Jimmy Carter is my favorite president. I know. I can hear some of you out there groaning. Not everyone agrees with my opinion. Presidential historians will debate for eons whether or not his presidency was successful. I’m far from a historian, but I have read quite a bit about my favorite President and I think his days in the White House have been completely underrated. And no one will ever change my mind:).
One thing that everyone does agree on though is the success of his work after leaving the White House. He has created a brilliant legacy as a champion of peace and human rights worldwide. He is a man of integrity and great faith. He is one of my heroes.
I’ve wanted to visit his hometown of Plains for years, but its location – waaaaaay off the beaten path – was never conducive for a quick stop on any of our travels. My 50th birthday trip was the perfect occasion to make a point of traveling to this little tiny town. And – whether you’re a PRESIDENT Carter fan or not – I highly recommend anyone interested in American presidential history to do the same.
Our first stop was his boyhood home/farm. The National Park Service has done a fabulous job of preserving and presenting a true piece of American history. The farm is a rich picture of the rural south in the 1930’s – open to all – free and unencumbered – you can wander around and see what an agricultural life in the old south was like. We met the Park Ranger – at the blacksmith shop – making fire irons – way too cool. He told us many stories – one of which I loved – was how the family was part of a Cattle Club – basically – each family in the area raised 2 cows each year – when the cows were ready for becoming food on the table (a much better way of saying ready for slaughter) – the families would rotate and contribute 1 cow per month to share – since there was no way to keep meat fresh for any length of time back in the day – this was a great way to make sure every family had fresh meat each month. I’m sure a lot of people already know these things – but – I found it to be quite interesting.
The town of Plains is VERY small – but unbelievably interesting. The original main street is still in tact. No longer the mercantile businesses that supported the community years ago, but now converted into a collection of antique shops, Carter Family museums and a FABULOUS Historic Inn – where we were lucky enough to stay – in the Presidential Suite! I can’t say enough about the Plains Historic Inn. The Carters were involved in getting it going to help economic development for the town and it is just beautiful! Inn Keeper Jan is one of the most hospitable, funny and heart warming people we’ve ever met. Staying at the Inn is a heavenly slice of southern life. And – Jan told me that the Carters were the first guests to stay in the Presidential suite – so I’ve actually slept in the same room as my very favorite President – how many people can say that???
When we booked our room – for my actual 50th birthday day – Inn Keeper Jan told us that President Carter would be teaching Sunday school on that very day and we were more than welcome to attend. I was shocked! A former President of the United States was speaking in church and ordinary people like us could go??? As it turns out, President Carter has a long history of teaching Sunday School – before and after his Presidency – and has been welcoming visitors to Marantha Baptist Church in Plains for decades. As I said earlier – he is a man of great faith – and shares that in a way that is beyond inspiring.
Our experience at church that morning is something that I will never forget. It is also something that will always stay with me as a lesson in life.
The interesting part is that the Secret Service is very much involved in the process. As you enter the Church parking lot a Secret Service Agent has a dog sniff your car – searching for explosives I assume – before you can park your car. Then you must go through a search before entering the building. All items must be removed from your pockets and purse and you have a wand search around your body. Then the Secret Service Agents take a picture with your camera – to make sure it’s really a camera. It’s a really thorough process – and oddly enough – kind of cool.
Before the Sunday School lesson begins instructions are given as to the protocol expected. In other words – this is CHURCH – don’t be a ninny – don’t be disrespectful – photo opportunities are at specific intervals – but be present for the lesson. It was done really well. We all knew what to expect, how to act, and were excited to hear what Mr. Jimmy would say.
When he came out – I was in awe. He stood at ground level in front of the pews and wasn’t any more than 10 feet away from me. President Carter was right there! The very first president I ever voted for! Fortunately he began with a very welcoming introduction asking visitors where they were from. This gave me time to settle into the reality of it all.
Then he began his lesson. A lesson for life. It was a parable – I’m not a theologian – so don’t critique me on this – but the basic message was about the seeds you sow – sometimes they take – sometimes they don’t – but you sow them anyway – doing the right thing – just as Jesus did. Mr. Jimmy spoke in such a down to earth way – including personal anecdotes – and every day references – that he became a person – just like you and I. His fame, his power, his Presidency didn’t matter. All of that faded away. He was speaking about Gods’ love in a way that was non-denominational and all encompassing. He made me want to be a better me.
And so – weeks later – I am still trying. And will continue to do so. I think about how he – as a President, as a Statesman, as a man – has lived his life – trying to do the right thing – always. He is a lesson for my life.
Everyone has a bucket list I suppose. Turning 50 made me think about mine. My husband asked me where I would like to go to celebrate the momentous anniversary of my birth. Jamaica, the Keys, New England, Ireland??? The world was my oyster. My trip of choice, however, was much closer to home. This may not be everyone’s dream trip – but it certainly was mine!
