LATELY, NANCY REAGAN has been calling the White House, not California, "home." Recent first ladies didn't make it their own, but this one wakes up in a bedroom hung with hand-painted Chinese wallpaper she picked out herself. From her mirror-topped dressing table, she can see the Washington Monument. And her beauty salon is in her chosen colors -- salmon, melon and white.

Her life there has always been something of a mystery. Outsiders, and even a lot of White House aides, wonder how she spends her time. Here, culled from staff and friends, is a typical schedule:

7:45 a.m. She's awake, and sometimes has breakfast in bed. She's served whole wheat toast, grapefruit, cold cereal and decaffeinated coffee. She reads the papers, watches the morning news shows, then spends 20 minutes in her exercise room.

9:15 a.m. Elaine Crispen, her secretary, brings up her mail. The first lady signs photographs, edits upcoming remarks, autographs books.

10 a.m. Nancy Reagan calls her mother. If there's an event, she has her hair done. Or she may call a pal. "Mrs. Reagan likes girlfriends," says her friend Lee Annenberg, the former protocol chief.

11 a.m. Two or three times a week, there might be a coffee with the wife of a visiting head of state, or a drop-by in the East Room to greet special White House guests.

Noon. Lunch is either a chef's salad or fruit salad at the desk in her upstairs office. Or she may have guests in the Solarium--among them her best friend, Betsy Bloomingdale; a Georgetown acquaintance, like Oatsie Charles; or Ted Graber, her interior decorator who had 14 White House lunches (and 19 White House breakfasts and 13 White House dinners) while he stayed there in April 1981.

2 p.m. She might tape a public service message or meet with her staff. "She has a schedule that could choke a horse," says her press secretary, Sheila Tate. Otherwise, she talks on the phone to her children and her friends, particularly Bloomingdale and Jerry Zipkin, the New York fashion crowd's escort of choice. "She's a blast to talk to," says one friend. "She's not necessarily interested in the malicious stuff, but she likes to know what people are doing, who's dating, how marriages are going."

4:30 p.m. Crispen comes up with letters to sign and more mail that's accumulated through the day. She stops everything if her husband's on television.

5:30-6 p.m. The president comes home. He exercises, and if no one's coming to dinner, he and Nancy Reagan eat on trays in his study. They watch television, do paper work, read and, in the words of deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver, talk about what all couples do--"kids and bills."

10 p.m. Bedtime.

Nancy Reagan has settled in. Friends say she loves it. Turning Points

Nancy Reagan passed the two-year mark at the White House last week, and by all accounts, has grown comfortable in the role. "Those early months were bewildering," says Muffie Brandon, her social secretary. "There's a lot more giggling now." Although the president's popularity has slumped, friends think she wants to stay--and say she's the person who'll have the most influence on Reagan's decision to run again. "She'll be instrumental," says White House chief of staff James Baker. "He relies on her advice."

When she came to town two years ago, Nancy Reagan had an image problem that would have scared the best public relations pro in the business, and then, with her Beverly Hills friends and the $209,508 White House china, rapidly made it worse. "Queen Nancy," as the postcards said, partied for a week with European royalty during the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana. She spent more than $800,000 in tax-deductible private donations to decorate the house. She walked on the beach with Claudette Colbert in Barbados, a trip she urged her husband to take--and which occurred the same week a snowstorm froze the East Coast. In March of last year, her popularity rating, taken by White House pollster Richard Wirthlin, hovered around 50 on a 0 to 100 scale. "We couldn't get her role clarified," says Deaver.

About the same time, her own staff of public relations pros began to make over her image. Last March, at Washington's annual Gridiron Club dinner, in what Wirthlin calls a "turning point," she sang and danced on stage as a "Second-Hand Rose"--and learned the value in making fun of herself. (The first draft of her song was a poke at the press, but Nancy, using what her staff calls a "good p.r. sense," turned it down.) Before her European trip with the president last June, a party in Paris to be given by Countess Jacqueline de Ribes was called off--and a less elitist party for "Americans in Paris" was substituted. Now the East Wing staff has produced fact sheets that say she has traveled 20,000 miles to 13 cities for her new drug-abuse program. In March she'll deliver an antidrug message on "Diff'rent Strokes," an NBC sitcom with an estimated viewing audience of 28 million.

