mount Reagan, Jolene (a fan of Reagan) took a moment to say… “I’m really excited about this. We should enjoy learning about the California Governor and former President… And not be too sarcastic about it as we go through.”
Clearly, that remark was meant for me, a liberal…. But in all sincerity, I had no desire to be cynical about the former President. His life is an important part of history. And in my child’s mind, he was responsible for a lot of the pizza I ate in the 80s.
Harper, Marina, and Spencer were all excited about the trip. They had never heard of Ronald Reagan and I thought of teaching them Misty’s swing set chant, so they could say it loudly as we explored… But I thought of Jolene’s words and decided to stay quiet.
Here is a picture of them in front of a Bronze statue of The Gipper:
And here is another one of them looking distinguished in front of the Presidential Seal:
The Reagan Library is large and takes around five hours to go through. Yowch! You heard me right. It is HUUGGGEEE!!!
It starts at his childhood and has actual essays and homework assignments completed by Ronald Reagan. There’s even an old yearbook he signed showing he was always the master of the one-liner… “Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music,” he wrote to a friend in high school. Smooth.
As I ruffled through Reagan’s clothes, his books, his military letters and private trinkets from his young adulthood… I thought of my own death and how one day someone might be ruffling through my own historical items…What kind of things might they find?
All the boxes of uneaten Nutri-sytem stored in my garage…
All the different scented candles…
My old porcelain clown collection…
What had I written in someone’s yearbook? Nothing as good as what Ronald Reagan wrote… “Life is Grand…One sweet song… Start the music!”
I couldn’t remember anything I’d written in a yearbook. Maybe… “You are totally tubular!” Or “Wow! Can’t wait til we are all 21 and drinking Zimas together!”
The Reagan Library was making me feel uncomfortable… Like I needed to start saying more positive things, and writing it down on people’s stuff… And also cleaning out everything in my house… I really needed to get my crap together. I may not ever have my own library when I die… But someone will certainly go through my stuff, and what will they find?!?!? I do have a gratitude journal… But most of the items I’m grateful for are things like… The smell of bacon… and Coffee from a French Press. I need to start being thankful for bigger more important things!!!
LIFE IS GRAND! ONE SWEET SONG! SO LET’S START THE MUSIC!!!
It was around this time of my anxiety attack, that we entered the area of the recreated Berlin Wall. Kids can run and play amidst a large re-creation inside the museum… There are holes in the wall so people climb back and forth exploring it… I wonder if the original planners of the museum envisioned people reenacting East and West Germany… Sneaking from one side to the next… trying to avoid gunshot or life imprisonment and/or torture…
But the kids just chased each other and hid around it. At one point, while Harper, Marina, and Spencer were running and playing around the remains of the Berlin Wall, Harper stopped for a moment, and said… “Why would Ronald Reagan want to tear down this wall? It’s so much fun! I love this wall!!!!” Spencer also piped up and said, “I love the Berlin Wall! The Berlin Wall is my favorite wall!”
Moving on to the next section, was a large area dedicated to the threat of communism throughout history. Large pictures of Chairman Mao, Stalin, and Castro looking angry are blown up in a dark room and backlit.
“These guys are mean!” Harper said, having never been told about any of them. “They don’t like to smile,” Spencer observed. And in truth, the pictures of the despots really show them at their worst. There are no pictures of Kim Jung Il enjoying a nice plate of Korean BBQ with his family. And no photos of Moammar Gadhafi laughing as he throws back a cold brew with his buddies Saddam Hussein and the Ayatollah Khomeini.
While Spencer and Harper sat quietly in a corner watching a movie about the Arms Race, I took a moment to explore various artifacts from that era, which highlighted meetings and conversations between Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev. I was reading a hand-written thank you note to Ronald Reagan from a former Russian prisoner, when Harper walked up to me, and with a solemn face said… “If you get pregnant in Russia, they’ll put you in jail.”
“No, they won’t, Harper,” I said. “You could always get pregnant in Russia. It’s never been illegal to get pregnant.”
“Yes it was!” she told me. “I heard it on the old telephone.”
I saw then, that Harper and Spencer had been listening to “Testimonies from the Gulag.” This is a section of the museum featuring stories from people who had survived the Soviet labor camp.
When I walked over, Spencer was listening to one of the testimonies as well. “Miss Amy,” he said…. “These are just like the old-timey phones you used to use when you were a kid. It’s like we’re in the old days again.”
As we exited the Communism Section, Spencer turned to a museum full of people and in a loud voice he raised his hands in the air and shouted, “I HATE RUSSIA! I HATE RUSSIA!” Mission accomplished, Reagan Library!
“No you don’t,” Jolene quickly corrected him. “None of us hates Russia. None of us hates anyone. It’s just a place full of people like us.”
We rushed out of that section and into an area where Nancy Reagan’s ball gowns were displayed and also the game boards featuring her JUST SAY NO (to drugs) campaign.
I was reminded of a performance I saw in high school during a pep assembly, when a group of men too old to be Rock Stars, but too young to be parents, showed up dressed like Def Leppard and announced. “Nancy Reagan sent us here to play some rock- and- roll for you kids and tell you to JUST SAY NO!!!” The band played thirty minutes of unmemorable music, but I remember the drummer had drum sticks that looked like skeleton bones. I don’t remember much about the concert, but I do know I’ve never had a drug problem. Thank you, Nancy Reagan.
Our tour ended in a large and beautiful hangar, which houses the actual Air Force One used by Reagan and Carter (the nut-crunching peanut farmer).
We toured the plane, which was interesting and stocked with jelly beans (Reagan’s favorite candy). At the end, we sat down and had some nice refreshing bottled beverages called LENIN-ADE another homage to the threat of communism.
The trip to the Reagan library was more than I expected. It wasn’t just a historical tour, it was like walking back in time, and remembering some moments in life that I had forgotten.
The Reagan Library concludes with the handwritten letter Ronald Reagan wrote once he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He famously says… “I will now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life.”
I thought of all the people I remembered as I walked through the Reagan Library, people in my childhood, my teenage years… All of us moving toward the sunset of our lives. As we drove away, I told Jolene about Misty, and we laughed and all paid homage to that young republican.