Jimmy Carter is a man who lives what he teaches. He is a man guided by Christian principles and Golden Rule ethics. He is a man of peace who performs good deeds the world over. Although I didn't vote for Jimmy Carter, my respect and admiration for this man has grown substantially over the years. And so it was a no-brainer to plan an itinerary around one of his Sunday School presentations at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. (Mrs. Carter was tending to an in-law's illness.)
There aren't too many people who are greeted by a bomb sniffing dog and a bevy of secret service agents searching purse and person at their neighborhood church! This is Nellie, a three-year old Dutch Shepherd that, her trainer claims, is not only tuned to detect explosive material, she can smell a run-away criminal's adrenaline a block away! She circled my Lazy Daze wagon, sat down, and waited for some "good-dog" ear scratches from her master as my rolling home passed muster.
"Put your purse on the table, and hand over your camera."
The people of Plains consider the Carters just plain folks who happen to have strong family ties in the community of 700 or so. Mr. Carter cuts the grass at the church grounds; Rosalynn (pronounced ROSElynn) takes her turn cleaning up.
The church's simple wooden cross and collection plates were hand crafted by Mr. Jimmy in his workshop down the road, with tools given him by his White House staff.
As the church filled, Miss Jan (Amy Carter's 4th Grade teacher) prepared the congregation with an hour's worth of do's, don'ts and entertaining anecdotes and Jimmy stories: We are not to stand when he enters (he's no longer the President); we are not to applaud (he comes here to teach, not to perform); we may not ask for autographs; we may not ask questions; the only photographs allowed of him inside the church are when he is polling visitors about where you're from; if you are a visiting minister, you might be asked to give the opening prayer; and, yes, after the service photographs with Mr. Jimmy are allowed, and "PLEASE do not ask him to hold your purse while your picture is taken"!
It was a pretty heady experience to be in the presence of a living president and Nobel Peace Prize winner whom I hold high in my esteem. I was honored. He is 84 years old and his smile still twinkles, and I'm amazed at the energy he and Mrs. Carter devote to The Carter Center in Atlanta and their philanthropic endeavors around the world. They had just returned from Lebanon, Syria, Damascus and Jerusalem, and he spent some time describing how he and Rosalynn had monitored the voting process during Lebanon's recent elections, among other pursuits.
After the service, Miss Jan has her hands full, a little like herding crickets I suppose.
She and another church volunteer patiently organized the photo op line and learned how to operate individual cameras...
...all under the watchful eye of the Secret Service.
Yes indeed, he did too have his arm around me...stupid photographer...how on earth did that happen? I KNOW I was there. And I KNOW better than to relinquish my camera to a stranger. Now just LOOK what happened!!!
One of the agents deigned to answer some of my questions: Yes, there are separate Secret Service quarters on the premises of Carters' home; yes, the protection is 24/7 for both of them; yes, we travel with them when the Carters visit other countries; yes, our families stay with us in nearby towns and we rotate between our homes and the Carter home; no, you can't take my picture.
Did you see those headlines? "Little old lady thrown in Plains hoosegow, camera with stealth telephoto confiscated, sentenced to August stoop labor over a hot, boiling peanut pot."
The town of Plains is the site of three "Jimmy Carter National Historic Sites" honoring its famous native: his boyhood home, Plains High School and the Depot that acted as Mr. Carter's 1976 Campaign Headquarters.
Plains High School is now a museum with auditorium/theater, bookstore and everything you want to know about Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, then and now.
The Boyhood Farm
This must have been a family of neat eaters -- no napkins necessary! That sure looks like a healthy farm meal -- and most of it grown right outside the back door.
Miss Lillian was a working mother. She would leave the chore list for the Carter children on this table, and they'd better look here as SOON as they returned from school!
The Carters were the first on their block to have an indoor shower!
A ranger boils peanuts for visitors to the farm and entertains us with peanut lore and trivia. Boiled is the traditional Southern way to eat peanuts. Some are boiled with just plain salt, others are spiced with seasonings. You can buy them along roadsides throughout Georgia.
First you suck the juices, then you shell them and eat the soft little peas warm. You know peanuts are legumes, not nuts, right?
Downtown Plains (about three blocks long)
The street was undergoing some fixing-up in front of the Depot.
The family and its watchers presently reside in there some place behind the trees. Yes, there is a gate, and a sentry's post marks an inconspicuous driveway. These grounds are off limits to the public.