Susan was charmed when her three-year-old son asked for a baby doll. Drew had a variety of action figures and plush animals, but now he wanted a baby to feed because Mommy had a new baby to feed. Susan asked Matt to buy something simple (code for cheap), something durable, something sweet. But Matt came home with a twelve-inch tall Ronald Reagan doll, some kind of Ken knock-off in a navy blue pinstriped suit. Susan was horrified.
“Wha-at?” Matt said in that pseudo-hipster way he had of turning a one-syllable word into a two-syllable word. He wandered around the sunny kitchen unconcerned, putting away the groceries, stacking cans of tuna and garbanzo beans in the cupboard. “It was on sale at the thrift store.”
“So?” Susan retorted. “Everything is on sale at the thrift store on Saturday mornings.” She paused to adjust the straps on her nursing bra, her lips curling as if she tasted something bitter. “Besides, Matt, it’s Ronald Reagan.”
“It’s a doll, Sues,” he said, reaching behind her to rub her shoulders. “You gotta take a closer look at it. It’s funny.”
She spun around to face him. “Ronald Reagan killed my father,” she whispered as if revealing a state secret.
Matt’s head reared back and he squinted at her, confused. “You told me your father was a heavy smoker and he died of a heart attack.”
“Well, yeah,” she conceded, nodding and swallowing and blinking back tears. “But there was the stress. He was under a tremendous amount of stress. Because Ronald Reagan was president.”
Matt started to laugh but checked himself when he saw the tears beginning to flow down Susan’s cheeks. “Sues!” he said softly as he took her in his arms. “What’s going on?”
She pressed her nose against his flannel shirt. “Ronald Reagan shamed federal employees,” Susan gushed. “He said they only worked for the government because they weren’t good enough to get jobs in the private sector. My father considered himself a public servant! It was shameful.”
Matt patted her back. “Yeah,” he murmured, “Reagan was a piece of work.”
“And Matt,” Susan sputtered, barely able to speak, “our children won’t ever know my father. Your Dad is Grampa, but Drew and Annie will never know my father.”
A trampling of feet, and their son appeared. “Mommy! Lookee funny clown!” Drew declared as he thrust mini-Reagan toward her, its face frozen in a stupid simper. What followed took Susan by surprise. The doll emitted a loud, clear, recorded voice: “Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Drew collapsed in giggles on the kitchen linoleum. “Mister Gobby!” he shouted. “Mister Gobby-chow!”
“What did I tell ya?” Matt said and Susan had to laugh.
She bent down to gather the toddler and his new toy into her arms. “Mister Gorbachev,” she sang, and Drew joined in. “Tear down this wall!” Laughing and swaying they chanted it again together: an incantation against evil and sorrow and ghosts from the past.