By James Patterson
In 1976, during my junior year of university, I volunteered to work for the Presidentials, a national youth program to elect Gerald Ford president of the United States. Mr. Ford was already serving as president—America’s only unelected president. (In 1973, he became vice president when Spiro Agnew resigned. Later, in 1974, Ford became president when Richard Nixon resigned due to his involvement in the Watergate scandal. )
I worked with other Presidentials in my state to support Ford in the GOP presidential primary. It was exciting work, and I was invited to go to the Republican National Convention in Kansas City. It was exciting because, going into the convention, neither Ford nor his challenger, Ronald Reagan, had enough delegates to capture the presidential nomination.
Eventually, Ford captured the delegates needed to win the nomination, but then lost the election to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
In January 1977, on Ford’s last day as president, I sent a telegram to him and Mrs. Ford at the White House. I thanked them for their service to our country and wished them well as private citizens. It was a brief message.
Several days passed, and I received a response from the Fords, a letter. In the upper-right corner of the envelope, where the first-class stamp normally goes, was the signature “Gerald Ford.” The envelope was also stamped by the post office with “Postage due 13 cents.” Yes, in 1977 the cost of a first-class stamp was 13 cents.
My mail carrier wanted to collect the 13 cents from me, but I remembered a former teacher instructing my class that presidents didn’t have to pay postage. Presidents could simply sign their names on the letter and the US Postal Service would deliver it. So I told the mail carrier that I didn’t have to pay the postage because Gerald Ford was president of the United States.
The mail carrier countered by saying only a sitting president could get free postage. I held my ground . I told him that former President Ford was entitled to free mail as a perk of his former job. The mail carrier maintained that I owed 13 cents for the presidential letter, and he refused to give it to me.
He said the letter would be held at the local post office and I could pick it up when I was ready to pay the 13 cents.
So I called and made an appointment to talk with the local postmaster.
When I arrived for my appointment, I was nervous but still firm in my position that I did not owe 13 cents for the presidential letter. Surely, I thought, the postmaster knew the rules for presidential mail.
To my surprise, the postmaster greeted me warmly. He thanked me for coming in to discuss my claim. Apparently, the postmaster had been briefed on the reason for my visit.
“Mr. Patterson,” the postmaster said, “you are right. President Ford’s signature is sufficient to cover the first-class cost of his letter to you. You do not owe the Postal Service 13 cents.” The postmaster went on to say he wished his employees knew as much about the Postal Service policies on presidential mail as I apparently did. Then the postmaster handed me the letter. I thanked him and left the post office.
Outside in front of the post office, I opened the letter. “Thank you for your kind words,” it began. It ended with, “Betty and I are grateful for your friendship.” And I was grateful the Fords had found time to drop me a letter in response to my telegram. It is a special letter to me and one I will always treasure.
1. Gerald Ford: 杰拉尔德•福特，美国第38任总统（1974—1976），原为副总统，尼克松辞职后继任总统。
2. Spiro Agnew: 斯皮罗•阿格纽，美国副总统（1969—1973），共和党人，1973年因贪污受贿等丑闻而辞职。
3. Richard Nixon: 理查德•尼克松，美国第37任总统（1969—1974），共和党人，因水门事件而被迫辞职；Watergate scandal: 水门事件丑闻，1972年6月美国总统大选之前，民主党水门大楼本部遭人安装窃听器，经调查与共和党竞选委员会有关，导致美国历史上的首次总统辞职。
4. GOP: 是Grand Old Party的缩写，老大党，指美国共和党；presidential primary: 总统预选。
5. convention: （正式）会议，（定期）大会。
6. Ronald Reagan: 罗纳德•里根，美国第40任总统（1981—1988），共和党人，曾任加利福尼亚州州长，长期从事过广播、电视、电影工作，总统任内推行减税政策，改革政治经济，提出战略防御计划；delegate: 代表。
7. Jimmy Carter: 吉米•卡特，美国第39任总统（1977—1981），民主党人。
8. first-class: （邮件）第一类的，优先投递的。
9. due: 欠款的，应支付的。
10. mail carrier: 邮递员。
11. 邮递员反驳说，只有现任总统才能享受免邮资的待遇。counter: 反驳；sitting: 在任期内的，现任的。
12. hold one’s ground: 坚持立场，不让步。
13. 我告诉他前总统福特有权享受免邮资的待遇，这是他在前任工作中所应有的特权。perk: =perquisite，特殊待遇，特权。
14. maintain: 坚持。
15. claim: 权利，要求权。
16. brief: （尤指事前）向……介绍基本情况。
17. sufficient: 足够的，充足的。