My grandmother and Ronald Reagan

Published 9:32 am Saturday, July 25, 2015

In the fall of 1980, I was a 9-year-old fourth grader at Southampton Elementary School. I loved baseball, hated homework and knew very little about the outside world. Except, that is, for the fact that some country called Iran was holding 52 of our fellow countrymen hostage because this Iran place hated America.

I was aware of this fact for two very specific reasons; one, because everyone who had a television knew it; and, two, because my grandmother never stopped talking about it.

I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house around that time. On a very typical day I would go to her house after school and sit, kicking and screaming, at her dining room table while she made me do my homework. When the homework was eventually completed (or when she could no longer take my complaining) we would have supper. There were a lot of meals consisting of tuna casserole consumed at that table (that often caused me to wish I was still doing homework instead), which were usually followed by a trip to the living room to watch the evening news before we both fell asleep to a baseball game. And there we would sit in the fall of 1980, night after night, as the news anchor would lead off the nightly newscast by announcing how many days the Americans had been held in captivity. 250 days, then 300, then 350. At 9 years old, I remember two things about those newscasts. The first is that I couldn’t wait for the ball game to start. The second thing I remember is that my grandmother was really, really mad about the hostages.

My grandmother had lived a tough life and was not one to anger easily. Born in 1914, her outlook on life had been significantly shaped by living through the Great Depression and World War II (hence, the tuna casserole and her endless stories about rationing butter and sugar.) On the rare occasion she drank a beer, she would typically make it through only about half a can before getting tipsy, covering the can with plastic wrap and a rubber band and putting it back in the refrigerator.

She was single for the majority of her adult life, as my grandfather took off when my mother was just 3or 4 years old and my uncle was a teenager. Like most of her generation, she made no excuses for her situation. She worked hard and provided for herself and her children. She was a God-fearing woman who loved to sit at the piano and clumsily plunk through her favorite hymns with her arthritis-riddled fingers. Like me, she too loved baseball. She loved her church and her family. Of the maybe three times in my life I heard her swear, two of those times were probably because of the effort it took to get me to write my “damn” spelling words and sentences.

The other time was when she swore over the hostages.

That night, sitting in her living room and watching the news on what must have been about day 400 of the hostage crisis, my grandmother’s revealed what her foreign policy strategy would be for dealing with Iran. As we sat quietly watching the news, she suddenly blurted out, “If it were up to me, I’d give them 24 hours to release the hostages before I just bombed the hell out of them.” She then added, “I bet that’s what Ronald Reagan will do, too.”

I had no idea what a Ronald Reagan was and, of course, nobody knows for sure what Ronald Reagan would have done, because hours after he took the oath of office the hostages were released. I suspect, however, that my grandmother’s instinct about Reagan’s response to the situation was spot on. I’ve thought about my grandmother and Ronald Reagan quite a bit the last week or so, ever since the United States signed a nuclear agreement with Iran. They may not be rolling over in their graves, but I bet they’re both in Heaven right now trying to figure out when we decided it was a good idea to start negotiating with terrorists. In fact, I bet Grammy may have even cussed for the fourth time. If so, Ronald Reagan probably laughed. And I’d be willing to bet God forgave her for it.

Tony Clark is the publisher of The Tidewater News. His can be reached at or by calling 562-3187.