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Jimmy Carter: Proud Son

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Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter discusses the life of his mother, Lillian Carter. She's the subject of his new book A Remarkable Mother. The 39th president and Nobel Peace Prize winner also discusses his recent trip to the Middle East and his controversial meeting with members of Hamas.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. In our Wisdom Watch conversations, we sit down with respected elders to ask them to share their wisdom about today's most pressing issues. Jimmy Carter became the nation's 39th president in 1976. It was a time when America's confidence had been shaken by the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War. Restoring the nation's faith in the White House was a challenge. Some people wondered how a man born into a humble farm family in Plains, Georgia had the nerve to take it on. But they probably would not have been puzzled had they known his mother, Lillian Carter, known to just about everybody as Ms. Lillian. Her sprit of adventure, her compassion for the less fortunate and her ability to reach out across boundaries of race and faith were a passion that she passed on to her son. Jimmy Carter has told Lillian Carter's story in his latest book, "A Remarkable Mother." And we're joined now by former president Jimmy Carter, and I need to warn that there maybe some language that might offend some listeners. President Carter, welcome to the program.

President JIMMY CARTER: I'm delighted to be with you Michel, thank you.

MARTIN: We obviously want to spend some time on the book which is quite a remarkable document, but I did want to spend just a couple of minutes on your very much discussed recent trip to the Middle East and your meeting with members of Hamas. What do you think you accomplished?

President CARTER: Well, I met with Hamas and I had met with them three times earlier when they had won overwhelmingly the election to head the parliament and the government among the Palestinians. In January of 2006, they entered the election fair and square. It was fully supported by the United States and Israel. But when they won the election, all of a sudden Israel and the United States decided that no one could talk to them unless they had permission from the U.S. government, and that the people that they lead now in Gaza should be imprisoned and, in effect, starved to death.

In the past, Hamas had insisted that they would only have a cease-fire if Gaza and West Bank were combined. But two days after I left Israel, Hamas did, indeed, offer to have a cease-fire in Gaza alone, which the Israelis rejected. That's the first thing.

The second one was that Hamas agreed to accept the right of Israel to exist and live in peace provided that Palestinian-Israeli peace talks that are now going on produce a product and that agreement is submitted to the Palestinian people in a referendum and the Palestinian people approved. Then Hamas will accept it, even though Hamas disagrees with some of the agreement. So those are some of the things that we were able to accomplish.

MARTIN: Some Democrats have criticized the trip. We were talking to Senator Chris Dodd last week about a lot of things, not just this issue, but he's a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a former presidential candidate. This is what he said.

(Soundbite of interview)

Senator CHRIS DODD: (Democrat, Connecticut): It's not a you know bad idea for other people to maybe, in some other place, to be talking to Hamas. But for a former American president to do that without the sanctioning - we only have one person at a time in the administration that conducts foreign policy. You can have an influence and work with it, but as a former president, you go off and start doing engaging in your own foreign policy, I think it's highly disruptive. And I have great respect for Jimmy Carter, I admire a lot of the work he's done, but I think he has to be more judicious about he utilizes that reputation at a time when we need leadership to try and bridge these gaps.

MARTIN: Why do you think it is that you see your role so differently from so many other leaders within the government of both parties?

President CARTER: Well, in the first place, I was not representing the United States government. I was not representing Israel. I was only representing myself and the Carter Center. And before I left, I had made a long conversation with the assistance secretary of state in charge of the Middle East affairs, for about 20 minutes. I told everywhere I was going to go. I told him everybody with whom I was going to meet and there was never any word of caution or asking me not to go, or anything of that kind. And so I went in good faith and I made my report publicly.

I sent a written report to the White House and to the State Department when I got back, which I always do when I go on a foreign trip. So I don't think that I exceeded the bounds of what a private citizen, who does have some influence and some ability to travel should do, if he is committed to peace for Israel, which I have always been for the last thirty something years.

MARTIN: Why do you think, though, that even people like Chris Dodd, who I think would probably agree with you on any number of things, doesn't agree with you about this?

President CARTER: Well, you have to remember there are a lot political pressures in this country. It's almost impossible for any member of the House or Senate or candidate for president to take any action that's disapproved by the Israeli government. And I understand those political pressures. I felt some of them when I was president, and so I don't criticize any political office holder for making statements that the Israeli government would approve.

MARTIN: Let's talk about your book. I think this is your 23rd.

