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My sister Maureen bought me for ninety-seven cents.
Maureen was just three years old when she went with Mom and Dad to Schwab's Pharmacy-that's right, the famous Schwab's at Sunset and Crescent Heights, where Lana Turner was discovered. While Mom and Dad were in the aisles shopping, little Maureen went up to the counter, opened her purse, and plunked ninety-seven cents on the counter.
The pharmacist said, "What do you want, little girl?"
"I want a brother," she said.
Well, back in 1944, there wasn't much a pharmacist could do about such things. Mom and Dad-Jane Wyman and Ronald Reagan-saw this discussion going on between the pharmacist and their daughter. They hurried over and told Maureen to put her money away.
The incident was embarrassing, but it made Mom and Dad think: Maybe Maureen really did need a little brother to play with. So they started thinking about bringing another child into the family. After Maureen's birth, the doctors had told Mom that she shouldn't get pregnant again. So they decided to adopt.
I was born in Los Angeles on March 18, 1945, to a woman named Irene Flaugher. Although I wouldn't know it until more than forty years later, Irene Flaugher loved me very much. She loved me enough, in fact, to give me up to another family.
Three days after I was born, I was adopted by Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman. When they brought me home from the hospital, Maureen was disappointed. All of her friends had older brothers, so she expected me to be older than herself.
A nurse accompanied Mom and Dad from the hospital, and when Maureen saw the nurse, she dashed upstairs to her room, grabbed her piggy bank off her dresser, and tried to pry the cork out of the bottom. When she couldn't pull the cork out, she threw her bank to the floor and broke it. She grabbed ninety-seven cents out of her broken piggy bank, ran downstairs, and pressed the money into the hand of the startled nurse who was on her way out the door. The nurse wanted to give the money back, but Mom and Dad told her to keep it.
Maureen paid for me to come into the Reagan family-that's how I got in!
My two mothers
My adoptive parents named me Michael Edward Reagan. When I was born, however, my birth mother gave me another name: John L. Flaugher. Irene Flaugher was an unmarried young woman from Ohio. She had an affair with a married man, an army corporal named John Bourgholtzer. Shortly after Irene discovered she was pregnant, the army sent John to Arizona, and Irene followed him there. One night John took Irene to a bar off the base for some drinks and to discuss what to do about her pregnancy.
They arrived back at the base, and John was stopped at the gate by a staff sergeant who said, "You're out of uniform, soldier." Well, John was out of uniform; he didn't have his fatigue cap on. All he had to do was take his cap out of his belt and put it on his head, but he felt the sergeant was picking on him. So John Bourgholtzer decked the staff sergeant.
After a brief struggle, John was arrested. Before the MPs led him away to the hoosegow, John reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills, about $600. He peeled off $400 and gave it to Irene Flaugher. "Here," he said. "Go to California and have the baby." Immediately afterward, Corporal Bourgholtzer was demoted to private and shipped off to France to fight in the war.
Irene Flaugher went to California to have the baby. Understand, she could have had me aborted. Though abortion was illegal in those days, it was not uncommon. She could have had the procedure, then gotten on with her life after a few days' recuperation. She gave birth at the Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles and named me John after my birth father.
Irene wanted to make sure I would have a good home, so she insisted on meeting the adoptive parents. She found it easier to give me up when she learned that her baby would be raised in the home of a wealthy Hollywood couple, Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman. Before the adoption was finalized, my two mothers, Irene and Jane, met in the hospital room and talked for about an hour. The adoption process was completed three days after I was born.
Irene passed away the day after Christmas 1985, two years before I began searching for my birth mother. She never got to hear me say, "Thank you, Irene, for giving me life." Though I never got to meet her and thank her, I honor her.
So I have two mothers: One gave birth to me and loved me enough to give me life and give me away. The other loved me enough to take me into her home and raise me as her own flesh and blood. And as you will see in this book, I am truly Jane's son.
For most of my life, I really couldn't grasp the depths of my birth mother's love. I didn't understand how any mother could love her baby yet give that baby away. What I now see as love I used to see as rejection. It took me decades of pain and anger to understand the loving sacrifice Irene Flaugher made for my sake. Today I have nothing but praise and gratitude for my birth mother.
Every year I celebrate two Mother's Days. On January 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion on demand, I honor Irene Flaugher because she chose to give me life rather than have an abortion. And on the traditional Mother's Day, the second Sunday in May, I honor Jane Wyman. She is the mother who brought me home from Queen of Angels Hospital, the mother who raised me and taught me some of the most important lessons of my life.
I thank God every day for my two mothers.
"Where did you hear that word?"
I learned about my adoption from my sister Maureen.
Maureen was eight years old, and she was home for Christmas break from Chadwick School, the boarding school she attended in Palos Verdes, California. Maureen's birthday was January 4, so Christmas and her birthday got combined into one long season of gifts. I was not quite five years old at the time, and I had seen my mother wrapping Maureen's gifts.
I liked being close to my big sister. Mom had nicknamed her Mermie, and the family called her Merm. She was my best friend, and I looked up to her. I figured that one way to get in really good with her was to share secrets with her. So I came into Maureen's room while she was in front of her full-length mirror, brushing her long blonde hair. "Merm," I said, "I know what you're getting for your birthday."
"Don't tell me," she said. "I don't want to know."
In my four-year-old wisdom, I knew that Maureen couldn't be serious. After all, what kid wouldn't be dying to know a secret like that? So I said, "You'll really like it!"
"Michael, I mean it," Maureen said. "Don't tell me! I'm warning you! If you tell me a secret, I'm going to tell you a secret!"
Well, that was the wrong thing to say! If Maureen had a secret she was keeping from me, I had to know what it was! So I said, "You're getting a blue dress for your birthday."
In her most snotty voice, Maureen said, "And you were adopted."
I guess she thought that her secret was an even trade for mine!
I didn't understand what my sister had just told me, so I ran downstairs to find my mother. Maureen hurried along behind me. She knew she had made a serious tactical blunder.
We found Mom in the den. I said, "Mom, what does adopted mean?"
You may have watched Jane Wyman as Angela Channing on Falcon Crest, which ran on CBS from 1981 to 1990. Remember the withering look she used to give to Lance (Lorenzo Lamas) on the show? Her eyes would get big and round, and her nostrils would flare. Let me tell you, that wasn't acting! That was my mother. Whenever I saw that look-and I've seen it a number of times over the years-I knew that either Maureen or I had done something wrong. When I said the word adopted, that's exactly the look she gave me.
"Where did you hear that word?" she asked.
"From Merm," I said. "She said I was adopted. What does that mean?"
Mom didn't answer my question. Instead she excused me from the room, and she and Maureen had a long talk behind closed doors. I don't know what words were exchanged between my mom and my sister, but later that night my mother and I had a talk of our own.
Mom took me into the living room, sat me down, and looked me in the eye. "Michael," she said, "when you were born, you had parents who weren't able to take care of you, so they found a couple who could give you a nice home and be your mommy and daddy. That couple was your father and me. We chose you to be our little boy because you were just what we wanted. You are a chosen child, and that makes you special, and we love you very much. Now do you understand what adopted means?"
I nodded and said I understood, but I really didn't grasp it. The only thing I really picked up on was the fact that I was chosen. I could tell that being chosen was a good thing.
But I also picked up on the fact that Mom wasn't my real mother, whatever that meant. At some time in the past, I'd had another mother, and now she was a mysterious and hidden part of my past. There was something about all of this that wasn't good because it was never spoken of. It was a secret I wasn't supposed to know-a secret Maureen had been forbidden to tell me. I could see that Mom was uneasy about something, and her discomfort with the subject of my adoption made me anxious.
I told her I understood even though I didn't because I was afraid to ask any more questions. The fact is, I knew so little about how babies are born that I didn't even know what questions to ask. So I let the matter drop.
"You're just a bastard"
Mom and Dad divorced when I was three. When I was five and a half, Mom sent me to Chadwick School, the boarding school where Maureen attended. When I was home, I lived in a one-parent household.
