Executive Times






2005 Book Reviews


Sharing Good Times by Jimmy Carter


Rating: (Mildly Recommended)




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Jimmy Carter continues to dribble out memoirs, a recent example of which is Sharing Good Times, a glimpse of married life and family bonds. Despite the occasional glimpse into the evolution of his marriage toward equality, much of the memoir remains superficial, and often reads like a travelog, from a fishing trip to a family skiing vacation. Here’s an excerpt, all of the chapter titled, “Traveling with Our Boys,” pp. 32-38:



Having three boys, I couldn’t emulate the inti­mate relationship with my father that I had cherished when I was his only son and he took me along on his fishing and hunting excursions with other men. Instead, Rosalynn and I had to find opportunities for recreation with three growing boys. We spent weekends at Panama City Beach on occasion, and each year in the early summer we would drive down to Tavares, Florida, with two other farm families for a week of competitive fishing. We rented small boats and three rustic cabins alongside Lake Harris and would spend almost the entire day on the lake, leaving one of the adults ashore with the smallest children. Using our own gasoline motors, we would race early each morning to a favorite fishing spot, perhaps under a bridge, near one of the islands, or in an area of lily pads, and use long and slimy pond worms to entice bluegill bream and largemouth bass to our hooks.

Back to the cabins at noon, and late in the afternoon, we paid off bets, weighed our catch, bedded in ice what we wouldn’t be cooking, and joined in preparing our common meals. In the evenings, after the children were asleep, we had long discussions about fishing, farming, politics, and baseball, and then put on our favorite phonograph records and danced until the early morning hours.

We were quite concerned as we were coming in to dock one day and saw a large crowd gathered, waving their arms and shouting to us. We immediately assumed that one of the little children had had a serious accident but soon learned that five-year-old Chip had been fishing with a tiny cane pole and about six feet of string and, after a long struggle, had dragged a huge bass up on the beach. We took photographs of him with his fish and me alongside with one of my tiniest ones. Almost fifty years later, this still stands out as one of the most exciting moments in our family’s life.

As an outdoorsman since childhood and as Boy Scoutmaster when my sons were schoolboys, I took them on occasional overnight camping trips, and our entire family had two major sojourns of this kind. Designed to knit us together as closely as possible, our first was a weeklong trip around Georgia, camping out each night in a different state park, either in the mountains or along the seashore.

The other was more extensive, lasting almost two weeks and extending through the Carolinas, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. We resolved before leaving home that we would depend mostly on our fishing rods and swimsuits for recreation, sleep in our tent, cook our own meals on a Cole­man stove, and divide up the chores so that each of us would have specific responsibilities.

With the exception of three destinations, we did not have any fixed itinerary but would decide in a family council each night what we would do the next day. Rosalynn and I wanted to visit the U.S. Naval Academy, do some sightseeing in Washing­ton, and find the cabin in North Carolina where we had spent our honeymoon. Although we thoroughly enjoyed the camping experiences, our most lasting memory of the trip is that it rained almost constantly, and neither our tent nor any of our other possessions ever had a chance to dry. We’ll always remember the stench of the mildewing tent in the back of our station wagon and the difficulty of starting a campfire in the evenings.

Annapolis was a wonderful stop for me, because I was able to introduce my boys to the Naval Academy and act as a knowl­edgeable guide. After I identified myself at the office as an alum­nus, we received a pass to visit throughout the campus and to use one of the knockabouts for an afternoon of sailing. This was where I had asked Rosalynn to marry me and, after she finally accepted, where I had given her a miniature of our class ring during the week of my graduation.

By the time we reached Washington, we were badly in need of hot showers and a couple nights of sleep in beds. We all re­member Rosalynn and the boys finally convincing me to aban­don our tent and shift to a hotel. We drove our muddy vehicle up to a very large and new Marriott Inn across the Potomac River in Virginia, and I went in to ask about the nightly rates. When the desk clerk told me that it would cost twenty-six dol­lars for five people, I responded that we would have to stay in our tent and started to leave. He asked what we could afford, and we finally agreed on eighteen dollars. The luxurious accom­modations were worth the high cost, and our tent had dried out by the time we headed for the Appalachian Mountains and our old honeymoon site.

Rosalynn and I had spent our first nights together in a lonely cabin on a mountainside owned by the family of another mid­shipman. It was several hundred yards down a steep trail to a small family grocery on the highway, but we bought most of our groceries that week from a traveling store mounted on an old pickup truck that came by the cabin each day. When not just en­joying the intimacy of our new relationship, we would take long hikes along the mountain trails or ride a few miles to Chimney Rock, a nearby tourist site. We were eager to share some of these memories with our boys.

