Saturday, March 23, 2013

President Carter's Boyhood Home


As we toured the Carter Boyhood Farm in Plains, Ga., we could see how his early experiences there contributed to the development of the attitudes and strengths that led Jimmy Carter to become our president in 1977.  The National Park Service bought the farm in 1994 and restored it to its condition in 1930. 

At each stop we almost felt like we were having a personal tour led by Carter himself.   Recordings of him chatting about his life as a child were available at the house, barn, outbuildings, and equipment.

On the first tape he talks about how important it was that everyone play a role in doing their fair share of the work, even the animals.  He sounded like he had a little guilt about the pony he got for a birthday because it didn’t do any work and just was available for him to ride in the little free time he had. And there was work--it sounded like most people on the farm worked from four in the morning until eight at night. 

When Carter wasn’t working, he was reading.  His energetic mother, Miss Lillian, saw to it that he read the right things, and he early fell in love with books.  He indicated this was part of the reason he wrote so many of his own.  The bookstore at the museum had 20 books written by him--I couldn’t resist buying the one about his early farm life.

We could see attempts had been made in modernizing; for example, the farm equipment progressed from a hand pump for water for the animals to a windmill and finally to an electric pump. 

Carter viewed Plains as a big city and didn’t feel a part of that community as a boy.  Instead his friends were both the black and white boys in the area who didn’t make racial distinctions.  When he was 14, he was shocked to see the black boys now deferring to him, which changed the whole relationship.  

            The black Jack Clark, who was in charge of the 25 mules and horses, was an alternate father to him.  Clark and his wife Rachel taught Jimmy many things, and he stayed with them when his parents were gone.  The Clark house has been reconstructed along with the barns and outbuildings.

Carter often stayed with a black family in this cabin when his own family was away

Carter’s father had a store on the land because many of the locals didn’t have much cash to buy things and needed some place to charge on credit.  It was officially open only on Saturdays, but Jimmy relates that he seldom could eat dinner without someone coming over to get something from the store that they absolutely needed.  Sometimes that something only cost a nickel.  The store is stocked as it would have been in the 1930s.   Carter tells the story of the neighbors gathering to hear the Joe Louis/Max Smelling fight on the battery radio in the Carter’s living room.     

I don’t remember ever being at a museum where the person of note gave such a personal introduction to his life.  For example, he told how the most memorial experience of his life was not winning the presidency but the first time he was allowed to plow with a mule.  It was a coming of age experience for him.  He also talked about the early influence of his Uncle Tom Gordy who served in the navy.  Carter later graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

 A pail with holes in the bottom served as the family shower

The family garden has some notes about what they grew, some vegetables I had had little experience with like black eyed peas, yams, velvet beans, collard greens and sugar cane.  The machine run by mule power that squeezed the juice from the sugar cane and the cooker for making syrup was still on the grounds.

As a boy Carter led a hard demanding life, but he was surrounded by caring people--that seemed a fitting background for a future president.