Romancing History

Tag: Love Letters from History

Ronnie and Nancy, Love Letters from History

While I love a good romantic novel or film, nothing beats real life love stories. One of the best, revolves around a former president and his lady love. Yep, you guessed it, I’m talking about President Reagan and his wife, Nancy.

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan sharing a joyful moment. Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library/Getty Images

Whether away from home or across the room, the former President was known to pen his undying love and admiration for the First Lady. “You should…be aware of how essential you are in this man’s life. By his own admission, he is completely in love with you.”

In 2000, former First Lady Nancy Reagan published the endearing and often tear-jerking memoir, I Love You, Ronnie: The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan. Have a box of tissues handy because this beautiful collection of love letters will have you laughing and crying, often at the same time.

Note the White House stationery on this letter from the former president to the first lady.

I have a box of letters my husband and I exchanged during the year we were engaged while he was stationed at Ft. Ord, California, and I taught 10th grade in Pennsylvania. I treasure those letters as the former First Lady treasured hers. “Whenever Ronnie went away, I missed him terribly, and when his letters arrived, the whole world stopped so I could read them.” Letters that no doubt brought Mrs. Reagan great comfort as her beloved husband suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

Image: Wenn

One such letter dated December 25, 1981, the couple’s first Christmas in the White House, described the different aspects of his wife and what he loved about each one. The letter was read  by former Prime Minister and close friend of Ronald Reagan’s, Brian Mulroney, at the funeral service for Nancy Reagan in March, 2016.

“Dear Mrs. R, there are several much beloved women in my life, and on Christmas, I should be giving them gold and precious stones and perfume and furs and lace. I know that even the best of these would fall short of expressing how much these several women mean to me and how empty my life would be without them. There is the fun First Lady Nancy who brings “so much grace and charm to whatever she does,” the do-gooder Nancy who visited sick children in hospitals, the “nest-builder” Nancy, “the girl who goes to the ranch,” the “sentimental lady,” and the girl who “loves to laugh.”

“Fortunately, all these women in my life are you. Fortunately for me that is, for there could be no life for me without you. Browning asked, ‘How do I love thee, let me count the ways…’ For me there is no way to count. Merry Christmas to all the gang of you: mummy, first lady, the sentimental you, the fun you, and the pee-wee powerhouse you. Merry Christmas, you all. With all my love, lucky me.”

You can almost see the twinkle in the former President’s eyes when he wrote, “The nicest thing a girl ever did for me was when a girl named Nancy married me and brought a warmth and joy to my life that has grown with each passing year.”

President Reagan wanted Nancy and everyone else to know that the greatest treasure was not his successful career or the fortune he amassed. Rather, his greatest treasure was his marriage.

“We haven’t been careless with the treasure that is ours — namely what we are to each other.”

Although she was an accomplished actress in her own right, Nancy Reagan wrote “when I say my life began with Ronnie, well, it’s true. It did. I can’t imagine life without him.” Nancy Reagan never thought of herself as an actress or as the First Lady. In her opinion, Mrs. Reagan was the best job in the world. “My job is being Mrs. Ronald Reagan.”

If this post didn’t melt your heart, yours must be made of stone for as the former Canadian Prime Minister Mulroney said, “Theirs was a love story for the ages.”

Now that’s a sigh-worthy ending!

Which Reagan quote melts your heart the most?





Major Sullivan Ballou, Love Letters from History

persuasionThere are just some lines from a favorite book or movie that make you swoon.

You know what I’m talking about, right?

In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Captain Frederick Wentworth is reunited with Anne Elliot, a woman who had refused his proposal at her family’s insistence years earlier. He bravely tries to win her hand again. Fearing she may accept her cousin, whom her family favors, he writes a letter professing what is most likely his final plea. The one no heart could resist. “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more yours than when you almost broke it, eight years and half ago…I have loved none but you.”

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Or does it?

Although that is one of my all-time favorite romantic declarations, it is fiction. Captain Wentworth, while dashing and honorable, never existed. Nor did his unfailing love for Anne.

But what about real life love stories?

Battle of first manassass

Col. Ambrose Burnside leads his bridge, including the 2nd Rhode Island, into battle on Matthews Hill Library of Congress

In the summer of 1861, the first major battle of the American Civil War raged near the tiny creek, Bull Run, not far from the town of Manassas, Virginia. In the days leading up to the confrontation, soldiers prepared mentally and physically for the battle by cleaning their weapons, sharpening their bayonets, and drilling in company and regimental formations.

And writing their loved ones.

Major Sullivan Ballou was one such soldier. An officer with the 2nd Rhode Island infantry, Ballou had been a lawyer and Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives who answered Lincoln’s call for volunteers. Knowing his regiment would see action, Ballou’s thoughts turned to his wife and sons. Like soldiers throughout history, he wanted them to know one last time how much they meant to him and he penned a letter his beloved Sarah would only receive if he fell in battle.

Major Sullivan Ballou and his wife, Sarah.

Major Sullivan Ballou and his wife, Sarah.

Words meant to remind her and his sons of his love.

Words that give me goosebumps 155 years later.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from his passionate letter:

“If I do not [return], my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, nor that, when my last breath escapes me on the battle-field, it will whisper your name.”

“The memories of all the blissful moments I have spent with you come crowding over me, and I feel most deeply grateful to God and you, that I have enjoyed them so long. And how hard it is for me to give them up, and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our boys grow up to honorable manhood around us.”

“…if the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air cools your throbbing temples, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dear; think I am gone, and wait for me, for we shall meet again.”

Sadly, Major Sullivan Ballou fell in battle July 21, 1861.

Like Captain Wentworth, his written words were intended to be the final time he would express his devotion to the woman who had claimed his heart. Unlike Jane Austen’s characters, Major Sullivan Ballou, his wife, Sarah, and their children were real people, with shattered dreams and broken hearts.

Love so poignantly expressed by Major Ballou to his wife is far more powerful than any fiction I’ve ever read or replayed from one of my favorite movies. It drives me to create scenes and stories that make me feel what Sullivan and Sarah felt for each other and reminds me how my own heart beats for my husband of twenty-five years.

If you thought you might never see your spouse or children again, what words would  you choose to express your love for them?

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