President Reagan, the original cowboy president, now rests in peace.
As I was a child of the 80’s my recollection of the president is mostly contained in compartments of events. But I certainly don’t need a television anchor to tell me how profound of an impact Reagan had on all of our lives.
I have three memories of President Reagan.
My first memory of a presidential race (of politics really) was in the fall of 1979. I read about it in some Scholastic newsletter for grade school children. Among the patriotic symbols and stories on how democracy works was an introduction to the two candidates: President Jimmy Carter and Governor Ronald Reagan. After reading about the two men I wanted to vote but found out from my father that I was too young.
Not wanting my appetite for participation to be crushed, my father went to his typewriter and stamped out an official ballot and gave it to me with instructions on how to vote. Making sure that no one was watching I took a pencil and marked the box next to Ronald Reagan – Republican. Months later I was very proud to discover that my choice for president had won the election.
Two years later, in the forth grade, class was interrupted by an unexpected crackle of the announcement system. You could tell it wasn’t just for our class because the noise could be heard through the walls of the other classrooms — meaning it was going to be important. The voice said that the president had been shot and more information would be forthcoming. It was so hard to return to studies as my imagination ran wild with questions and scenarios. Being so young it was hard to imagine how it could have happened.
Later in the afternoon we crammed into another classroom to watch the news. The rest of the day was spent watching the the now famous clip over and over again (via the news) and asking the teachers questions about what had happened and why.
When I was sixteen I recall reading a Sunday edition of the Anchorage Daily News. On the front page, below the fold, was a feature about the potential of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The story talked about what sort of destructive path a modern day nuclear blast would create. My family lived forty miles away from two Soviet prime targets: Elmendorf Air Force Base (which was a target in the movie Wargames) and Fort Richardson Army Base. Our house lay on the very edge of ultimate destruction – the kind where a house is turned into toothpicks in a matter of seconds. And because Alaska is right next door to Russia, we would be annihilated within minutes of launch. Whereas everyone else had at least a good half and hour. Not that it would help, but at the time it still seemed so unfair.
I used to lay awake at night with this fear, until I started seeing that perhaps Mother Russia wasn’t the source of all evil in the land. My first hope of living past the age of twenty came with news that President Reagan had befriended Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Later they would announce plans to radically decrease the number of nuclear weapons. And from there it became a spiral of activity which ultimately lead to the disintegration of the Communist Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Indeed we are living in a better world today in part due to President Reagan’s diplomacy and willingness to look for possibilities instead of traditions.
I feel for the Reagan family today. My grandmother suffered and died from Alzheimer Disease. She was an English college professor, sharp as a tack (as my mother tells me) and always signing hymns (from what I remember as a child). Grandma Warfel was the best back-scratcher in the whole wide world. I miss her as always.
It seems such a shame for a man who did so much for us — literally changed the world and ended the Cold War — to suffer so long from that crippling disease. A president like Ronald Reagan doesn’t come around very often. I consider myself very fortunate to have at least lived during his time even if I was too young to appreciate all the details at the time. We should be so lucky to have another president like him within our own lifetime.