President CARTER: Twenty-fifth.

MARTIN: Twenty-fifth, excuse me. See, I lost track. Why do you think you wanted to write about your mother now?

President CARTER: Well, I think the country is kind of in a quandary with the results of the seven and a half years of maladministration in Washington. But I think people are still searching for what's best about America. And I think more than any other person that I've ever known, my mother exemplified what is best about this country. She was strong, had a dominant will, she was undeterred when she felt right about something. She was willing to cut across the morays and policies of society if she disapproved, and we grew up in an isolated community called Archery, Georgia, in deep, South Georgia, during the depths of the Depression, and during the depths also of a racial segregation that existed almost a hundred years after the Civil War.

My mother was a registered nurse and she paid no attention at all to discrimination against black people. She treated African-Americans exactly the same as she did white people and she was unique, perhaps among the 30,000 people that lived in our county, in doing that. I was filled with admiration for my mother.

MARTIN: Your mother was a trailblazer in so many ways that seem obvious now, but might not have then. For example, she, as you mentioned, she worked outside the home as a nurse at a time when a lot of women didn't do that. As a mother, as person who had children, you know, herself, and I wonder if that gave you a different perspective on women and work?

President CARTER: Well, it did. Mother came to Plains, Georgia, which still has only 635 people, to be trained as a nurse. And her first duties were in the operating room, and then she decided that she would rather go into the homes of the poorest people who couldn't go to the hospital. And so she nursed them 20 hours a day and was supposed to be paid six dollars for that 20 hours a day. Most of the people didn't have enough money to pay her, but that didn't bother my mama.

So, when she was only off duty for four hours a day, it was usually from 10 o'clock at night to 2 o'clock in the morning when I and my sisters were asleep. So, mother, I would say, in a way, sacrificed the intimacy of her own family and dealing with her own children, to serve other people. She never considered that to be a sacrifice, by the way. She considered it to be a gratifying and exhilarating and adventurous experience, and that was the spirit that she demonstrated to me, and I don't think there's any doubt that she made a major impact on me.

When I was elected governor, for instance, you know, in a segregated South in 1970, my inaugural speech was very brief, only eight minutes, but one of the things I said was that I knew Georgia quite well and I say to you quite frankly, the time for racial discrimination is over. Later, when I became president, I announced that human rights would be the foundation of our foreign policy. So, I don't think there's any doubt that those political decisions of mine and policies of mine were derived directly from my mother's experience.

MARTIN: But sometimes kids aren't impervious to criticism and sometimes unorthodox parents are frightening to children. You know, they wonder, why can't their parents just act like everybody else, and I wonder if you ever felt that way?

President CARTER: Well, in a way. Later, in 1964, which is - I'm moving forward a long way from my childhood, mama agreed to be the campaign manager for Lyndon Johnson in Sumter County. And she was about the only white person in the county that was that courageous. She would go to an old, dilapidated hotel then in Americus Georgia county seat, and work for Johnson, and when she came out in the afternoon, her automobile would be covered with scatological phrases written in soap on the sides, and her radio antenna would be tied in a knot. She never let that bother her.

Our children, my mama's grandchildren, of course, also would take a Johnson, a Democrat Party sticker and put it on their bookcases or something. And one of my sons that I wrote in the book, Chip, our middle son, he was pretty well beat-up by his fellow boys who thought that he was a - if you'll excuse the expression, a nigger-lover, because he was for Johnson in those days. But, mama, I guess, she was strong enough that she inspired both me and my wife and also our children, her grandchildren.

MARTIN: Did she ever talk to you about why she took those risks, or did she just...

President CARTER: No.

MARTIN: Just do her thing and expect that her example would speak for itself?

President CARTER: She didn't think that it deserved any explanation. She thought that since racial segregation and the discrimination against her black neighbors was wrong, she tried to correct it. She didn't think she needed to explain it.

MARTIN: You're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. Our guest is former President Jimmy Carter. His latest book is "A Remarkable Mother," a book about his mother, Lillian Carter. To me, some of the most vivid passages in the book are when you describe her service in the Peace Corps in India, which she joined at the age of 70. And she did have some mad cap adventures, but there were just some really heart-wrenching moments where she had to face the conflict between her values and what she was being asked to do. And I just, I wonder, did that - it certainly made an impression on me hearing about it, I wondered, did that make an impression on you and how you think about, particularly in the work that you went on to do and do now, in trying to reconcile very, very different points of view about what is fundamentally right?

