Plains, Georgia would probably have been just another small Georgia town no one ever heard about if it had not been for the election of Jimmy Carter as 39th President of the United States of America. Today carts filled with peanuts roll through town as tourists come to the Jimmy Carter National Historical Site housed in the old Plains school building. This is where Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter attended kindergarten through eleventh grade. At that time Georgia did not have a twelfth grade. It houses a museum covering his boyhood in Plains, his Navy career, his decision to leave the Navy and return to Plains, his political career and his humanitarian work in the post presidential years. The museum mentions that as a going away gift his staff gave him a set of power woodworking tools. Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter have made many of the bookcases and pieces of furniture in their home. His desk used in the Oval Office is on display. I sat down to have Steve take a picture. Jokingly I said “So this is what the first woman president looks like”. One of the NPS rangers said “I’ll get you some paper and pen so it looks like you’re signing something.” I never realized these desks were so big. I need a booster seat. Carter’s Nobel peace Prize is also on display. Other points of interest in town include the train depot which was National Campaign Headquarters, the gas station owned by Billy Carter and the brothers boyhood home. The train depot was chosen as the campaign headquarters because it was the only building available in town that had an inside bathroom! I’m sure when Steve pulled into the old Billy Carter gas station to pose for a picture the locals just shook their heads and thought ‘another tourist’. Billy Beer anyone? Currently the Carters live in Plains but the home is not visible from the street and the grounds are guarded by the Secret Service. After they both pass away the home and their gravesite will be placed under the National Park Service and will be open to the public. Downtown Plains is all of 2 blocks long. We did stop in the store that had been the Carter Seed Company. Now it is a store selling fried peanuts, local products, candy and some very good soft peanut butter ice cream. The Carter Presidential Library is part of the Carter Center at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.
On Sunday morning we set the alarm for 6 am. We didn’t want to be late. We’d been told to arrive between 8:30 and 8:45 am to allow ample time for Secret Service screening. Yes, we were going to the Marantha Baptist Church in Plains to see President Carter teach Sunday School. Who would have ever thought we’d get to meet someone who’d been President of the United States. We didn’t get there until a bit after nine. Luckily this week there was a much smaller attendance and we had no difficulty getting into the main chapel. First as you drive in there is a Marine guard with a bomb sniffing dog that checks your vehicle. Then you go through Secret Service checks of cameras and bags plus being wanded. About 9:30 they give you an orientation of what to expect. You are given specific instructions of when you may take pictures, behavior in church and the photo opportunity that will follow. President Carter comes in at 10 o’clock and greets you. He spends about ten minutes talking about what he’s been doing recently. Then the Sunday School lesson follows. At 88 he is still in good health with a strong voice and is an experienced and charismatic speaker. You are invited to stay for church but may leave if you wish. I don’t think anyone left. Following the service the Carters stay for pictures. Again you are told what you may and may not do. The early rain had cleared away leaving a cloudy and cool day. Mrs. Carter is the decision maker as to whether pictures will be done inside or outside. I’m sure they prefer not having hundreds of flashes in their faces and choose outside whenever possible. Everyone lines up. When it’s your turn you hand your camera to the designated church official. As you approach the Carters your hands must be visible and remain so the whole time you are with them. You are not allowed to shake hands. You may nod acknowledgement or answer briefly if spoken to but may not initiate conversation or stay to “chat”. Our sole conversation was when Jimmy Carter said to me “Nice sweater.” I replied “Thank you”. When finished you pick up your camera. It all takes about 30 seconds. So does this mean we have 14′ 30″ left of fame? We were lucky. It was a small crowd of about 100 people from 20 states and Canada. The line moved quickly. They often average 300-500 people. Take special note of the cross above the altar in the pictures. Jimmy Carter made it. He and Rosalyn hung it place from ladders. He also made a set of 6 collection plates for the church.