And her popularity is up a bit: A nationwide Washington Post poll conducted this month shows that although her unfavorable rating is 23 percent, 56 percent of those questioned view her "very favorably" or "somewhat favorably"--as opposed to 51 percent in November 1981.

Last week she released a short statement that said, in part: "It's hard to believe two years have passed since we arrived here." She declined to be interviewed for this article. It is based on interviews with more than 50 friends and administration officials.

"None of [the staff] knew what they were doing," Lyn Nofziger, the former White House political director who's frequently critical of the way things are run in the administration, says of the early days. But even he'll admit: "They finally got her act together." The Routine This doesn't necessarily mean she's changed. Friends say Nancy Reagan remains vulnerable and guarded, still shaken by the assassination attempt on her husband, a skin cancer recently removed above her upper lip, her mother's illness and her father's death last summer. "She never mentions it," says Betsy Bloomingdale, about Loyal Davis' death, "but the president mentioned it. He said, 'I worry about her. She doesn't eat as much anymore.' "

She is still, in Tate's words, "a bit of a perfectionist." Nancy Reagan sometimes calls Mike Deaver up to 10 times a day with a question, a comment or just to chat. Some calls can last 20 minutes. She frequently has the White House switchboard call James Rosebush, her chief of staff, in the evenings or at dinners around town. " 'Oh, no, where did I reach you tonight?' " he says she will ask. And in the six weeks before the Royal Wedding, an administration official says she was on the phone at least once a day to both Mary Henderson, wife of the former British ambassador, and Josephine Louis, the wife of the U.S. ambassador in London. She wanted to know specifics about wedding events--and who was going to what. She did the same last year before her trip to Europe, when she and the president were house guests of Queen Elizabeth II.

She is still a woman who calls up other women and asks, "What are you wearing?"--as she asked Deaver's wife, Carolyn, on the European tour in Paris. "The old purple dress," said Carolyn. "Well, I'm going to wear my knickers," said the first lady. "I turned to Mike," recalls Carolyn Deaver now, "and I said, 'I think I heard right.' " The knickers caused an international fashion furor, and Nancy Reagan later told Life magazine: "I think maybe my outfit didn't photograph as well as it might have." For evening, she's usually in an off-the-shoulder gown by Galanos or Bill Blass and by day, in an Adolfo suit, all bought at something below wholesale cost. Each is carefully tagged with the dates worn, at which event, who designed it and what goes with it. Everything is stored by categories--shoes, slacks, gowns and so forth--in one of more than a dozen double closets in her compound of beauty shop, office and exercise room. On her desk, she keeps an autographed picture of Prince Charles and Diana along with the photographs of her mother and her children.

She still counts decorator Graber among her confidantes, described by several administration aides as a powerful force who would remove paintings and decorative objects from various White House offices for use in the family quarters. Graber brought his live-in friend, Archie Case, to stay overnight at the White House when they flew in to celebrate Nancy's 60th birthday in July 1981.

She is still an old-fashioned mother. One acquaintance says she insisted that her son Ron marry his girlfriend Doria if they wanted to sleep together at the White House. Although the acquaintance says she wasn't necessarily anxious for a wedding, the two became husband and wife in a secret civil ceremony in Manhattan on Nov. 25, 1980. The Reagans were in California.

She is still intensely loyal to her friends. Bloomingdale's husband, Alfred, died of cancer last summer just after his mistress filed a $10 million palimony suit (since thrown out of court) against the Bloomingdale estate. "Not only did she hold my hand all the way through the illness," says Betsy Bloomingdale, "but she even went to see him in the hospital. And she was most supportive through the other problem."

She still gets "puddly," which is her word for teary. When she left her husband for a week to attend the Royal Wedding, the longest she'd ever been away from him, one insider says she cried all the way from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base.

