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My First First Lady

Nancy Reagan was the third First Lady of the United States during my lifetime, but the first one I remember. Through the prism of youth, I developed a great fondness for her. In adulthood, as I learned more details about her husband's presidency and her proclivities (astrology, anyone?), my opinion really wasn't too diminished. The strength of childhood appreciation is difficult to put asunder. And I do appreciate Nancy Reagan, even now that she is no longer with us, having passed away today at the age of 94.

The wife of our 40th president was an elegant ambassador for her husband and our country. Always well-dressed and well-spoken, she exuded class and dignity, while also coming across as relatable. It seems as though folks can sometimes get as passionate for or against a First Lady as they can for a president, but I've always considered Nancy Reagan one of the best. And before she rose to become the highest spouse in the land, she had a film career, and was a mother, daughter and, of course, loving wife.

It was Nancy's love for her husband that perhaps touched me the most. One afternoon I was watching C-SPAN (as you do), and they were interviewing Mrs. Reagan. I think it was at the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, and am pretty certain it was while Ronald was still alive (though suffering greatly from Alzheimer's). I say this because much of the program was spent with Nancy recounting many of the couple's times together, and she remarked how the former president no longer remembered any of it.

Mrs. Reagan relayed a story of how, when they were younger, her and Ronald went canoeing together on a lake, and how beautiful it was.  It was old school. She let him do a lot of the heavy lifting, and enjoyed the relaxing time alone with her husband as he rowed them around the water. She painted the picture well, and the look on her face turned sad as it was now only her who remembered that once-shared memory. Indeed, I've often read how our relationships are a way for there to be a mirror for our lives, another echo of our experiences and existence. When that mirror cracks, or fades, it can be an unrecoverable loss.

Of course, no remembrance of Nancy Reagan would be complete without her famous Just Say No (to drugs) campaign. There is a cynicism that has developed around this in adulthood, but then I feel as though that's missing the point. As a kid, it had a powerful impact. I'll never forget watching the March 19, 1983 episode of Diff'rent Strokes when it first aired, and Mrs. Reagan made a special guest appearance to promote her initiative. Corny, yes? Effective? Also, yes. I remember one day on the grade school playground being offered something suspicious, and saying no. And I said no because the First Lady had told me to.


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