When we finally found the place, using some old photo­graphs, we found that it had been totally transformed into a rap­idly growing community of weekend vacation cabins and permanent residences for retired people. The country store was gone, replaced by a small shopping mall. After a brief and some­what disappointing visit, we went to nearby Lake Lure for a shower in the public bathhouses before heading back to Plains.



In 1965, when our oldest son, Jack, finished high school, we planned a wandering trip through Mexico, and before leaving home, I tried to teach the family a few Spanish phrases from my Naval Academy textbooks. We left Plains in our Buick sedan with no plans made except having studied a map and some travel brochures. Part of the adventure would be deciding each morning where we wanted to travel during that day.

We still have a detailed log of the trip, mostly written by Jack and with Rosalynn, Chip, and me substituting while Jack was driving. It is filled with humorous observations, including a lot about my penny-pinching restraints on their expenditures, and it is interesting now to recall how inexpensive travel was in those days and how obsessed we were with prices. While we were still in the United States, for instance, our total costs for night lodging were usually ten dollars, and less than four dollars for our five meals.

Our boys were surprised that folks had a French accent in southern Louisiana, that there were trees in Texas, that many rivers were completely dry, and how nonproductive the land seemed to be, with one cow for forty acres of land. Accustomed to lush pastures at home, Jack commented south of San Anto­nio, “Cows run around in groups of one.”

We were determined to try our Spanish when we entered Mexico but at first had little success. One of our first stops was at a small rural church where we saw a priest with a group of lit­tle children. We approached him, and using my best Spanish to impress my family, I said, “Su iglesia es muy bonita.” The boys howled with laughter when the priest looked puzzled and re­sponded, “Me siento, pero no hablo inglés.” Jack’s log has a de­tailed account of the first time a clerk understood what he wanted to buy and gave him the price. Our Spanish improved with every stop, at least using the few necessary words, and we were soon having conversations with little trouble. I required each of the boys to order his meal in Spanish. Our notes empha­size how friendly and helpful all the people we encountered were and how they enjoyed hearing our Spanish—except in the banks, where tellers seemed to be sullen and resentful when our only transaction was to exchange our traveler’s checks for cash.

There was a tiny home every five miles or so along the coun­try roads, very few cars, and a lot of burros. South of Saltillo, we passed a crude sign that said, “Los Llanos,” with an arrow pointing to a cluster of distant shacks. I announced that it meant “Plains,” and the boys insisted that we stop and back up for a photograph. Our car was surrounded by a half dozen very ag­gressive little children, shouting and holding out their hands. I told Rosalynn to find a few coins to answer their demands, but we finally understood that they were not asking for “dinero.” Their words were lápiz and papel. We gave them some pencils and paper and drove away marveling at their priorities.

In San Luis PotosI we decided to mail our log home instead of writing letters, and Jack began writing on both sides of the tablet pages to save postage in the future. Near Querétaro, the log’s comments are about the ancient stone walls, perhaps sev­eral thousand years old, and “the black earth that has probably been here even longer.” In Mexico City, our log dwells on the game of jai alai, the Museum of Anthropology, and “limonada preparada.” I let the boys drink all they wanted, and our family spent 29 pesos at one sitting for the limeade with sherbet. After visits to the ruins and a drive to Acapulco, we returned through Taxco, where we found the highest hotel prices. One wanted 225 pesos for our family, but we finally found a nice one, the Menendez, for just 85. It was on such a steep hill that our room was on the first floor in front and six stories above the back­yard. Everyone agreed that Taxco was our favorite city visited in Mexico.

We also went to San Juan del Rio and then Ciudad Victoria, where we attended a Yugoslav folk opera and saw that the Lon­don Philharmonic would be coming soon. These were interna­tional cultural events sponsored by the government and priced so everyone could enjoy them, with tickets costing from one to five pesos. Then we drove through Monterrey, McAllen, and back home.

Quoting from our boys’ journal: “It has been gratifying how our family has seemed to enjoy everything and each other. We’ve had good and bad accommodations, been tired and rested, clean and dirty, free-spending and penny-pinching, and it has all been pleasant and interesting. Being able to speak Span­ish has helped a lot. Some of the poorest Indians have never known anything except a few acres of cactus and a small herd of goats, but we don’t feel at all sorry for them. A prevalent motto on walls and buildings is ‘Libertad y Agua.’ They are deeply reli­gious and their children are learning to read and write. Hun­dreds gather around a small mariachi band for hours, and they are familiar with the art of Orozco, Rivera, and O’Gorman. What has impressed us most is their love for the land and pride in their ancient culture. We’ve noticed that in the lush climatic regions there are very few cathedrals.”


Fans of Jimmy Carter will find Sharing Good Times to be sweet recollections by a good man, while other readers will find interesting stories and little insight.


Steve Hopkins, September 25, 2005



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the October 2005 issue of Executive Times


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