She is still a self-described "worrier." Betsy Bloomingdale reports that the First Lady is "frantic" about the upcoming visit of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to the Reagans' West Coast ranch. "She told me, 'Thank God they're not going to stay the night,' " says Bloomingdale. "It really is a little ranch house, with a guest bedroom about as big as a minute and a bathroom you can hardly turn around in." White House advisers are privately worried that the visit, which features the queen and Nancy sailing together from Santa Barbara to San Francisco on the royal yacht, "Britannia," could negate the good done by her recent drug abuse and foster grandparent work. "It's a big risk," says one friend.

She is still intimately involved in the preparation of White House social functions. Although her state dinners aren't much more elaborate than Rosalynn Carter's (Nancy Reagan has added a few more flowers and Hollywood stars), she does have preliminary food tastings. She also meets with the White House florist, and her staff "tries out" table settings on her. At the state dinner for Pakistan's President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq , it was Nancy Reagan who placed Jim Baker between actress Zsa Zsa Gabor and Houston socialite Joanne Herring, thinking he'd enjoy it. The next day he reportedly told the president: "I owe you one."

She is still superstitious. When Hannelore Kohl, the wife of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, gave hairdresser Robin Weir a gold letter opener, he started to show it to Nancy Reagan, but she told him to put it down first. "She believes you should never pass a knife directly from one person to another," Weir said. She also believes you should never put a hat on a bed.

And some of her friends believe she is still, in the words of Oatsie Charles, "wildly misunderstood." In two years, the pop psychology theories about Nancy Reagan have only multiplied. Some at the White House wonder if her unhappy early childhood has given her the need to surround herself with gifts and friends, as proof of love; others, including her supporters, speculate that she feels a need to compete with the high-rolling life styles of her richer pals. "I think there might be some pressure she puts on herself," says Charles Black, the political director in the 1980 campaign before he and campaign manager John Sears were ousted. "She's in the fish bowl, and thinks she's expected to perform. I think that around the social set, she could be a tad insecure. She didn't come from the same background as David Rockefeller. They (the Reagans) definitely are people who weren't born to wealth and wouldn't naturally fit in."

But she has changed in at least one visible way. Friends and staff say she no longer fumes and cries about her press treatment. When Carolyn Deaver called her one day to complain about the stories quoting her husband as saying he couldn't live on his salary of $60,662 a year, Nancy Reagan simply said, knowingly: "Welcome to the club." Running the House

Nancy Reagan, who has always defined herself as a homemaker, runs her side of the White House like any careful housewife. She's a stickler about the family bills, paid through Roy Miller, the Reagans' lawyer in California. She reviews them personally, checking services charged against her schedule. She is aware of money and has been known to express shock when looking through the pages of fashion magazines to see a blouse that costs $300. "She's always been careful about what she spends," says her friend, Mary Jane Wick. She doesn't carry much cash, but will borrow money from people with her. She and the president are billed monthly for laundry, dry-cleaning and all the meals they eat at the White House. Dinner averages around $5 each; they pay wholesale prices for the food and, because the kitchen help is paid by the government, no labor costs. Their total monthly White House bill is around $600.

At her senior staff meetings each Monday, where long-range planning for trips and events occurs, Nancy Reagan likes detailed presentations. A good staff member knows to anticipate her questions, because if there is one that he or she can't answer--as one White House insider says has happened to Rosebush--Nancy Reagan will tilt her head, then fix the staff member with an intense, intimidating stare. ("She has a stare that could melt a building," says Jim Lake, Ronald Reagan's one-time campaign press secretary.) Then, in the staffer's presence, Nancy Reagan will pick up the phone, ask the White House operator to find Mike Deaver--and ask him the question.

"She's not a shouter or a slammer," says Tate. "But you can tell she's annoyed when her foot starts to bob." At times, to make sure tasks are carried out, some close to her report that Nancy Reagan will ask one aide to do something--then immediately call two other aides with the same request. If it isn't done quickly enough, she reportedly calls to inquire about the delay.

