Sunday, February 05, 2006


Ninety-five years ago, in the tiny village of Tampico, Illinois, Ronald Wilson Reagan was born.

President Reagan in his autobiography, An American Life, wrote:

I was born February 6, 1911, in a flat about the local bank in Tampico, Illinois. According to family legend, when my father ran up the stairs and looked at his newborn son, he quipped: "He looks like a fat little Dutchman. But who knows, he might grow up to be president one day.

And it happened.

At the time of Dutch Reagan's birth, Tampico reached its population peak of 820 people.

I visited Tampico last fall, its population is under 800 now. And it seems smaller than that. It was a humbling experience for this American to come to such a modest village, and knowing that decades earlier, a future leader of the Free World came into a village so modest, that few people in Illinois at the time--let alone in the United States--knew Tampico existed.

Reagan loved to call America as the "shining city upon a hill."

Tampico is not a city, and referring to is as a village seems to be a stretch. A slow driver can circle the town in five minutes.

Reagan grew up with the belief that any boy can grow up to become President. The first three years of his life were spent in Tampico; then the Reagans moved from town to town in northern Illinois, returning to Tampico for a year in 1919, before the family settled, finally, in nearby Dixon.

To really capture the life that Dutch, and his brother Neil, nicknamed "Moon," a reader can explore this novel about idyllic early 20th century life--written from a boy's perspective--by another son of northern Illinois, Ray Bradbury, in Dandelion Wine.

Of course in An American Life, Reagan did a pretty good capturing the flavor of small town life in the second decade of the last century:
A pair of toddlers intent on plucking some refreshing shards of ice from the back of the wagon, we crawled over the tracks beneath a huge freight train that had just pulled in. We'd hardly made it when the train pulled out with a hissing burst of steam. Our mother, who had come out on the porch in time to see the escapade, met us in the middle of the park and inflicted the appropriate punishment.

From that town came the Great Communicator.

95 years later, other kids come to Tampico, in the back seat of their parents' car, or by school bus, to see where Reagan's storied life began: They see where Dutch came from, and ponder how Dutch first became a famous actor, a governor, then President of United States.

Since he came from Tampico, the tiniest of towns, then surely any boy--any girl--can grow up to become President.

That belief, that hope, is Dutch Reagan's last gift to America.

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