First stop was Monroeville, Alabama. Most people are probably saying to themselves, “Where? Why?” If you’re an avid Harper Lee fan like me though, you will know immediately where and why. This tiny little town in Southwest Alabama is where Harper Lee was born and is the inspiration for the small town setting of Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Mockingbird fanatics like me have gobbled up every bit of the very limited information available about Harper Lee, made the pilgrimage toMonroeville and tried to put all of the pieces of the fictional story into a real live town. My trip was hugely successful in that attempt.
The highlight, of course, was a visit to the Monroeville County Courthouse, which is now a museum filled with all things Mockingbird. If you’ve seen the film and/or read the book and/or read ABOUT the book, then you will be very familiar with this Courtroom.
When Ms. Lee was a child she used to watch from the upper balcony as her father, A. C. Lee, tried cases in the courtroom. In her story, she used it as a prototype setting for the trial in which Atticus Finch defends a black man accused of raping a white woman in the mid 1930’s. The Hollywood film crew duplicated the courtroom almost exactly for the soundstage in California in the early 1960’s.
Today the museum allows visitors to explore this historic room on their own, experiencing its ambiance in private. For me, it was as if Harper Lee was standing next to me – not as an adult – but as a child. I could feel her presence in the upper balcony. I could see Scout peering through the railing to see the proceedings below. As a writer my personal experiences always contribute to the settings in my stories.
Being in that place, where her imagination created one of the most memorable scenes in all of literature, I felt connected in a way that was inspirational. It made me want to write again.
Ms. Lee stopped giving interviews in the 1960’s; led a very quiet, private life in Monroeville and can still be seen occasionally walking around the town square. I hoped for a brief glimpse while visiting, but was disappointed in that wish. Having been home now for several weeks, my feelings have changed. I am glad that I did not see her. She is a woman who values her privacy in a time when most people crave celebrity. Being the fan that I am, I am sure that I would have gushed embarrassingly, making her uncomfortable. That would truly have been a sin. It was enough to be present there. In her town. In her world. In her genius.
Going to be blogging again – FINALLY – about my really special 50th Birthday trip. It was a once in a lifetime event…this photo is just a tease as to what’s to come…stay tuned…
OK – I might have a bit too much time on my hands – BUT – I’ve found ways to make it interesting. How? By exploring things you usually never have time for – like – a Farm Tour. Yes – a farm tour. Believe it or not, Volusia Countyhas been having annual farm tours for decades. Last week I took part. As did a surprisingly large number of people. And – yes – it WAS interesting.
The tour started at Deep Creek Preserve, nearly 5, 000 acres of nature at it’s best. Formerly owned by the Leffler family, the land was purchased as part of the Volusia Forever land conservation program. And it is definitely cattle country out there. The Lefflers still lease part of the property and have been raising cattle on it since the fifties. Driving waaaay back into the heart of the property you could truly imagine what Florida was like during the cracker days. Nothing but pine trees, scrub and cows as far as the eye could see.
Listening to Mr. Leffler describe the cattle business was fascinating. Yes – I said fascinating. Did you know that Florida produces more beef cows than Texas? Well neither did I. And while your initial thought may be that Cowboys aren’t the brightest bulbs in the box – I learned that raising cows and making money ain’t easy.
You better know a lot about science and math or you’re going to lose money big time. I was impressed to say the least.
Stop number two on the tour was at Mike’s Cichlid Farm where they raise – go figure – Cichlids. Again – out in the middle of nowhere – this really cool couple raises thousands of cichlids that they supply to pet stores and also sell retail online all over the country.
I like fish – both to eat and to look at – but I never realized how hard it is to raise them for all of us aquarium lovers out there. It’s a tough job that never ends. Between feeding, cleaning, and making sure the water temperature is perfect, there’s never a day off. My hats off to those folks!
The last stop of the day was at the Tropical Blossom Honey Company. This was old fashioned Florida and manufacturing combined.
About 10 employees hand processed and packaged the honey on a basic assembly line starting from the comb to the packaged product.
Bees buzzed, honey dripped and product was prepared. The honey was incredible – nature’s treasure – so good for you – and so tasty!
I learned a lot throughout the tour. I could bore you ad-nauseum with the factoids – but – I’ll spare you. My biggest insight is that while most of us – especially me – live in a very citified world – there’s a whole lot of neighbors – closer than you think – that still make their living from agriculture – and aren’t we all lucky!!!
One of my favorite things to do when out on the river is to explore the barrier islands. I’m a huge scavenger and you never know what you’re going to find. A good day will result in collecting cool pieces of driftwood, bait buckets, weathered dock wood, and an occasional fish lure or bobber. Every day results in shells – tons of clam and oyster – bleached white with time and current. In my imagination they date back to Indian Mounds. More likely they’re left over from the days when Port Orange was known as the Oyster Capital of the country. Either way the shells are everywhere and I diligently tote back buckets of them, always with the intent to turn them into a truly original craft project. More often than not they sit in buckets until I finally turn them into part of my old fashioned oyster shell driveway. But – I digress…on a recent sunny afternoon my river running turned up a huge surprise. From the water the island looked like all the others. Trees downed by storms covered the shoreline, shells covered the sand.
