Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Only ASCS Employee To Become President

Historian Ted Widmer lists five great Presidential memoirs, starting with Jefferson and ending with the only ASCS employee* to ever become President.  Most of his appreciation"
An Hour Before Daylight returns to the tiny town where he famously grew up—Plains, Georgia—and vividly recaptures the rhythms and moods of Depression-era America. Like Jefferson, Carter begins with simple geography. Plains was a stark and simple place—a reader almost feels as if he is re-entering Biblical times, a comparison that might have occurred to the former president. Electricity is scarce, and animals important, and small-town trust even more so. The cumulative effect is one of considerable artistry, taking the reader into a distant place that is gone forever, but lingers in the imagination—not just as an elegy but also as a kind of warning as well. An Hour reads almost like a Frank Capra movie, with Jimmy Carter playing the role that would inevitably have been assigned to Jimmy Stewart. Like Capra’s films, there is darkness mingled with the light—haunted houses, racial hatreds and a South that is still not all that reconstructed. But a hometown romance turns into a long and happy marriage; some modest political ambitions turn into a governorship and then a presidency (neither of which are described in the book, which adds to its appeal); and one puts the book down having been somewhere real. There is wistfulness near the end, as an older Carter wanders a depopulated Plains like a ghost, wondering where all the people have gone. In the end, he finds solace in the land itself, which will continue “to shape the lives of its owners, for good or ill, as it has for millennia.” In other words, Washington doesn’t matter at all, because the earth will eventually swallow up everyone.
 *  Carter was a summer employee measuring acreage for compliance.

No comments: