It finally happened!

Enough talk about my failing health!  I want to share a cool story with you…  A couple of years ago, I shared a story about my close encounter of the presidential kind.

Since it’s an election year, I thought it only fitting to recap that story and give you the more recent follow up…

In 1980, I was ten years old and in the sixth grade.  That year, the presidential election was between Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Republican Candidate Ronald Reagan.  In my Civics class, we had to draw campaign posters for our favorite candidate and write a speech that they might have used in a campaign debate.

I had an instant affinity for Jimmy Carter from the first time I saw him.  I don’t exactly know why, but I loved that he had the warmest, friendliest smile and I liked that he was a former peanut farmer.  (The fact that he was born in a mental hospital also didn’t hurt my affinity for the psychological thriller genre of which I write.)  I think I also liked him because his daughter, Amy, was only a couple of years older than me, and I thought it was so cool that she got to live in the White House.

So, on the campaign trail, President Carter was scheduled to come to my town to speak.  My school was on the corner of two main roads that led to the Civic Center, and back then, the newspaper always published the President’s motorcade route.  Imagine my surprise when, only hours after my grandparents read me the newspaper over breakfast and told me the President was coming to town, all the students of my small private school were called out of class that Halloween morning, and we lined up by the fence to wait so we could wave at him.  I was ecstatic!

At the time, I was a short kid, so the two boys on either side of me told me I should climb up on the fence so I could see better.  As the motorcade rounded the corner, the limo window went down, and the driver slowed.  President Carter grinned and waved as he rode slowly past us, and when he saw me standing on the fence, he pointed at me.  I was thrilled!

When I got home after school, I begged my grandparents to change their votes to Carter, then I sat right down and wrote President Carter a letter and asked for his autograph.

Less than two weeks later, I received a reply from The White House which said that the President was very busy and couldn’t accommodate all the people that personally asked for autographs, but they still sent me an autograph card as well as a booklet about The White House.  It didn’t matter to me that the autograph wasn’t official.  The man just lost an election, yet his office still had time to reply to a little girl.  I was overjoyed!

Looking back thorough an adult’s eyes, I appreciate this pseudo-autograph more than ever.  I mean, between a hectic schedule campaigning for re-election, and dealing with the hostage crisis (among other things), the staff at The White House had to have been crazy busy at the time, yet they still managed to reply to a little kid’s letter, and in such a timely manner, too.

So, the follow-up to my story is this:  I caught a fleeting glance of President and Mrs. Carter (along with the Secret Service) at Epcot on New Year’s Even in 1998.  Between that close encounter and my admiration of their work for Habitat for Humanity, my love for this former President only grew.

Fast forward a few years.  I’d heard that President Carter taught Sunday School classes that were open to the public.  At the time, I had two autistic kids at home, and with no child support, finances were tight, so I put that dream on the back burner.  But having learned more about the work of The Carter Center and how it affects the entire globe, I was even more impressed with this incredible, awesome man.

A few years later, my kids were close to grown, and I mentioned the Sunday School class to a trusted source.  The friend told me that President Carter didn’t do that anymore.  I was crushed that I’d missed my chance.

A couple more years passed.   President Carter was diagnosed with cancer, and, again, I was heartbroken.  But only a short time after that, I was elated to hear that he’d gone into remission.  In fact, I went out of my way to read more than the one news report I would have normally read, and that’s when I found a link to his church’s website along with the information that he never, in fact, stopped teaching his Sunday School class!

That was last December.  I wanted to go immediately, but President Carter didn’t teach every Sunday.  I then planned to go the following month, but then my own surgery was scheduled for the beginning of February, so I had to push things off again.

Jimmy Carter 2016But in March, I finally got to go to Plains, Georgia, and sit four rows from the front while President Jimmy Carter taught Sunday School!  This was the thrill of a lifetime!  You have to get there early (and by early, I mean while it’s still dark outside) to line up.  My sister and I got there around 4:30 AM. (I know I didn’t want to discuss my failing health, but this 6 hour drive and no-sleep weekend, while exciting, was literally a spur of the moment decision as to the timing, and was meant to make me feel better after all my post-surgical woes. Mentally, it did wonders, though physically, those two days set me back about two weeks.)

Once they open the doors, you’re searched by Secret Service then escorted to your seat.  (If you’ve never been around the Secret Service, that’s exciting in itself.)  You’re allowed to take photos all during the introduction period, then you have to turn your cameras off during the lesson.  If you sit through the church service following the Sunday School lesson, you can then get a photo taken with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.  WOW!  {The photos are very rushed, and you have to be in a group shot with everyone who rode in your vehicle, but, still, it’s so generous of the Carters to donate their time like that.  (As such, my photo is not good [we’re all blurry], and I won’t be sharing it, but I will be returning soon to try again.)}

Rosalynn Carter & Jimmy Carter, 2016As if that’s not enough, there’s a museum just down the road from the church.  In the museum is a bookstore that sells nearly thirty of the books that were written by either Jimmy or Rosalynn Carter.  The most amazing part of this journey is that if you purchase any of their books there (which are no more expensive than if you purchased them on Amazon), they give you a form to mail, along with the book and a SASE, and between four to six weeks later, you get President Carter’s autograph!  Yes, really!  (Have I mentioned yet how much I love Jimmy Carter?)

