WASHINGTON — One Christmas, President Reagan gave his wife, Nancy, a manure spreader. This year, no more practical home-owner gifts, the First Lady declared.
"Do you know a mother who really is cuckoo about tractors?" she said Monday, recalling another gift of Christmas past.
This year, the Reagans are going to give each other a statue of the Madonna, originally given to them by the Pope. They will purchase the two-foot, carved ivory-tusk statue from the White House for $800 so they can take it with them when they leave in 1989. Mrs. Reagan unveiled that secret Monday, along with the White House Christmas decorations, with the help of Dom DeLuise, decked out as Santa with a garlic ball at the end of his red hat.
The Reagans are giving each other the statue, Mrs. Reagan said, "because I'd like some remembrance from our eight years in the White House."
"Why don't you take a couple ash trays?" Santa said. "That's what I did."
While Mrs. Reagan displayed the 25-pound gingerbread house (with a figure of First Dog Rex sleeping near the jellybean walkway), the 18-foot Christmas tree with 350 hand-painted ornaments, and dozens of hand-made dolls perched on mantels in Christmas carol scenes, Santa was making a hit telling Gorbachev jokes.
Santa recalled a much-talked-about moment during last week's summit when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, riding in his limousine with Vice President George Bush, surprised everyone by leaping out of the car and shaking hands with citizens on a downtown street corner.
"You know why Gorbachev jumped out of the car?" DeLuise said. "Because Vice President Bush had gotten out his handkerchief and was trying to rub that spot off his head." This drew a laugh from Mrs. Reagan and most others present.
DeLuise admitted he was not really Santa Claus: "I'm a leftover KGB agent."
You could tell he was not Santa by the gifts he gave members of the press corps, who sat on his lap for pictures. Along with an autographed copy of his Italian cookbook, "Eat This," DeLuise also gave out bottles of olive oil and boxes of Ziploc freezer bags. Mrs. Reagan gave the press bright-red and green mittens, which match the scarfs she gave them last year.
"Last year somebody sent Rex a black tie," Mrs. Reagan said.
"You should send it to Gorbachev," a press member volunteered, recalling that the Soviet leader refused to wear black tie to the White House dinner the Reagans gave for him.
"This year," Mrs. Reagan said, ignoring the Gorbachev remark, "maybe someone will send Rex a white tie."
The Next Summit
Mrs. Reagan said the stories of her disliking Raisa Gorbachev were exaggerated. But then when asked if she was looking forward to being the visitor at the next summit she replied vaguely, "I'm looking forward to going to Russia."
Mrs. Gorbachev did not seem to win American friends when she remarked that the White House was "a museum," adding that "a human being would like to live in a regular house." Asked how she liked living in a museum, Mrs. Reagan replied, "I never looked at it that way."
On Christmas, the Reagans will have dinner at the White House with friends and family members, but none of their children will be attending, and for the first time in several years it is uncertain whether former aide Michael Deaver and his family are invited.
Mrs. Reagan said that because all their children all married, they have to trade off with in-laws for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She did not mention that daughter Patti Davis has not attended a Reagan family holiday function in some time.
The Reagan guest list includes Mrs. Reagan's brother, Dr. Richard Davis, his wife, Patricia, their two children, Geoffrey and Anne, and Anne's husband, Jon Peterson; former Sen. Paul Laxalt, his wife, Carole, and their daughter, Denise; U.S. Information Agency Director Charles Z. Wick, his wife, Mary Jane, their children, Kimberly, Pam, Cindy and Doug, Doug's wife, Lucy, and their baby, Sarah; and public relations consultant and friend Nancy Reynolds and her son, Michael.
Deaver is on trial for perjury, but the Reagans have stuck by him in hard times before and invited him to Christmas. Deaver is also writing a book, and an excerpt published in a Washington newspaper has him describing Mrs. Reagan as being ruthless in pressuring White House staffers on issues she felt strongly about, a charge she has always denied.
Mrs. Reagan "took care to pick her spots," Deaver wrote in the excerpt. "But once into an issue, she was like a dog with a bone. She just didn't give up. It was Nancy who pushed everybody on the Geneva summit."
Asked if the Deavers were coming to Christmas dinner, Mrs. Reagan paused and replied, "I don't know." Her press secretary, Elaine Crispen, said she did not know what Mrs. Reagan meant by that.