She has her hair shampooed and set once a week. In between are comb-outs. Julius Bengtsson comes to the White House from California about once a month to do her color, which is a combination of Miss Clairol No. 42 (Moongold) and No. 46 (Chestnut), then accented with Clairol Basic White for golden highlights. All her hair products are provided free-of-charge by Clairol. Her nails were previously done by Joanne Casperson, but because she talked about the Reagans on television in California, she was dismissed last summer. Casperson says the White House called her "undesirable" because she was getting too much publicity.

Nancy Reagan has a personal maid, Anita Castelo, who mends her clothes, lays them out in the morning, packs them, hand-launders and irons them. She shops through catalogues and friends. When she's in New York, she'll see her designers. "Adolfo will come over to the hotel and bring his people," says Rosebush. "He'll show his selections, and then she'll choose." When Julius comes to Washington, he sometimes brings clothes for her from the West Coast designers.

She talks frequently to her children, Ron and Patti Davis. A friend says she is most approving and attentive to Ron, who recently quit his ballet career. The friend says that Patti, an actress, gets "a lot of attention, but not too much approval. Nancy's worked real hard to get her on the right road. She's basically been rebellious all her life. She's been a source of aggravation, but Nancy obviously loves her." She keeps her distance from Maureen and Michael Reagan, the president's two children by his first marriage to Jane Wyman.

The Reagans reportedly have a private phone number that doesn't go through the White House switchboard. When it rings, the Reagans answer it themselves. For regular switchboard calls, one gong means it's for him, two gongs for her.

She talks to Frank Sinatra frequently. A friend says she's had a crush on him since she was a young girl. "She twinkles when he arrives," says the friend. "They're real cute together." Sinatra has become a sort of entertainment clearinghouse for the White House. If they have trouble getting in touch with a performer for a state dinner, he comes to the rescue. "It's a resource," says Brandon. Under Sinatra, this White House has had more Las Vegas night club-type acts than did the Carters. Guests at the state dinner for Venezuelan President Luis Herrera Campins still remember how Robert Goulet undulated across the East Room, serenaded the vice president's wife, Barbara Bush, called Patricia Haig, the wife of the then-secretary of state, "cute," and crooned "that face, that face" to Nancy Reagan.

Friends still worry that Nancy Reagan leads an isolated existence. Carolyn Deaver called her recently to tell her what happened to her one Saturday morning at the Georgetown Safeway: There she was, picking over the lettuce at 9:10 a.m., when an ambassador's wife, who'd heard about Carolyn Deaver's new part-time public relations job, asked, loudly, "YOU MEAN YOU'RE REALLY WORKING?" Suddenly, you could hear the watercress drying. Everyone parked their carts and listened.

Nancy Reagan's reaction?

"Lucky you," she said. "At least you get out."

She is, by all reports, a "media junkie." She reads The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Women's Wear Daily, Town & Country, Vogue and Interview--for which Doria Reagan writes. Her staff also keeps her supplied with a file of articles that mention her. She reads that daily. And she reads meticulously. When a story appeared in the papers that then-White House aide Morgan Mason had met with Marvin Mitchelson, the lawyer for Alfred Bloomingdale's mistress, Nancy called Mason that day to find out what happened.

And she is an assiduous watcher of the evening news. When Muffie Brandon said there was a "tablecloth crisis" at the White House, Nancy Reagan called her from California and asked: "What's going on back there?" Her Influence

White House political advisers are pleased that Nancy Reagan, unlike Rosalynn Carter, has nothing to do with administration policy. "She wouldn't know a continuing resolution from a New Year's resolution," says Mike Deaver. "But don't misunderstand what I'm saying. She does know the issues."

And she knows the players. Nancy Reagan may stay out of policy, but not personnel. At the White House, West Wing advisers always know how they're doing with the boss' wife. As communications director Dave Gergen puts it: "It would concern me a great deal to learn that she was unhappy with me." "I would prefer to be on her good list instead of her bad list," says Jim Baker. She reportedly has been displeased with the performance of deputy press secretary Larry Speakes, which Gergen characterizes as "a rumor six months ago." Edwin Meese, the president's counselor, has reportedly been on and off her "bad list" as well.