So, that’s exactly what I did.  I purchased two books and mailed them as soon as I got home, and close to five weeks later, I received them back, autographed by President Carter!  Only thirty-five and a half years after I first requested Jimmy Carter’s autograph, I got two of them!  SQUEEEEEEEEE!!!!!  (For those who don’t know {as my sister didn’t}, squeeeeee is about ten times better than Woo Hoo, and about a hundred times better than YAY!)Jimmy Carter's books

Jimmy Carter's autograph

Let’s talk:  Have you ever seen a President or other world leader up close and live?  What’s the best autograph you’ve ever gotten?

35 thoughts on “It finally happened!

  1. That’s awesome. In 76, I was in the local marching band when Reagan came to my tiny little town. Even Nevada’s three delegates were important. We had to perform for the candidate. I got to shake his hand and everything. He wound up losing the primary to Ford that round. Ford then lost to Carter.

  2. Oh gosh, what a career this man has had. It’s hard to believe he’s still alive. I think I wrote to Reagan and got that same kind of autograph thingy. Not sure where it is today. Other autographs were attained from rock stars and I have funny stories about many of them but they are way too long for the comments section on your blog.

  3. From the outside looking in I always thought your home media a little cruel about Carter, a plainly honest, decent man and one I would certainly have voted for were I am American. As to meeting Presidents can’t say I have although years back my closest to celebrity was having a drink in The Playboy Club, London with Stan Smith the Wimbledon Champion. A decent bloke also.

  4. Sending you a huge SQEEEEEE! 🙂 Jimmy Carter seems like a truly good man who wants to do good.

    I’ve never met a president, but my sister was invited to the White House with other LGBT politicians to meet President Obama.

    Hope you’re feeling better and getting some answers.

  5. Such a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing. I’m extra delighted to read such a joyful post from you.

  6. that is so cool, rachel. as close as i’ve come was a dinner we catered when i was a bartender for gerald ford at the uni of michigan. the yard with the tent flooded about an hour before the event )

  7. What a fantastic story and experience for you.

    Back in the mid ’80s, I was in London with a friend. We’d gone down for a couple of days and were spending it wandering aimlessly around. Early one evening, we were in Trafalgar Square and noticed a crowd gathering in one of the streets that runs off it. Our curiosity aroused, we went closer and could see that one side of the street had been cordoned off. On the other side was a theatre showing the play “Anyone For Dennis”, a comedy taking the mickey out of Margaret and Dennis Thatcher.

    Sure enough, within a few minutes, limos arrived surrounded by a police escort, and the Iron Lady herself stepped out. It transpired that this was the night she was going to see the play (although many years later I discovered she didn’t like the idea of it and had really gone just to give the impression she could take a joke). On seeing the crowd gathered, she immediately crossed the road and came to say hello. I was too far back to get involved in any conversation, but from what I could see she came across as warm and friendly, not at all the image you got from the media.

    I don’t know whether it was an act, or if she was genuinely like that, but she went up in my estimation at the time. More surprisingly, my friend – who held largely left wing views – spent the rest of the evening saying how great she was for breaking away from her engagement for a few minutes to come and mix with the public. It lasted only a short time, but it’s still a strong memory 30 years later.

    I didn’t take any photos, but I hope to see yours when you go next time.

  8. What a lovely story, Rachel, so glad you got there in the end. Some things are just meant to be, and we’ll done for your perseverance. Glad to see you’re back blogging, too. Xxx

  9. I know he is a really good and decent man. I don’t care. I do care that his presence provided you with so much happiness. I loved reading this. I hate the 2 week set back, but I totally get it, and what those precious hours of happy really mean and did for you. Loved this! Love you!

  10. I’m so glad you got to live this dream out at last, Rachel. Fantastic! In President Carter’s election year, I was one of a handful of student reporters from the small SUNY campus daily sent to cover his campaign appearance 30 miles up the road at the Hotel Syracuse. Much to our surprise, we were left outside on the sidewalk with the masses because we had not thought to call ahead to the White House to register with the national media. Lesson learned! They did, however, pipe the soundtrack outside, so I got to hear his speech. Wonderful! Four years later, while living just outside our capital as a recent U of Maryland grad, a dear friend of mine scored two tickets to Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, and off I went with her to the White House lawn. We weren’t so close to the steps, but we were there. It was so historical, and I appreciated the moment so much.

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