"The item. . . . makes me as angry as an old wet hen," wrote Mary K. Bikowski of Wheaton. Enclosed was a photocopy of a news story. Lady Bird Johnson and her LBJ Ranch staff had been barred from shopping at the Bergstrom Air Force Base commissary in Austin, Tex., even though the staff had shopped there regularly for at least five years.
Two weeks later, a smiliar fate befell Jimmy Carter. The Defense Department ruled that, despite his former job as commander-in-chief and former standing as a Navy officer, he wasn't eligible to use commissaries, either.
Not that Carter had done it, mind you, or tried. He hadn't. It was just, well, you know, regulations. . . .
Nonsense, says Mary Bikowski. "After all the years spent in public service, the least the government could do is extend that small courtesy," she writes. "It just makes me hoppin' mad."
Well, that makes two of us, Mary.
The fact that the Carter and Johnson families can afford higher-than-commissary prices isn't the point. We already spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to provide Secret Service protection to former presidents and their families. Why begrudge them the right to save a few cents on celery like other commissary patrons and their families?It would be a minor reward for major service, just as extending commissary privileges to retired military personnel is a reward for their service.
Besides, anyone who wants to argue that LBJ performed the service in the Johnson family, not Lady Bird, doesn't understand that relationship or Mrs. Johnson's contributions to this city.
Lady Bird Johnson not only planted most of the tulips that still grace the Tidal Basin four administrations later. She also kept her husband from being consumed by his responsibilities and ambition -- a worthy and difficult assignment if there ever was one.
Consider this information, supplied by Flo Dunn, public information specialist for the Army's Troop Support Agency at Fort Lee, Va., which runs all U.S. commissaries:
Former presidents and former presidents' families are not eligible to use commissaries. Neither are retired members of Congress, former Cabinet officers, past or present justices of the Supreme Court or former ambassadors, except if privileges are granted on a temporary basis.
But the following people are eligible:
Military dependents less than 23 years old who are full-time college students, even though they may also hold full-time jobs.
Surviving spouses of Medal of Honor spouses of Medal of Honor recipients, who may also hold full-time jobs.
Most obscure of all: retirees who worked in federally operated lighthouses or depots that were used in defense of the nation. No one knows for sure how many of these employes are still alive. Flo Dunn's best guess: a few dozen. There are, of course, nowhere near that many former presidents or surviving presidential spouses.
Flo Dunn adds that only the secretary of defense can grant commissary eligibility appeals. Neither Lady Bird Johnson nor Jimmy Carter has bothered to file.
They shouldn't have to.
Quiz: What do Ernest McIver, Nell Rawles, Douglas Yriart, Bradley D. Nash, Judith Ricketts, Mike Giroux, Jim Beadles, Phyllis Stone and about 175 other Washingtonians have in common?
Answer: they're smarter than I am. They knew that it was the National Grange that planted a curbside crop of corn and tomatoes in the 1600 block of H Street NW.
I didn't know, and when I wrote about that plot of green growing goodness last week, I asked for assistance in identifying the hardy (or was it foolhardy?) soul who trusted downtowners enough to try to raise vegetables among them.
Judy Massabny, director of information at the National Grange, set me straight, and I'm delighted to do the same to the record.
Etuk Inyangette, a building engineer at the Grange, plants the garden every year. It has never been stolen from, trampled to death by peace demonstrators, crushed by truck tires -- or failed to flourish. Well done, Etuk.