And despite what the White House says about her distance from administration policy, she has urged that endangered funding for the President's Committee on Arts and Humanities be saved. "Dave Swanson from the White House legislative liaison office was up here several times and let the committee know her interest, and the president's," says Frank Cushing, staff director of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on interior and related agencies.

And it's indisputable that Nancy Reagan has had an impact on the careers of such Reagan associates as Jim Baker, CIA Director William Casey, Sears and former national security adviser Richard V. Allen.

Even before the 1980 election, Nancy, Mike Deaver and Stuart Spencer decided that the more organized Baker, not Meese, should be Reagan's chief of staff. One administration adviser says it was Nancy who was the most important factor in that decision. "She realized," says Charles Black, "that there was a problem with the quality of the briefings Reagan was getting--which was under Ed Meese's jurisdiction--before Reagan did."

Casey joined the 1980 campaign after Nancy Reagan phoned him from O'Hare Airport and left a message for him to call her or Reagan, says Black. The Reagans hoped Casey would join to take care of the campaign finance problems. Nancy Reagan also had made an initial phone call to then-California Supreme Court Justice William Clark, asking if he'd be interested in serving as the campaign's chief of staff. Clark, who's now national security adviser, wasn't--but Casey became the campaign manager.

Sears, whom Casey replaced, was fired by Reagan on the afternoon of the 1980 New Hampshire primary. Officials say it was Nancy Reagan who realized--again, before her husband--that Sears had to go. Sears, who essentially told Reagan that it's "me or Meese," so angered the candidate that Lake, who was there, recalls: "I thought Reagan was actually going to hit him. Nancy was there through the whole thing and said, 'Now honey, calm down.' "

As for Allen, Nancy Reagan was reportedly furious over the embarrassment he caused by accepting $1,000 for her as a gratuity for setting up an interview she'd given to a Japanese women's magazine. She reportedly urged that he be fired. Allen, who said he put the money in a safe and forgot about it, resigned on Jan. 4, 1982. Allen says she never spoke to him about it, even when he saw her in a receiving line a few days after the story became public. "Oh, I might have detected an arched eyebrow," he says. "She was not cold or accusatory."

But it was this event that caused Nancy Reagan to casually ask the president's staff if she could continue accepting free clothes from her designer friends. The surprised staff gulped and quickly came up with a plan to donate the clothes (which Nancy said were "loans") to museums. Almost as quickly, it backfired in the face of criticism from the press and the public. The plan, after a few donations were made, was killed.

During that flap, her popularity was low. Wirthlin, Deaver and Tate had all been talking to her about the polls, but Wirthlin says, "I didn't go to her and issue her any kind of ultimatum. She saw in her own mind, perhaps, that she wasn't as helpful as she might have been to her husband."

"We had lunch one day in the Solarium," says Mike Wallace, the CBS correspondent who's been a friend of Nancy's for 35 years. "It just came up in the course of conversation. I said, 'Look, you've got to hunker down, it's going to happen. Don't believe it's all malice, because where there's smoke, there's some fire.' She listens. She's smart." The Social Nancy

Once Reagan had won, he and Nancy quickly began their well-documented foray into the heart of the Washington establishment. Georgetown, the social Mecca that the Carters pointedly ignored, mattered at the White House again. Right after the inaugural, Evangeline Bruce, a top hostess, says Nancy Reagan called her and asked her to give a luncheon. Oatsie Charles, Susan Mary Alsop and similar social figures followed with luncheons of their own. But now, although there was a small lunch at hostess Ceci Carusi's before Christmas, the Georgetown activity seems to have waned.

"I don't see her very much," says Bruce of Nancy.

Would she like to see her more?

"Oh," says Bruce, "I think everything's fine as it is."

"I'm not surprised that it's petered out," says one Georgetown hostess. "Everyone who gets in the White House always gets more comfortable, in the final analysis, with the friends they always had."

