I read a story today about former President Jimmy Carter's newest book, "Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President," and remembered a time, more than 20 years ago, when I attended an event where Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter were being honored.
Jimmy Carter, the 39th president, has written a daily devotional,
based on his years as a Sunday School teacher. Photo credit: Time Inc.
It was when I was the education writer for the South Bend Tribune and someone from the p.r. office at the University of Notre Dame called to tell me that the Carters were being honored and there'd be a big event for them. My mother lived just a few hours away and she greatly admired the Carters.
So my mom and sister drove up for the event -- it was open to the public -- I asked Notre Dame p.r. folks if there was going to be any kind of meet-and-greet at which my mom could meet them. Believe it or not, it hadn't occured to them that people might want something like that, and the Carters were such a low-key couple that they'd never ask for or expect it. But my friend said he would check to see if there was time in the schedule for my mom to meet them.
When the day of the event rolled around, my mom and sister arrived and we learned that just before the event, my mom and our local Congressman, Tim Roemer, would be taken back stage to meet the Carters for about 10 minutes. As we waited for a Secret Service man to signal the two to come back, we talked about what my mom would say and do. She was nervous and wondered what on earth she could say to such important people. This was a big deal for my mother, a very religious woman who was raised on a small farm in central Indiana.
Notre Dame had prepared beautiful programs for the event, so I urged her to get autographs from the Carters in the three programs we had between us. Suddenly the man in a dark suit and an ear bud in one of his ears peeked from behind a black curtain and made a "come here" motion with his index finger. My mom, just 5 feet tall, sashayed down that aisle like she was floating on air.
My sister and I giggled a little, wondering what must be happening. Soon enough, the curtain parted and my mom and the Congressman emerged. Both were grinning from ear to ear. Never in my life have I seen my mom so excited. She talked a mile a minute, telling us how nice they were. She could barely remember what anyone said, but she did remember to get their autographs.
Apparently the small group just stood in a holding area just off of the stage and chatted. When it was autograph time, Rosalyn couldn't hold the program and sign it and juggle her handbag at the same time. So looked over at my mom and asked her to hold her purse for her. "Can you believe it," my mom told us excitedly. "I held Rosalyn Carter's purse! I feel like Elizabeth Taylor tonight."
I'm certain the Carters understand the impact they've had on the world. They've lived a life of honor and integrity in their post-White House years. Through the Carter Center they've eradicated the horrible guinea worm that leads to blindness in Third World countries. They've stood for peace and justice in places where dictatorships and chaos reign.
And the most famous Sunday School teacher and his wife gave my mother something to smile about for the rest of her life.