In a beautifully rendered portrait, Jimmy Carter remembers the Christmas days of his Plains boyhood -- the simplicity of family and community gift-giving, his father's eggnog, the children's house decorations, the school Nativity pageant, the fireworks, Luke's story of the birth of Christ, and the poignancy of his black neighbors' poverty.
Later, away at Annapolis, he always went home to Plains, and during his Navy years, when he and Rosalynn were raising their young family, they spent their Christmases together re-creating for their children the holiday festivities of their youth.
Since the Carters returned home to Plains for good, they have always been there on Christmas Day, with only one exception in forty-eight years: In 1980, with Americans held hostage in Iran, Jimmy, Rosalynn, and Amy went by themselves to Camp David, where they felt lonely. Amy suggested that they invite the White House staff and their families to join them and to celebrate.
Nowadays the Carters' large family is still together at Christmastime, offering each other the gifts and the lifelong rituals that mark this day for them.
With the novelist's eye that enchanted readers of his memoir An Hour Before Daylight, Jimmy Carter has written another American classic, in the tradition of Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory and Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales.
This slim yet deeply textured memoir detailing former president Carter's Christmases as a boy in rural Georgia, as a naval officer, a politician and president serves as an excellent companion to his earlier, bestselling memoir, An Hour Before Daylight, but can also be read on its own as a tribute to family and a reminder that economy of gifts doesn't have to mean economy of generosity. Told in clear, honest language, these engaging vignettes range from endearing stories from his boyhood using the tinfoil from his father's cigarette packs to make tinsel for the tree as well as revealing ones Carter's thoughts and feelings during the hostage crisis in the Middle East toward the end of his presidency. These are the humble and heartfelt experiences that shaped and reflect his character: stories of his close black friends in the pre-civil rights era, of one memorable holiday involving a truckload of grapefruit, of another at Camp David, of trying to spend some quiet moments alone with his family in Plains even with the Secret Service in tow. The message illustrated throughout could not be more timely that gifts from the heart are the most important kind and should not be restricted to one's own family. (Nov.) Forecast: Comforting and inspiring, this should have very big sales among readers of Carter's previous book and bring him new readers as well. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
October 04, 2004
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Excerpt from Christmas in Plains by Jimmy Carter
Christmas at Our House
One of the big things in the homes of Plains families was the preparation of special food for the Christmas holidays. Daddy's sister, Ethel, would bake several kinds of cakes, including pound cake, carrot, caramel, chocolate, angel food, coconut, pineapple upside down, and our favorite, Japanese fruitcake. Aunt Ethel always made sure that we had an adequate supply of desserts, and I presume now that Daddy paid her for them.
My mother wasn't much of a cook, although when she was not on nursing duty she was perfectly capable of providing our regular meals of fried chicken, fish, quail, cornbread, biscuits, and all kinds of meats and vegetables from our fields and garden. One dessert that Mama did make was ambrosia, and we children looked forward each year to punching nail holes in the "eyes" of coconuts, drinking the juice, and then bursting them open and grating the extracted chunks of meat.
I guess it would be more accurate to say that Mama never liked to cook, and welcomed my father into the kitchen whenever he was willing. He was always the one who prepared battercakes or waffles for breakfast, and he would even make a couple of Lane cakes for Christmas. Since this cake recipe required a strong dose of bourbon, it was just for the adult relatives, doctors, nurses, and other friends who would be invited to our house for eggnog.
Daddy gave the same enthusiasm and dedication to his food preparation as he did to the operation of our entire farm, and his preparation of eggnog was really a big deal. He produced a very large bowl of it each Christmas, which required an enormous amount of carefully coordinated work. Daddy made us children feel important by inviting us to help him in this great endeavor.