One day, when I was in the second grade at Chadwick, Igor into an argument with a kid at school. It was one of those "my dad is better than your dad" debates. We took a few turns one-upping each other, and finally I said, "I'm better than you because I'm special! I was chosen!"
The other kid said, "What do you mean, you were 'chosen'?"
"I was adopted," I replied. I said it proudly, as if being adopted was the best thing that could happen to a kid.
Well, he didn't know what to say to that because he didn't know what adopted meant. But he went home and asked his mom and dad, and they explained it to him. A day or two later, he saw me on the playground again, and he pointed and laughed.
"What's so funny?" I asked.
"You told me you were 'special' because you were adopted!" he said. "But my mom and dad told me what adopted means. You're not special; you're just a bastard!"
I wasn't about to admit that I didn't know what a bastard was, but I didn't have to. This kid was happy to define the term for me. "Your real mother wasn't married, and she didn't want you, so she gave you away! That's why you got adopted-bastard!"
There were other kids standing around, and they thought that it was pretty funny that I had pretended to be "special" and "chosen," when I was really just a kid whose mother didn't want him. I felt stupid and ashamed because I hadn't even known the truth about myself, and suddenly I felt that there was something wrong with me.
I wondered: Who was my birth mother? Why did she give me away? Why didn't she want me? And what about Mom? Did she know I was a bastard? If she found out, would she still love me? Would it break her heart? Would she send me away, like my birth mother had? So many questions-and I had no one to ask.
I couldn't ask Mom. Since I was at boarding school most of the time, I didn't want to spoil our brief time together with unpleasant questions. I didn't even know what questions to ask. Besides, I couldn't ask a question without divulging information. I couldn't say, "Why did nay birth mother give me away? Was it because I'm a bastard?" From my childlike perspective, Mom couldn't have known I was illegitimate, or she never would have adopted me, and I sure didn't want her to find out! If my birth mother sent me away because I was illegitimate, then Mom might send me away, too. So I never asked my mother any questions.
When that kid at school hung the "bastard" label on me, nay self-image changed. That label affected my security as a member of the Reagan family. I had seen maids, cooks, and nannies come and go, and I wondered if my own status in the family wasn't just as shaky. From that day forward I felt I needed to earn my way into the Reagan family.
I never again bragged at school about being "chosen." And I never again felt "special." But I did feel marked.
Hating myself, hating God
The next time I went home for the weekend, I went to the library of my mother's home. There were hundreds of books in that room, but one huge leather-bound book dominated the rest: my mother's big Bible. I had often seen Mom reading that Bible. I thought, Maybe the Bible has an answer for me.
I was seven years old and had never read the Bible on my own. I didn't even know where to begin. I knew some books had an index in the back. So I flipped to the back of the Bible and found the concordance. I looked for the word bastard-and I found it. Good, I thought. I'll find out what the Bible says about a bastard.
The concordance pointed me to Deuteronomy 23:2. There, in the King James Version, I read these words: "A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord."
My heart froze inside me. I snapped the book shut. In my limited seven-year-old understanding, I thought that those words meant, "A bastard can never go to heaven. A bastard is damned to hell, and so are his kids and grandkids and great-great-great-great grandkids, to the tenth generation."
That was in 1952. I didn't open a Bible again until 1978.
Today, of course, I realize that the book of Deuteronomy is a book of laws governing the community of ancient Israel. The words I read had nothing at all to do with heaven or hell, but how could a seven-year-old understand such things while reading the Bible for the very first time? When I read those words, I thought my eternal fate was sealed.
Then the thought hit me: My gosh! That must be why my birth mother got rid of me! Nobody wants a child who's going to hell! And what about Mom? She's so religious! What if she finds out I can never go to heaven?
I lived in fear-not only fear that I would spend eternity in hell but also fear that my mother would find out I was illegitimate.
Excerpted from TWICE ADOPTED by MICHAEL REAGAN JIM DENNEY Copyright © 2004 by Michael Reagan. Excerpted by permission.
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