Ronald Reagan, Happy at Home.
by Craig Shirley
Ronald Reagan was the most paradoxical of men. He was in the public eye his entire life, yet he craved privacy. He was a hail-fellow-well-met, but also reserved. He was accused by his enemies of being cold-hearted, but in truth he was the most tender of men, who wept easily and bravely. He was said by some to be of average intelligence, but his aide, Marty Anderson, an intellectual, estimated the Gipper’s IQ at 170. Reagan read five newspapers a day, at least one book a week, countless presidential briefings, but was charged by enemies of being poorly informed. He personally chaired hundreds of meetings of the National Security Council in his eight years as president, but some accused him of not knowing his own foreign policy. He was often derided as lazy, yet was a success at many careers, even before the presidency.
When we think of Ronald Reagan, during these days of sequestration, it is often an image of him standing in Moscow Square or giving a speech in Parliament or some other important international forum. Truth be told, though, Reagan was often a homebody who was more happy curling up with a book in front of a fire, endlessly writing letters, speeches or working out-of-doors with an axe or a chainsaw.
In the course of his life, Reagan lived in thirty seven different locations, not including his final resting place at the Reagan Presidential Library, at 40 Presidential Drive in Simi Valley, California. Nor does this list include Camp David, the presidential retreat where he and Mrs. Reagan often went, to escape Washington, a city and culture they both despised. In the many years following his presidency, they visited the city very few times: to receive the presidential Medal of Freedom; for his presidential portrait unveiling and for him to lay in state in the Rotunda where Mrs. Reagan wept at his side in June, 2004.
Reagan and his family moved seven times before he attended Eureka College, so by the time he was a young man, he was comfortable throwing his hat down and putting his feet up wherever he was. The Hennepin Street house in tiny Dixon, Illinois is often referred to as his boyhood home -though he only lived there four years--but he was born in a second floor apartment in even tinier Tampico, Illinois, his official birthplace. Stories vary on what business may have been on the first floor. Some have said it was a bank, others said it was bar, a bakery, a general store or a restaurant. As a young adult, he also lived in NYC for eleven months during an extended War Loan Drive.
But until his Hollywood salad days, he’d lived the longest---four years—at the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity house---“TKE” at Eureka.
It is not well known, but he actually owned two other ranches before settling on Rancho Del Cielo outside Santa Barbara. In his eight years as President, he and Nancy were at Rancho Del Cielo, in total, approximately one year. Mrs. Reagan was never wild about the ranch as many know, yet she was happy to be with her Ronnie wherever he was. He, as all know, loved the solitude of the ranch and Mrs. Reagan came to terms with it as it was one of the few places she could have him to herself. She much preferred their final estate at 668 St. Cloud Drive in Bel Air, with its privacy, iron gates, stone walls and proximity to her friends and bustling LA. It was 7,000 square feet, $2.5 million in 1988---small by Bel Air standards---but driving by the Reagan home was popular for tourists, hence the need for security and privacy. (The original house number was “666” but Reagan requested the change, as in the New Testament Book of Revelations, the number is associated with Satan.)
Though not well known, Mrs. Reagan continued her work with “Just Say No” after leaving the White House. Indeed, at 65 years of age, she once accompanied LA police on a drug bust. According to the Chicago Tribune, she was present for the arrest of 14 suspects.
For Reagan, it was not about a house, bricks, nails or mortar but who was inside that house. As he once wrote his son, Mike, years before his presidency, “There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of the day knowing someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps.” Also enclosed in the letter was a torn up IOU.
Despite the canard told in a couple of books, Reagan was never a carouser, as he explained in the same, long letter. “You have entered into the most meaningful relationship thee is in all of human life.” But he also saw the humor in the sacred vows between a man and a woman, saying, “It does take quite a man to remain attractive and to be loved by a woman who has heard him snore, seen him unshaven, tended him while he was sick and washed his dirty underwear.” (He may have also been the first and only future president to use the word “twerp” in a sentence.) Above all, Reagan wanted a stable home, a stable marriage, a stable family. “Mike, you know better than many what an unhappy home is and what it can do to others.” Eventually, he wanted a stable country.
Writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Happy will that house be in which the relations are formed from character” which may explain why Reagan, a man of extraordinary character, quoted the government-questioning-Emerson so often. For Reagan, character was the most important foundation in a home. For Reagan, it was a moral impossibility for anyone to suggest he derived any pleasure about being cruel or saying cruel things about another individual. To Reagan, he knew in his heart man was good. As an American conservative, Reagan believed in the value and potential of all people.
The now-recognized poster for the 1980 presidential run was of Dutch Reagan, head slightly tilted, a ready and crinkly smile, wearing a white cowboy hat with a backdrop of different American scenes.
How this poster came into being is another story for another time but the caption was, “America. Reagan Country.”
Of all the homes Ronald Reagan lived in, his favorite was America.