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Christmas in Plains: Memories

Review

Christmas in Plains: Memories



Whether or not Jimmy Carter was a successful President during his
single term (1977-1981) may be debatable, but it seems beyond
dispute that he has made a great success of the "office" of
ex-President.

His post-Presidential immersion in the practical hammer-and-nails
work of Habitat for Humanity, his steady stream of books (on
religion and other subjects as well as autobiography and politics),
his establishment of the Carter Center for conflict resolution, and
his common down-home decency as a human being may have earned him
greater public acceptance than he ever experienced while in the
White House. When he appeared for a book signing near my home
several years ago, 2,000 people stood in line for hours on a frigid
February night to meet him.

CHRISTMAS IN PLAINS is like several of his other books --- simply
told, unpretentious, plainspoken. It is not really a book at all,
but rather a brief series of personal flashbacks telling stories of
Christmases past in his life, from childhood through the present
day.

You can read the whole thing in an hour or so. It is sentimental
without being mawkish, reverent without being sanctimonious, easy
to read without condescending to the reader. The center of Jimmy
Carter's world seems always to have been his family home in the
area around Plains, Georgia, and the early chapters of this little
memoir, concerned with the Plains he remembered from childhood and
adolescence, are the most effective. Carter skims rapidly over his
early years in politics, and his remembrances of four Christmases
as President, for all their emphasis on great events and famous
people, somehow lack the homey warmth of the earlier chapters. The
20 Christmases since he left the Presidency are dispatched rather
perfunctorily in one final eight-page chapter.

The early chapters, however, are full of amusing and affecting
touches. Carter stresses the central role that black neighbors and
friends played in his childhood, and details some of the family
customs that made Christmas special in his Southern Protestant
community. We get, for example, his father's recipe for Christmas
eggnog and we hear about the time a speeding truck accidentally
(and unknown to its driver) spilled a load of grapefruit on the
highway near the Carter home, providing an unexpected holiday
windfall for the locals to whom grapefruit was an exotic luxury. We
learn about his boyhood adventures hunting quail and other animals
and about his family's unapologetic dealings with the local
bootleggers during Prohibition. There is a nice warm-and-fuzzy
feeling about these pages that is unpretentious yet engaging.

The reminiscences of his seven Christmases while in the navy are
interesting in their different way, but Carter always makes clear
that any Christmas spent away from Plains was that much less of a
real Christmas for him. We learn from these pages that Rosalynn
Smith turned down Carter when he first proposed marriage and that,
once married, they had a "furious argument" over his decision to
leave the navy.

Carter shares the unhappiness of every modern President at the
intrusiveness of the press (especially television) on his privacy
during Christmastime in Plains and elsewhere, but he does not
belabor the point unnecessarily. This is not, after all, a
heavyweight treatise on the Presidency; it largely ignores the big
issues that occupied Carter during his time in the White House. It
is basically a simply told series of personal memories written by a
man who knows that those memories have helped shape his life. You
won't learn anything startling or even important from it, but you
will enjoy it --- and Jimmy Carter the man, at once ordinary and
exceptional, can be sensed behind every word.

Reviewed by Robert Finn on January 21, 2011

Christmas in Plains: Memories
by Jimmy Carter

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2004
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743227158
  • ISBN-13: 9780743227155