President CARTER: Well, it certainly did. Mother wrote voluminous letters to us, and those letters were published in a book while I was president, as a matter of fact. One of them, in anguish, that went on for days and even weeks, was this woman who had leprosy that covered her whole body. She was covered with sores and she crawled across the path that my mother had to walk each morning in order for the woman to get her drink of filthy water out of a mud hole, and mother wanted to take the woman and put her in the clinic and take care of her, and the doctor ordered mother not to tend to the woman because the sooner she was dead, the better. And she was in the last days of her life and it was better for mother not to get contaminated with the leprosy that the woman had.

This was a horrible ordeal for my mother to sacrifice her lifetime commitment to reach out to the most destitute of people in order to preserve her own health and to comply with the policies or mores or customs of that era.

MARTIN: How do you think that affected you in your thinking about what is to be done in a situation like that where, as we are facing now, you know, you have one sense of what is right to do, and a lot of people think, you know what? No, I don't agree with you.

President CARTER: Well, I don't want to exaggerate the situation, but I think that all of us should be vigilant about discrimination against people that are poor, helpless, destitute, ignored, and bear unnecessary illnesses that ought to be eliminated. And so, I don't think it's an accident that this is the major commitment of the Carter Senate, which Rosa and I have headed for the last 25 years.

Three-fourths of our total budget, and three-fourths of our personal time is spent dealing with what the World Health Organization classifies as neglected diseases. These are diseases that are horrendous in their impact on tens or hundreds of millions of people in the poorest countries, but are no longer known. So, I don't think there's any doubt that this action or commitment or priority that we've established for our post-presidential lives are derived, at least to some degree, from the example that my mother said.

MARTIN: Your mother was what they now call a campaign surrogate, when you first ran for the White House. She was famous for speaking her mind. My personal favorite is when she called you out of a cabinet meeting to fuss you out because she had mistakenly gotten a bill for a dress that she wore to an official function which was kind of pricey. I have to tell you, 450 was kind of pricey for a dress.

President CARTER: It was a lot of money then. Well, she went to a funeral on behalf of the United States of America representing me when a dignitary died. I had a clothing store in Washington take a black gown that she could wear to the funeral, and so, when she got back, she kept the dress. I think she should have paid for it, tell you the truth, but when she got the bill for 450 bucks, she called me at the White House and the operator said, I'm sorry, we cannot disturb President Carter now, he's in a cabinet meeting. And I won't tell you exactly what she said on the telephone, but she said, I'll talk to my son whenever I please. You tell him it's an absolute emergency and he's got to come to the phone immediately. So I went and she said, Jimmy, what the hell are you doing sending me a bill for the dress that I wore and I - of course, it was a family fair so I said, mama, you don't have to pay for the dress. So Rosa and I paid for the dress and mama kept it.

MARTIN: Oh, dear. She was a diva.

President CARTER: Well, she thought she was right and she never backed down.

MARTIN: Could I ask though, did she ever get on your nerves?

President CARTER: Yeah. Sometimes, you know, she would go on Johnny Carson or Merv Griffin's show or even Walter Cronkite's show and she would say ridiculous things sometimes, and I was trying to be president. And I would go to a press conference, somebody would get up and say, Mr. President, how do you respond to what your mother said yesterday? And I would say, oh, no, what did she say? And they would tell me and I would say, my mother has her own life to live, I have my life to live, I'm not responsible for what she says. It kind of reminds me of the problem that Obama has now.

MARTIN: Yeah. I was going to ask you about that, dealing with Mr. Wright. What do you think about all that?

President CARTER: Well, you know, I've been involved in black churches all my life. In fact, the most powerful, richest, most exalted man in Archery, Georgia, where I grew up, was an African Methodist Bishop, William Dexter Johnson. And when he came home to our little community, he would preach in a local church, and so I started going to black services back in those days and now, Plains, which has about 635 people, has 11 churches. The largest and most dominant church in Plains is an African Baptist church. So, I've heard sermons like that all my life where the pastors, particularly if they are older, like my age, still remembers the segregation days and the travesty of white American Christians who condoned racial discrimination.

MARTIN: Mr. President, we're getting the hook when we need to let you go.

President CARTER: OK.

MARTIN: But, I did want to ask you, finally, what would you like us to draw from your mother's story?

