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?

Advertisements

What a Smile!

Since this month we’ve dealt with patriotism as well as pet peeves, I’d like to share what I think is a pretty cool Throwback Thursday story that can tie both together.  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.

At home, my grandparents were really big into anything political as well.  From the time I was old enough to crawl, Granddaddy always made me sit through the (oh, so boring!) caucuses, debates, conventions, and other such political things shown on television (not to mention making me watch the stock market report every day, but that’s another story).

So, at home, my grandparents, both staunch Republicans, were casting their votes for Reagan.  I don’t think it hurt that they remembered him from the movies either.  But I liked Jimmy Carter.  I don’t exactly know why, but I thought he had a friendly 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.)

The President’s Itinerary (Click to Enlarge)

So on the campaign trail, President Jimmy 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.  So all the students of my small private school were called out of class that morning, October 31, 1980, and we lined up by the fence to wait so we could wave at the President.

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 so excited!

I went home that very night and tried to convince my grandparents to change their votes to Carter, then I sat right down and wrote President Carter a letter and asked for his autograph.

My Letter from The White House (Click to Enlarge)

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 ecstatic!

Billy Carter’s Autograph (Click to Enlarge)

A couple of weeks later after I shared my story with my Great Uncle Paul (who was from also Plains, GA), he told me that he couldn’t get me the President’s autograph, but he could do the next best thing… He happened to know President Carter’s brother Billy Carter (who I think was only famous in his own right for promoting Billy Beer and for being a tippler).  That very weekend, Billy Carter happened to be at a bar in my town (which he apparently frequented along with Uncle Paul), so I got his official autograph!  Woo Hoo!  Talk about thrilled!

I’ve had the opportunity to meet — and even personally know — several famous people since then (mostly musicians and a couple of actors), and I’ve gotten countless autographs and even passed on the opportunities to get autographs so that I didn’t make the famous person feel like they weren’t a real person (or look uncool myself).  But my Jimmy Carter “almost autograph” is still one of my most cherished.

Now that I’ve covered the throwback as well as the patriotic portion of my story, let me get to the pet peeve part.  I can’t stand when famous people nowadays either refuse to give autographs or will only sell them.  They need to remember that without their fans, they are as much of a nobody as anyone else.  Now, I don’t mean when fans try to bother them while they’re eating in a restaurant or otherwise involved in their own personal lives.  But I mean, for example, if you run into one of them on an elevator.  It’s not like they’re going to be doing anything else until the elevator stops anyway.

And to give you a little pet peeve follow-up to my throwback, once Ronald Reagan took office as President, I wrote to him and requested his autograph as well.  I didn’t even get the courtesy of a form reply from his office.  I never sought a Presidential memento again.

Okay, just one more quick follow-up…  I also had the amazing opportunity to see former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, as well as their Secret Service patrol walking around Disney World on December 31, 1999.  I got one single photo of them, which of course I can’t find right now to show you.  I’ll keep looking.

So let me hear from you:  What’s the most exciting autograph you’ve ever received?  What’s your most exciting brush with a famous person?  Have you ever seen a President (or your country’s leader) in person?