The first time I met Reagan’s mom Jennifer, I had been prepped with a million people asking if I was nervous and talking about how impressive she was—powerful, beautiful, some said intimidating . . . I had never been nervous to meet anyone until then. I was told to pack for black tie events, nice dinners, casual outings, and a suit for visiting Congress. So I carefully selected the clothes I would bring and was confident (sort of) that all would go well. I arrived in DC for my weekend with a suitcase big enough for a month-long stay. The evening I met Jennifer and Keith, a massive snowstorm came crashing down on DC. Oh, great. The only clothes I didn’t have were clothes for a snowstorm.
By the time I had entered the restaurant, my hairdo that looked so great when leaving the hotel had transformed into a damp, frizzy mess. Mascara was running, and my inappropriate-for-a-snowstorm heels were ruined and soaking wet. We sat down at the table to a gigantic platter of seafood they had thoughtfully ordered in advance. I don’t like seafood. My confidence had now dwindled quite a bit. I said, “No, thank you” to the seafood and quietly asked for someone to pass the bread. As I nibbled on my French roll, I scanned the menu. Panic. It was a seafood restaurant, and the only other option was steak and lamb. Yup, you guessed it. I didn’t eat those either. I was a newly recovering vegetarian at the time. I about died when the waiter came and I sheepishly asked for the children’s menu. I literally wanted to crawl under a rock.
Anyway, once we got past the food debacle, it was time to get to know one another. I was expecting questions about where I went to school, etc., but we dove straight into Washington politics, which I knew nothing about. I was living in L.A. and pretty much thought of politics as who had been nominated for an Emmy. I went back to the hotel with my tail between my legs. Surely Reagan would now be breaking up with me. I bombed the first meeting with his mom, whom he refers to as his best friend. The next day however was a new day. We all drove out to the outlet malls. The conversation was my speed—questions about my acting career, family, etc. Once at the outlets, Jennifer and I had our moment that forever bonded us. The candy store. We bought bags of Jelly Bellys, chocolate, and a caramel apple to share. Every meal after that we came together again over the dessert menu. We had a joint love affair with key lime pie.
Shortly after Reagan and I were married, Jennifer passed away. It was sudden and tragic. There was a dark cloud over our house. One day, a few straggler wedding gifts arrived. One was a belated shower gift from Jennifer. I could hardly believe it. Inside were adorable ice cream bowls and parfait cups along with an ice cream maker. That gift was I’m pretty sure the best gift we received, partly because of the timing but also because it has given us a new family tradition: when we need to celebrate or come together as a family, Jenny’s ice cream party comes to the rescue. I know that, when Reagan and I die, the treasured item to fight over will be the ice cream set, not fancy china.
I also use the ice cream party as a way to get extra servings of fruit into everyone. I think that presentation makes all the difference. I chop up fruit and put it in pretty bowls, because I think white and cream-colored dishes always make the fruit look the most delicious. I bring out bowls of nuts, shredded coconut, sprinkles, and chocolate chips. Oh, also mini cookies. I love the tradition of always bringing out Jenny’s gift. It feels like a real party and everyone gets excited. That being said, I would encourage everyone to give ice cream sets for gifts. Especially a gift for your own family.
I think traditions are so important. They are the little priceless jewels in life we all can expect and look forward to. Since my family is so young, we don’t have many traditions yet. I can’t wait for them to form and the story of this family to unfold. We so wish Jennifer could be with us at our ice cream parties, celebrating life’s little victories. She loved that kind of stuff. We miss her so much and are so thankful for her last gift to us that has formed a neat tradition. Thank you, Jennifer!