President CARTER: I think my mother's life personifies, better than anybody I know, what America ought to be. She believed in peace, humility, service of others, human rights, forgiveness, but she was a dominant. She didn't do that in a service way, yielding to other people. So I thinks strong-willed but still adhering to the basic moral values that make America a great nation.

MARTIN: "A Remarkable Mother" is the latest book from former President Jimmy Carter, also a former Nobel Peace Prize winner. He joined us from the studios of WAMU, here in Washington, D.C. Mr. President, thank you so much for speaking with us.

President CARTER: I've enjoyed being with you. Best wishes to you.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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Excerpt: 'A Remarkable Mother'

Carter Book

Bessie Lillian Gordy was born in Chattahoochee County, Georgia, the fi fteenth day of August, 1898, and was one of the most extraordinary people I've ever known. She was the fourth of nine children, two of them adopted "double first cousins," and was described in news reports as "third cousin of U.S. Senators Jesse Helms and Sam Nunn, fourth cousin of Elvis Presley, and mother of President Jimmy Carter." We children thought this diverse heritage partially explained her interest in politics and showmanship, but not some of her other idiosyncrasies.

My mother's great-grandfather Wilson Gordy was the fi rst of his family to be born in Georgia, in 1801. He was descended from Peter Gordy, who was born in Somerset County, Maryland, in 1710. We've never attempted to trace the genealogy further, but some of the older kinfolks always said that the Gordys came from France. Wilson moved to West Georgia near the Chattahoochee River in the 1830s, soon after the Lower Creek Indians were forced westward and land was opened to white settlers. All of his possessions were in a large hogshead, with an axle through the center, which rolled down the narrow openings through virgin timber, drawn by his only horse. He soon became known as the best carpenter of what would be Chattahoochee County. Lillian's grandfather James Th omas Gordy was a wagon master during the Civil War and later county tax collector, and he married Harriet Emily Helms, whose parents came from North Carolina.

Lillian's father was James Jackson Gordy, named after an early hero of Revolutionary War days, and he was always known as Jim Jack. A federal government revenue offi cer in Southwest Georgia and later postmaster in Richland, he became one of the most astute political analysts in his changing communities. Mama's mother was Mary Ida Nicholson, daughter of Nathaniel Nunn Nicholson and granddaughter of Frances Nunn, whose family moved from the Carolinas to Georgia soon after the Revolutionary War.

My grandfather Jim Jack was thirteen years old when the "Northern oppressors" finally relinquished political and economic control of the state in 1876, and it was inevitable that there was still a legacy of North-South bitterness among the older relatives in the earliest political discussions I ever heard. Slavery was never mentioned — only the unwarranted violation of states' rights and the intrusion of the federal government in the private lives of citizens. I remember that my mother was the only one in her family who ever spoke up to defend Abraham Lincoln.

I recorded some of my mother's comments about her family:

"Well, fi rst of all let me tell you about Mama. She seemed to be real quiet, but she never let Papa push her around. For instance, Papa was quite a dandy when he was young. He was engaged to another woman in Cusseta before he even met my mother, and the wedding was all planned. I never did know if it was a forced wedding or not, but when the time came he got on the train and disappeared, leaving his bride standing at the altar. He stayed away about three months, then came back and started courting Mama. When they were engaged, he was twenty-fi ve and she was just seventeen, but Mama was really feisty. She told him she wasn't going to even dress for the ceremony until she knew he was standing by and ready. She sat in a chair in the preacher's house, with her wedding dress on the bed, until Papa arrived at the church next door and the preacher came over and certifi ed that he was there. Only then did she get up, put on her wedding dress, and join him for the ceremony.

"Th e newlyweds moved to a little settlement called Brooklyn, just a crossroad with about a dozen families, where Papa had his fi rst job as schoolmaster. Mama always told us about the fi rst meal she cooked. Papa brought home some oysters, and she said the more she boiled them the tougher they got.

"Mama took care of the house and all of us children, with not much help from Papa. She had three children one right after another, and then Papa's brother either was shot or killed himself, and Mama took his two boys, my double fi rst cousins. Th ey were Catholics, and we made fun of them when they knelt down to pray or said their catechism. So Mama had fi ve babies at once, none old enough to go to bed without help. Th en she skipped three years and I came along, followed by three more — all of us two or three years apart."

