A friend who has been helping me out with computer problems, of which I have more than I like to admit, told me recently of a book he had picked up at a used-book sale.
It was an autobiography of Ronald Reagan written when he first became president. That reminded me of some half-forgotten "Dutch" Reagan stories from the past. When I started relating them, my "computer-geek" friend suggested they would be an interesting topic for a Gray Matter. I hope you will agree.
This all began when I was just a youngster. My sister and I spent hours playing with Lulamae Imhoff, a neighbor girl who was totally paralyzed from complications following the measles.
She was fun to be with and she had scads of playthings given her by sympathetic folks. She also had two teenage brothers who supplied her with movie magazines, and the like. Those opened a whole new world for us.
A few years later we moved to a different farm and the Imhoff's moved into the nearby small town, but our families kept in touch.
Using an ingenious device Lulamae learned to type, and eventually started writing for an area paper. Meanwhile, the radio was her constant companion. Most of all, she admired "Dutch" Reagan, sportscaster for WHO Des Moines. One day she decided to send him a fan letter.
After receiving it, he drove up from the capital to see her. That visit had some remarkable results, though their exact sequence escapes me. I do remember his having a fine sun porch built onto their modest home. It was complete with an elevated bed from which Lulamae could view the world. This was but one of many gifts he gave his "Little Sister," as Reagan began to call her.
When the announcement came that he was leaving for Hollywood, she was devastated. Actually, it proved to be just the start of a new phase in the relationship. I recall one delightful development that took place after Reagan and Jane Wyman were married.
Well before pants suits were seen in our part of the country, they were big on either coast. Wyman was wearing them, of course. So she began sending her hand-me-downs to Lulamae whose mother would alter them to fit. At last, she could lie without a cumbersome blanket over her stick-like legs and she always looked lovely in those glamorous outfits. The myriad of other gifts continued to come.
A bit later it was announced that WHO's favorite former Barn Dance host was to return for a special reunion. He arranged for an ambulance to come to take Lulamae to Des Moines for the Saturday evening broadcast.
She was wheeled into a position on the stage from which she enjoyed the entire show and from which our president-to-be introduced his "little sister" to the audience. What an evening that was!
She didn't live to see her benefactor elected to our country's highest office, for she died a few years later. But those of us who had witnessed the kindnesses showered on our handicapped friend, all knew how blessed our nation would be to have such a fine and caring man as chief executive.
Now here is a touching follow-up which my computer-savvy friend found in an archive of Reagan correspondence where it is titled His Dear Sister Dies. 2-21-48. (The quotation is from one of his letters) "My little adopted sis Lulamae Imhoff passed away last Sunday AM. I can't seem to get out of the daze. I really loved her as my sis."