Others see it differently, Oatsie Charles among them. "It's totally cozy being with her," she says of Nancy. "I'd like to see her every day if I could. Mr. Charles has had two strokes in the past two years and she's been terribly thoughtful. She invited me to the Margaret Thatcher dinner because she thought it would cheer me up."

"It's just appalling to try to break into an old, old town like Washington," says Carusi. "She's well-liked because she's made an effort. Lots of them don't. They don't think they need it, but they learn very, very quickly."

But the Washington and California crowds don't entirely mix. Nancy Reagan's West Coast women friends tend to be the wives of self-made, conservative millionaires who view their spending on clothes and jewels as justified after years of hard work. In Washington, where the Georgetown ladies proudly live in "drafty old houses," (which is a not-so-subtle way of saying "old money"), there seem to be limits.

Lately, Nancy Reagan has seen more of her New York fashion-crowd friends. Pat Buckley, wife of the conservative magazine editor who went to Barbados with the Reagans and has known them for years, says of Nancy: "I think she's done brilliantly." She had a dinner for her last fall. Nan Kempner, a regular on the New York society pages, had a lunch for her last month. "I get all weepy-eyed about her, she's such a super dame," she says. And Brooke Astor, the philanthropist and socialite, is having a lunch for her in New York tomorrow.

Many of Nancy Reagan's California friends, who took apartments here two years ago, have left. And they've stopped giving parties for each other at places like Jean-Louis or the Jockey Club, a practice discouraged, in part, by Deaver--who grew tired of reading about the extravagant parties in the morning newspapers. Lee Annenberg is back in Palm Springs and Bloomingdale has given up her place at the Watergate. "I don't think she ever needed us, really," says Annenberg. "I think we just liked being there." But Jean Smith, wife of Attorney General William French Smith, and Mary Jane Wick, wife of United States Information Agency chief Charles Z. Wick, remain. Friends say Mary Jane Wick is the person that Nancy Reagan turns to when she wants to talk about personal things, like her family. "She has her own relationship with all my children," says Wick. "She frequently calls them, or they call her for advice on career moves."

She talks to Bloomingdale, friends say, about parties, clothes and gossip.

"That's not all we talk about," says Bloomingdale. "Although we never discuss any of the political things." The Marriage

"There's a magic to that marriage," says David Fisher, the president's personal aide. "It's kind of like that magic that's in everybody's courtship has never left the Reagans. Once we were on a plane, coming back to Andrews, and she was coming in on another flight. And they hugged and kissed each other like they'd been away for days. They hug and kiss all the time. They're really in love with each other."

Nancy Reagan, whose real father, a car salesman, didn't show up for her birth at a Manhattan hospital in 1921, was an insecure and lonely child. "I'm sure he regretted a lot of the things that happened," she told CBS' Diane Sawyer last fall. Her mother, the stage actress Edith Luckett, didn't want to take Nancy on the road with her and so left her with an aunt and uncle in Bethesda. She was 2, and she lived there for the next five years. Nancy would visit her mother occasionally when she stayed at a brownstone apartment in New York.

"To this day," Nancy Reagan wrote with Bill Libby in her autobiography, "Nancy," "I can't pass this type of building without getting a terrible sinking feeling in my stomach. It triggers the memory of how much I missed Mother when I was apart from her . . . when I was four or five years old, I had a double pneumonia and was seriously ill for a while. My aunt and uncle took care of me as well as anyone could, but I wanted my mother with me and knew she was somewhere out on the road away from me . . . I can remember crying at this time and saying, 'If I had a child and she got sick, I'd be with her.' "

Nancy Reagan got her mother back when Luckett married Dr. Loyal Davis, a Chicago neurosurgeon. Her mother quit working, and the three lived on Chicago's exclusive North Shore. At 14, Nancy was adopted by Davis. She had nice clothes and a debutante party. She then went to Smith College; her Princeton boyfriend was killed on his way to see her, crushed under the wheels of a train. In Hollywood, she became an M-G-M contract player in 1949. She didn't know Reagan, a handsome actor and the president of the Screen Actors Guild. "When the opportunity to meet him presented itself," Lou Cannon wrote in his book, "Reagan," "she demonstrated an inclination for the main chance that is one of her abiding characteristics." During the Red Scare in 1951, the name "Nancy Davis" showed up repeatedly on a Communist Party mailing list. She had director Mervyn LeRoy call up Reagan to get it removed--and to set up a dinner date with him to reassure her.