My grandmother Ida was calm, a homebody, and seemed to be perfectly satisfi ed with her way of life. She would spend all day in the house and garden, fi rst preparing food for a big family, getting the children off to school, and cleaning the house. Th en she would put on her sunbonnet and work in the large garden, bringing a basket full of seasonal vegetables back into the house.

She always cooked a big dinner at noon, including pies, cakes, or fruit puff s for a constant supply of dessert. After the dishes were washed, she would clean the kitchen, wash and iron the family's clothes, and take care of the kids coming home from school, being sure that they did their chores and completed their homework assignments. Th en she had to prepare supper, including leftovers plus a few fresh-cooked items. She was up each morning at 4:30 and would light up the woodstove while Grandpa, if he was home and it was winter, would make a fi re in the fireplace.

On Sundays, everyone went to Sunday School and church, so Grandma had to prepare most of the large dinner in advance, maybe cooking the biscuits and fried chicken after the services were over. For one afternoon a week, she joined some of the other ladies of the community in a quilting bee, all of them sewing while they discussed aff airs of their families and the community. I can see now that hers was a complete life, not much diff erent from that of most Southern women of the time. She was proud and grateful to serve the other members of her family, who more or less took her for granted, just helping with the chores when she asked them.

My mother told me, "At times when we were raised there were real hard times, but we got by. I can remember when Mama could send me to the store to get twenty-fi ve cents' worth of steak and it would feed all nine of us."

My grandfather was as wide-roving and flamboyant as my grandmother was home-loving and quiet. He was born in 1863 near Columbus, Georgia, and taught school for several years in Brooklyn before moving ten more miles to the larger town of Richland. Jim Jack was a man's man. He was tall, slender, handsome, and always well groomed and neatly dressed. Even on workdays, he preferred to wear a bow tie — never a pre-tied one.

Jim Jack was totally committed to mastering the prevailing political situation, as his daughter, my mother, described proudly: "My father could tell you pretty close to what vote any man would get, not only in the county but even in the whole state. All my life when I was a girl, until I left home to be a nurse, I saw him do this. For local elections, he would write out his predictions of the outcomes and seal them in an envelope. The county clerk would put them in his safe, and then compare the results after votes were counted. But it was just interesting to me to see the lengths he would go to keep up with politics.

They would come in droves to see him."

Grandpa — of necessity — also demonstrated a remarkable understanding of national elections. During years that long preceded a civil service system in the U.S. government, he was nimble enough on his political feet to guess right in several presidential elections, shifting party allegiance to retain his appointment as postmaster in Richland. Earlier, when Warren Harding was elected in 1920, Grandpa went to make arrangements for the position in the small town of Rhine, the only rural Republican stronghold, where federal appointments were dispensed because of political support — or bribes. Th ey had already allotted the postmaster's position but promised Jim Jack the next appointment and gave him an interim job as chief revenue agent for our region. As a former schoolmaster, he kept meticulous records, and I still have one of his notebooks covering two months in 1922, showing that he destroyed thirty-six stills during that time.

Later, I heard my father say that this was one job for which Grandpa and his sons were especially qualifi ed, having done business with most of the moonshiners in the area. Grandpa would take a "sociable" drink on frequent occasions, but I never knew him to be tipsy enough to lose his composure or bring ridicule on himself. He had two sons, though, who had serious problems with whiskey.

Jim Jack's only unswerving political allegiance was to Tom Watson, who was a Democratic congressman in North Georgia but was disavowed by his party when he advocated equal economic treatment for black and white workers and small farmers. Watson joined the Populist Party and in 1896 was nominated as vice president on William Jennings Bryan's Populist ticket. He was elected by Georgians to the U.S. Senate after he changed his political philosophy almost completely and ran on a racist platform.

My grandfather considered his own greatest achievement to be suggesting the concept of rural delivery of mail to Tom Watson, who got the proposal passed into law. Among mementos we inherited from Grandpa were letters between him and Watson on this subject, as well as Watson's biography of Thomas Jeff erson, which, for some reason, was dedicated to the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

A couple of times each year, my mother would get word that "Papa has gone again." Grandpa would pack a small suitcase, get a supply of fl our, meal, sugar, coff ee, side meat, some liquid refreshments — and a good supply of books — and tell his wife, "Ida, I'm going out to the farm for a while." She had learned that protests were fruitless, so she would tell him goodbye and expect to see him again in two or three weeks. They owned a small, remote farm in Webster County near Kinchafoonee Creek with a tenant shack on it, mostly woodland with not enough open land to farm. It was a haven for Grandpa, away from the hurly-burly of home life. When he would finally tire of the solitude or feel that his offi cial duties couldn't spare him longer, he would return home as though he had just been down at the drugstore, with no thought of apologies or explanations for his absence.

