|Ronald Reagan (1976)|
I am not much of an activist. I have never campaigned for any candidate, never carried a picket sign, never chained myself to a tree. (Though I have been tempted to chain myself to one of those old coffee shops that they're always needlessly tearing down.) However, in 1988, as a Senior in High School, I sent President Ronald Reagan a birthday card for his last birthday in office. He turned 77 on February 6, 1988. I do not remember what prompted me to do this, though it was most likely suggested to me by my father, or a teacher. But I'm grateful to whomever it was that put the idea in my head.
Growing up in the 70's and 80's, my generation had a front row seat to some very big historical moments on the world stage. We saw the apex of the Cold War, the rise of Terrorism, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. They were scary times. Yet through eight years in the 1980's, we were privileged to have a man in the White House who never flinched from his role as the leader of our country.
Many pundits and comedians enjoyed poking fun at the President's age, often without even attempting to hide their malice. I never understood that. There was something serenely comforting about having a man of his age and stature at the helm. Yes, there were jokes about Reagan being old--like an old grandfather. I saw that, however, as an asset. What was even better, was the fact that he wasn't just a grandfather who was always ready to dispense his wealth of common-sense wisdom, but you just knew that this guy had your back. He wasn't going to let anyone mess with you. (When is the last time a President responded as swiftly and decisively as Reagan did after the murder of our soldiers in Berlin?)
And so, as Reagan's time in office was coming to a close, I took time out from my teenager's busy schedule of school and work to send him a simple birthday card. I don't remember what I sent him. A store-bought card. Just a hand-written note. I don't know. And I might have even forgot that I sent him anything at all except that one day in March, a large, manila envelope arrived in the mail. The stamp on the top left corner of it was labeled The White House. Inside, protected by a piece of cardboard, was a small sheet of paper, embossed with the seal of the President of the United States at top center. The President had sent a thank-you note.
Now despite the fact that the signature had been signed with a felt-tip pen, I had no illusions that President Reagan had actually signed the paper. Maybe he had. But I've always assumed that this was a form letter, and that the signature was done with a mechanical pen. I do not think there were printers that could replicate such a signature in 1988, though it is marginally possible, I guess. At any rate, I would be surprised to discover that it was an actual signature. Tens of thousands of people might have sent him birthday wishes. Imagine how many grade-schoolers might have done so as a class project. So I'm gonna stick with my guess that the President never knew about my note and a very low-level, White House assistant to an aide's assistant oversaw the mailing of countless form-letter thank-you notes. And that's perfectly fine with me.
What I do know is that after I received it, I carefully placed it back in the manila envelope. Over the years, despite the many times I've moved from State to State, and throughout my twenty-plus years of marriage during which time I've helped my wife raise five children, that envelope has been kept safely in an old cardboard box high up on a shelf. From time to time, I've pulled it out to show to my children as they grew up. Just yesterday I did it again, for my youngest sons, who had never seen it.
When I looked at the date on it, I realized that it had been twenty-five years since it had come in the mail. In fact, the date on the note was February 29th, a leap year. That in itself is pretty cool. At the suggestion of my wife, I scanned the note into the computer, to share with friends and family. Then I carefully placed it back in its envelope, that single piece of cardboard ensuring that it never gets bent or torn. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something else in the envelope. It was a note I had placed in there a few months after it arrived. It had been so long ago that I'd forgotten it was there. I have no memory of writing it. I'd never pulled it out to show my older children. I'd overlooked it. But this time I saw it. Just a short note in blue ink from a seventeen-year-old young man who had taken the time to jot down a few words.
This document is important to me.
I believe Ronald Reagan is and will be
one of our best Presidents.