Buttermilk: is the secret out?

by Mrs J


Jimmy Carter kindly replies to my daughter’s letter – and the question of what he drinks at lunch time. Is buttermilk the secret to his longevity?

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” says Don, in his CNN t-shirt and cap, as he scribbles down his cell number. By cordially passing the time in a long queue I now have an offer of a behind-the-scenes tour of CNN, the world famous news network in Atlanta.

As a rule, I try not to discuss American politics with Americans. Don is a multimedia trouble-shooter for CNN, so we skirt around the billions of dollars spent pushing forward two frankly iffy candidates, and gravitate towards CNN’s new 360˚ degree app that will be available, albeit with a time lag, during Monday’s opening Presidential debate.

Our queue, numbering close to two hundred people, snakes its way from the forecourt of a small service station, down a rough track, and onto grass shaded by knarled trees. We are waiting patiently, our anticpation sharpened by the harrying heat but undampened by the humidity.

I have never seen queues like this in Georgia – not even for hot, southern soul food straight after Church. Few things can generate a crowd in rural southwest Georgia; one of those things is a book signing by President Jimmy Carter.

Happily, my father in law’s visit from England coincides with the 20th annual Plains Peanut Festival: an event marked by a bevy of crowned Forestry and Turpentine Queens; a walking, waving, Mr Peanut; and dirty great big peanut-laiden trucks rumbling the short distance from the corner of Main Street to the peanut factory.


What a contrast: Saturday’s energised crowds, and Sunday’s sleepy streets.

I ask my immediate neighbour in the queue, Anothony, what he remembers from President Carter’s term in office. “He withdrew with the GI Bill,” says Anthony, or words to that effect, refering to the changes Carter made to educational benefits for military vets just as he signed up. It seems Anthony largely missed out due to ill-advice back in High School… Quietly spoken, Anthony is not here to cry over spilt milk. He is here because of his admiration for a President who once governed – and still lives – by his Christian values.

Anthony is no stranger to Plains, or the excursion train he came in on from Cordele. During his military service, Anthony formed part of a ‘dry run’ for President Carter’s funeral procession. It seems no secret to those who know Jimmy’s love of Plains, that his final journey and resting place will be, like the man, humble. I will say no more.


Plains: home to a mostly empty railroad, several peanut factories, a short but historic Main Street, some pretty homes… and a former President and First Lady.

As time passes it becomes clear that Anthony will not get his book signed if he wants to catch his train. “It’s only three dollars,” he says, ungrudgingly; the token cost to have a book signed by the former Presdient. “But it’s the joy of having it signed,” I say, offering to post him the Bible he is clutching, with its foreword by Jimmy. We swap an address for a Bible – and Anthony makes his train.

Finally, it is my turn to enter the blissfully air conditional office-come-museum on the forecourt. The imposing body guard glares, but Jimmy smiles. The lady in front of me gushes to the Nobel Peace Prize winner, “You are a beautiful person. You’re the beautifulest person I know,” before bursting into tears outside.

Yes, there is something very special about this former President who, at his Sunday School the following day, speaks of finding a role model for your life, “...like Martin Luther King, or Alan Young,” he suggests. “…Who were from Georgia,” he adds, grinning.


Active in their community: Rosalynn and Jimmy help open the 20th Plains Peanut Festival on Saturday; Jimmy imparts an eloquent Sunday School the following morning.

Plains is a sleepy town where everyone knows everyone else. Despite a veritable throng of six thousand visitors, I am delighted to spot someone I know, Dot Padgett, Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Campaign Manager, who I met earlier this month. I am wearing her ‘peanut’ pin. Dot invites me to the Gala Dinner taking place at our hotel that night. There are no spaces left, of course… And if I had know that President Carter and the former First Lady were to be honored guests I would not have reached out to the organiser.

Jimmy Carter will turn 92 tomorrow and, judging by the posters for his birthday party, he shows no sign of growing old quietly. Many happy returns of the day, Mr Jimmy, you are a role model.


Visitors can walk to the edge of the Carter’s property – a modest, four bedroom ranch, with a woodworking shop in the converted garage.

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