It was an accepted fact within our family that the Gordys couldn't get along with each other long enough to enjoy a full meal together. Sometimes on the way to Sunday dinner in Richland after church in Plains, Daddy and Mama would try to guess what would precipitate the main argument of the day. Although my father teased Mother about the Gordys' arguments, I don't remember his family ever having a Sunday meal together.

Grandpa Gordy was a restless man, always preferring to be somewhere else than with his own family or with boring companions. The only exception was my mother, whom he invited to serve as his assistant in the post offi ce until she moved from Richland to Plains. Jim Jack fi nally lost his government job in 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected, and had to become a dirt farmer, trying to support his family on a hardscrabble farm that he rented not too far from where we lived near Plains. I remember him, tall and slender, wearing overalls with a buttoned shirt and a bow tie, walking behind a muledrawn plow in a futile attempt to control Bermuda grass in a scraggly cotton fi eld.

Recently I found a small homemade diary book that Grandma Gordy kept from March 1932 until August 1936, during the depths of the Great Depression. The occasional entries concentrate on the status of her children, especially Tom, who was traveling all over the Pacifi c Ocean in the navy. During the time they were farming near Plains, one entry was extraordinarily personal: "Papa is somewhat peeved tonight about his mule, afraid he is sick. He said if the mule died I would have to look out for myself. I said I hope he dies then. He knew I did not mean that, but seems like I just can't say a word lately but what he takes it for the worst. Such is life." Th en she wrote, "I should not have written the above, but have no rubber on my pencil to spoil it out."

Later, she wrote, "Th e old mule died Friday. Th is is two mules to die since we've been here. We will get along some way. God will not forsake us." Another entry, in February 1935, describes a notable characteristic of her husband: "J.J. has gone to Richland. Seems it would make him sick to not be going all the time. He loves to be on the go."

My mother always remained very proud of her special relationship with Grandpa. She told me, "There was no doubt that I was Papa's favorite. Everyone in the family knew it. I guess one reason was that I didn't always accept what he said as the gospel truth, and would argue with some of his opinions. Looking back, I see that I was always careful not to go too far with it, and to back off if it looked like he was getting too aggravated. In a lot of cases, though, particularly when he and I were alone at the post offi ce, I think he liked for me to speak up so we could have something of a debate.

"I read more than anyone else in the family — except him, of course — and I tried to learn about things that interested him. Sometimes he would give me a book he had just read, and we both looked forward to a fi erce discussion about the subject. One thing I liked about working at the post offi ce was that both of us could fi nd time to read on the job. Another thing was that we probably knew more than anybody else about what was going on around Richland. Papa handled a lot of telegraph messages, and taught telegraphy to two of his sons. He had a way of absorbing the news, but always cautioned me about not repeating gossip we heard if it would hurt anyone. I loved Mama and Papa, but I have to admit that I was ready to leave home and go in nurses' training, and when I got to Plains I didn't go back very often."

I remember that after I graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, in 1946, I borrowed my daddy's automobile and drove the eighteen miles from Plains to Richland. I stopped by my grandparents' home and enjoyed some sweet milk and blackberry pie while telling Grandma about my new career. She then told me that Jim Jack was downtown in Richland, "probably at the drugstore." I walked there and, sure enough, found my grandfather with some other loafers assembled around one of the glass-topped tables, drinking Cokes and engaged in a heated discussion of some local issue. I stood behind him for a few minutes, until one of the men noticed my uniform and indicated my presence to Grandpa.

When he turned around, I could tell that he didn't recognize me, and I blurted out, "Grandpa, I'm Jimmy, Lillian's son." He shook my hand and said, "Boy, I'm real glad to see you again." Then he turned back and continued his conversation. I stood there a few minutes, then went back home and off to my first ship. That was the last time I saw him before he died a few months later.

Th e temperaments of the younger Gordys mirrored the stark differences in the characters of their parents. Th e girls had professional careers, married well, and raised fairly stable families, in some ways like their mother, but the boys were more like Grandpa — without his reading habits, interest in politics, or self-restraint regarding alcohol.

Copyright © 2008 by Jimmy Carter

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