These days, she doesn't usually call the president during working hours and rarely pops in to the Oval Office to see him--although when she does, aides report that his face lights up. She is "someone who makes your life like coming into a warm room," the president told Newsweek in 1981.

Camp David is one of the few places Nancy Reagan has her husband to herself. Usually they spend their weekends there with a small staff, walking, horseback riding and watching movies. They saw "Tootsie" on a recent trip. The president serves everybody popcorn and afterward, they all chat about the movie. Nancy sometimes leads the discussion, the president punctuating with Hollywood memories.

"One reason Nancy Reagan has been so criticized, and particularly by women," says Carolyn Deaver, "is that so many women just can't believe that she has the kind of marriage she has and can have been so fulfilled by what her husband does. So many critics are so skeptical--or jealous. They think it's an act." Nancy's Causes "I wanted to rip people limb from limb, they were so unfair," says Tate of Nancy Reagan's early press coverage. In the beginning, so many reporters asked about Nancy's designer clothes that Tate soon began volunteering the information. Now Tate claims that "nobody is interested any longer in which clothes are designed by what designer" so she doesn't provide the information. Instead, the East Wing staff seems buoyed by the first lady's antidrug work. "I'd be willing to make a statement that she's probably saved some lives," Tate says.

The first trip for the drug-abuse program was to Florida and Texas last February. "When we got on the plane, there was an apprehension," says Carlton Turner, director of the White House Drug Abuse Policy Office. "But on the way back, Mrs. Reagan even took time for an impromptu press conference. In just two days, you could see the change in her. She had done it all by herself."

The White House says the antidrug program is working, and produces these statistics:

Since Nancy Reagan's involvement, the White House says the number of community-based parents groups has grown from 1,000 to 3,000. She gets 1,000 drug-related letters a month, representing half of the total correspondence she receives. Turner says she's been successful in encouraging corporations to pay for information campaigns directed at young people. And Good Housekeeping magazine has her on its annual list of the 10 most admired women. Although she slipped from second to third place, this year she was specifically cited for her drug-abuse work.

The White House also says the antidrug program was in no way an attempt to improve her image; in fact, Turner says some at the White House at first felt it was an "unattractive" cause for the first lady--or even a liability. (Now she concentrates on marijuana, the "beginning end" of drug abuse, as opposed to heroin, the "terminal end." She also stays out of drug policy and enforcement.)

White House officials have numerous explanations for why they waited a year to start the antidrug campaign. They all agree that the assassination attempt and then the threat of the Libyan hit squad restricted Nancy Reagan's travel. Mike Deaver says: "There was so much on our plates when we first got here, and Nancy wanted to make the house comfortable for the president. That seemed like a natural thing. We had the whole world to run."

Now that the antidrug program is under way, many Americans appear to believe that Nancy Reagan's interest is sincere. (See accompanying article, page G5.) She also has stepped up her activities with the Foster Grandparents program. Last year, she cowrote a book about it called "To Love a Child" and recorded a song of the same name with Frank Sinatra. Her staff says her rapport with children and the handicapped is sincere. "With me, it's always a halting conversation, but with her, it's an amazing thing to watch," says Ann Wrobleski, Nancy Reagan's special projects director.

"Where you or I would be turned off by a mongoloid or a guy who had both of his legs broken, she's able to cope," says Deaver.

"She cries with these handicapped kids, and then she holds their stumps," says one friend. "Jesus. That ain't an act." Home

The Reagans have sold their Pacific Palisades house and all they own is their ranch. Nancy isn't crazy about it but puts up with it because he likes it. Friends wonder what they'll do when they leave the White House--whether it's in 1985 or 1989.

Nancy Reagan doesn't seem to be worrying about it. For now, the White House is home.