The former president offers affectionate but unvarnished recollections of growing up during the 1930s in rural Georgia, a place where life was still ordered by the seasons and the modern world often seemed nothing more than a distant rumor.
Carter’s great strengths as a memoirist are his fairness in critiquing the past and his appreciation of what he gained from living in a closely-knit community. These qualities infuse his memories with an appealingly gritty honesty that scants sentimentality or politically correct apologies. Boasting an impeccable record on race as an adult politician, Carter admits that he doesn’t remember as a child “ever questioning the mandatory racial separation, which we accepted like breathing or waking up . . . every morning.” Yet his best friend as a boy was black, as was his mentor, Jack Clark, who taught him more about hunting and tracking than his own aloof father, Earl. Carter’s relationship with his father dominates his story, perhaps unintentionally. From the beginning, as he got up before dawn to work in the fields, learning to plow a straight row with mules as well as to fish and shoot, Carter was trying to please his father. Energetic and entrepreneurial, Earl survived the 1930s by switching to the more profitable peanut crop as cotton prices plummeted; he bought up and improved run-down farms; he was active in the community; and before his untimely death he served in the State Legislature. Carter claims that it was his father’s extraordinary record of service and achievement that led him to give up his naval career, return to Georgia, and take over the family business while embarking on a career in politics. As he describes his family, his high school years, and a simpler way of life (no electricity until the late 1930s), he vividly evokes a place that offered a priceless sense of belonging to something larger than self.
A measured but appreciative tribute to a man, a place, and an era.