The interior looked inaccessible. While hand picking dozens more oyster shells I noticed a pathway leading through the trees. Feeling brave and adventurous I followed it. Several limb scratches and bug bites later the trees gave way to a clearing that housed a rusty old shack.
My initial thought was to turn tail and run. A shack hidden that well could certainly mean bad news. Pirates, drug runners, society’s cast outs – not people I particularly want to hang out with. But – being a self admitted – and quite proud I might add – Nosy Nelly – I gathered my courage and forged ahead. Fortunately for me the place wasn’t currently inhabited. The shack had been built with scrap metal, garage doors, old lumber and even had a screen door.
How long the residents had been gone is a mystery. Empty water and beer bottles along with fire pits and old shoes seemed to indicate that the place was still in use – at least sporadically.
Glad I had my camera, I shot photos – scavenged a few pieces of odd shaped metal – and then…I turned tail and ran. I’ve thought about that place a lot since then. Whoever built it spent a ton of time and energy constructing it AND hiding it. Who, what, why, when…..I want to know…but I have my own ideas…a story is in the making…stay tuned…
So what do you do when a tropical storm creates havoc with what would normally be a perfectly lovely Florida fall weekend? Having been house bound for three days my husband and I have worked through our short list of bad-weather-in-door-activities. I suppose people up north have a huge arsenal of fun filled things to do to keep occupied when bad weather forces them into hermit crab mode. Floridians though – are bad at being weather challenged. We take our sunny skies so for granted that we don’t develop other options. Below is our short list – again – already finished – hoping others can share their ideas – otherwise I will be forced to live with the Carpenters singing in my head for at least another 24 hours…Rainy Days and Mondays…
- The obvious – snuggle with your Bunny…
- Movie marathon – ours included The Dilemma, The Social Network and Paul – all not too bad – but nothing else at the Blockbuster Box was worthwhile after these 3 flicks – guess we’re not the only ones indulging in couch potato mode…
- FOOD – shopping for – cooking for – eating – and start all over again – not sure my waist line can stand this one…
- Napping – when life bores why not snore? – ‘cuz I’m not sleepy dammit…
- Reading– finished my book – need to go to the library – still raining…
- Cards – I hate games…
- Facebook – email – surfing the internet – funny – when I don’t have time for these I can’t wait to get on the computer – when I do have time – I’m not interested…
- Cleaning – ugh…
- TV – thank goodness it’s Sunday – football just might save my sanity…
- Staring out the window – waiting for the sun…
Family. Had a chance to spend time with my mother, sister and nephews this past weekend – minus my husband and son I am sad to say. Wasn’t sure how it would all work out. I’m not used to being away from Senior and Junior for so long, so I was feeling a bit odd as it was. And – as in any family – we’ve had our ups and downs. I’m happy to say it turned out to be one of those magical times when no angst of any kind showed up in the proceedings. It was bonding at it’s best. Indulge me as I share a few of those really cool moments…
Does hair make a difference in who we are or who we believe ourselves to be? I think so….but…my 17 year-old child has shown me that I could be wrong.
My appointments with my hairdresser – of almost 20 years – are sacred events. NOTHING is allowed to interfere. They are a huge priority – – – to me anyway. When I get back from my appointments my husband always teases me by saying my hair looks exactly as it did before I left. I feel like that’s a compliment. After all – who wants to look like they just had a hair cut? And – my color should look perfectly natural – not like it cost me the hundred dollar bill that I painstakingly save for each visit. My rationalization for this extravagance is that I need to look professional and contemporary. My real reason is that I believe that my hair style makes me look younger – better – healthier – more Florida-ish…etc., etc.,etc. I don’t want to cut it shorter or let my color return to the mousey brownish gray that I have aged into. I like how my hair makes me feel.
My son has had long hair since his freshman year of high school. It originated when he started playing guitar in a band. He kept it as the years went on because it gave him a distinctive identity. His nickname was Cave Man. He was the only one on the football team with long hair and I think the long hair made him look fierce. This past week he cut his hair – making good on a heat of the moment promise to his team. He showed no fear beforehand. He simply said that he was “down with it”. (I believe – in today’s vernacular – that this meant that it was a point of honor and he was sticking to his word.) As a mother I was absolutley petrified. This was his HAIR. His beloved hair. And – it is his Senior year. Should the hair cut look less than wonderful he could be scarred for life – or so I feared. But – I was also very proud of him. No complaining. No whining. No asking Mom and Dad to get him out of his fix. He simply turned it into an event with his buddies on the team and cut it all off.
The outcome??? His hair looks great. He doesn’t seem to miss it at all. He is still the same great – confident – honorable son that he has always been. Only now…he’s one step closer to being a man. And I’m one step closer to being less manic about my own hair…maybe:)