Book Review: I Love You, Ronnie

iloveyouronniePrior to reading this book, “romantic” is not one of the words I’d have chosen to describe Ronald Reagan. After reading this book, it most certainly is. Which is to say: after reading this book, I like the guy even more.

Shortly after they met in 1950, Ronald Reagan began writing letters to his wife, Nancy. I Love You, Ronnie is a collection of many of those letters (together with Nancy’s reflections on them), revealing a side of our 40th President most people never knew existed.

So how exactly does one review a book like this? I’m not sure. But I think the best way is probably to share one of the letters. That, of course, means I have to choose, and choosing is hard when I’d like to share all of them. But… how about this one, from March 4th, 1972?

My Darling Wife,

This note is to warn you of a diabolical plot entered into by some of our so-called friends – (ha) calendar makers and even our own children. These and others would have you believe we’ve been married 20 years.

20 minutes maybe – but never 20 years. In the first place it is a known fact that a human cannot sustain the high level of happiness I feel for more than a few minutes – and my happiness keeps on increasing.

I will confess to one puzzlement but I’m sure it is just some trick perpetrated by our friends – (Ha again!) I can’t remember ever being without you and I know I was born more than 20 min’s ago.

Oh well – that isn’t important. The important thing is I don’t want to be without you for the next 20 years, or 40, or however many there are. I’ve gotten very used to being happy and I love you very much indeed.

Your Husband of 20 something or other

Yeah. That’s Ronnie.

Maybe it’s because I appreciate the art of letter-writing, romantic or otherwise. Maybe it’s because I enjoyed seeing another side of Reagan. Certainly – I say this with a smile – it’s because I’ve recently fallen in love myself (she’s something amazing, I’ll have you know). However you slice it, I thought this book was smashing, and I really think you ought to read it sometime.

And by sometime, I mean now.

Dear Miss Glass

Dear Miss Glass,

I waded into your article expecting to read a silly, condescending, but semi-coherent broadside – as coherent, at least, as a feminist railing against motherhood can be, which isn’t very. My expectations were about as high as an underground parking garage, but even so, you managed to be stupendously disappointing. It was the first time in a long time I can remember pausing at the end of every paragraph to wonder how old the writer was and how many times she’d been dropped on her head as a child and just how many magic markers she’d been sniffing exactly.

I say all that, not in an attempt to score polemical brownie points, but to draw to your attention something of which you may have previously been unaware (although I can’t imagine how). You really do sound like a petulant three-year-old – the kind who would benefit less from a debate than she would from a swift, firm pat on the behind.

Grow up.

I won’t waste much more time or energy in responding to you. Childishness is bleeding out of every word you write, and I have other things to work on. It’s also come to my attention that Matt Walsh has already answered your “challenge” – and you know, I can always trust Walsh to be as bitingly sarcastic as the occasion calls for.

What I’m going to do is answer just one of your questions and then turn the floor over to Chesterton and forget about you altogether.

IMG_0328Your question (and I can just picture the look on your face as you hammered it out): “Do people really think that a stay at home mom is really on equal footing with a woman who works and takes care of herself?”

No, Miss Glass. In all honesty I think she’s superior. But since elaborating on this point would likely draw a bloody deluge of criticism down on my head – and thus distract from the dreck in your article – I’ll settle for pointing out the false premises upon which your question is based. The first is that stay-at-home moms have no work to do; the second is that they don’t take care of themselves.

Now, a stay-at-home mom I am not and never will be. Obviously. But my Mother is one. And of course, we all know that carrying a tiny life inside of you and bringing that life into the world and then loving that life well and nurturing its tender little soul with everything you have – well, we all know that’s just no big deal. Not only has my Mom done nothing special, but by your assertion (I cannot call it reasoning) she’s done absolutely nothing at all.

Also: did I mention I’m the eldest of nine children? My Mother has done “absolutely nothing” nine times over. Poor woman. If only she knew.

But you are partly right when you imply that stay-at-home moms don’t (or won’t) take care of themselves. They are, after all, allowing themselves to be used up, to be spent. They do that because motherhood is sacrifice. I know. I know, because I’ve seen it every day of my life, every second of every minute of every hour of every year I’ve been on this earth – even when I was too young to know what I was seeing.

I was looking at death by living. It’s a beautiful thing, Miss Glass, but it’s a beautiful thing you would never understand. You’re too busy adjusting your tiara in front of the mirror.

And now I give you Chesterton:

Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist.

Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment (even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that our race has thought it worth while to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world. But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean.

To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone?

No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.

Flotsam & Jetsam 1/28

Ah, But It Is A Story – Doug Wilson, reading the Grammys like a book.

Everyone Catechizes – “… everyone catechizes their children. Everyone tells their children what matters most, either with their lives, or with their words, or with the songs they sing coming out of Wal-Mart.”

A Defense of Rash Vows – By G.K. Chesterton: “They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words – ‘free-love’ – as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.”

Fake Performers – Simultaneously neat and freaky.

The Hunt – An incredible film. Strictly for the older crowd, but a brilliant, haunting achievement and one of the finest foreign films I’ve seen. Prepare to be moved.

“The family… has long been the object of hate of ambitious intellectuals, for the family stands between the state, to be directed by intellectuals, and total power.” – Theodore Dalrymple, Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality

The Calvinist

See him at his trade.
Done. The plan is made.
Men will have his skills,
If the Father wills.

See him at his meal,
Praying now to feel
Thanks and, be it graced,
God in ev’ry taste.

See him with his child:
Has he ever smiled
Such a smile before,
Playing on the floor?

See him with his wife,
Parable for life:
In this sacred scene
She is heaven’s queen.

If I may borrow Justin Taylor’s observation, here is a beautiful reminder that “Calvinism is not an arcane point of theology but a tough-and-tender approach to all of life before the face of God.” Trust me: the ending will give you chills.

From Ahab to Odysseus

No book review today, but something equally good: literary comparison. Plus, I’m going to be fantastically lazy and let someone else do all the comparing. *puts feet on desk and sips Martini*

So. Read these essays. The first (my personal favorite) looks at the similarities between Jesus Christ and Melville’s Captain Ahab; the second compares Huckleberry Finn with The Odyssey.

I’m not just referring you to these because the girl who wrote them is the girl I’m going to marry. She’s a bloody good writer, too. Enjoy.