Growing up, I liked to believe that the reason my widowed mother never remarried was because my father was the only man she ever truly loved.
Now that I'm an adult, I can look at the reality of my mother's life and understand that wasn't true at all. There is a man that I believe my mother loved more than my father: former President Jimmy Carter.
To be fair, she's never come out and declared, "I'm in love with Jimmy Carter and I don't care who knows it!" However, there have been many clues over the years that I can no longer ignore.
The first clue that my mother loved Jimmy Carter with more ardor than what the average American should reasonably feel for her former president was that anytime a report about him showed up on Dateline, she would turn up the volume on our television set five extra decibels and shush the room. "Shhh! I want to hear this!" she'd yell.
I didn't pay it any particular attention as a child. I just figured the way I felt about finding out what was happening with Cory and Topanga on Boy Meets World was how she felt about finding out which countries Habitat for Humanity had just built new homes for poor people in. It wasn't until I realized years later that she isn't really a fan of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, that I realized she cared less about the charity work and more about the former peanut farmer being interviewed about it.
The second clue came from her library. My mother is one of those people who has read most of the books she keeps in her house. These books are mostly world histories, prehistoric feminist romances, and biographies about famous women: Queen Elizabeth, Mary, Queen of Scots, Cleopatra, Bloody Mary, Lady Randolph Churchill, and, um, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
When I asked my mother about Rosalynn Carter's seemingly fluffy autobiography, First Lady from Plains, and how it fit in with her collection of Antonia Frasier and Carolly Erickson-penned tomes, she answered, "She was a very interesting woman!"
"What did she do?"
"SHE GOT MARRIED TO JIMMY CARTER!"
Then I started to realize that any time any discussion of any president came up, she would find a way to add, "But you know, I think history will show that Jimmy Carter was one of our best presidents."
Curious about my mother's ardent and rapturous appraisal of Carter's presidency, I went to the books. Then I went back to my mother and said, "Um... Mom... you know, the general historic consensus is that things were not good during Carter's presidency... Gas prices were really high and people don't like that."
"It wasn't his fault! He inherited a disaster! He's so misunderstood! You'll see! They'll look back and see all the good he's done! He's very well-respected by the international community despite being from a peanut farm." Then she would fly out of the room in half a huff and half a swoon, and then I would shrug.
I'm starting to suspect that the way my mom feels about Jimmy Carter is the way my generation feels about Ryan Gosling, but even that's not entirely true. See, I'm willing to admit that Ryan Gosling isn't the only reason why Drive was awesome. It had a bitching soundtrack, gorgeous art direction and fantastic supporting performances from Albert Brooks and a hammer. My mother, on the other hand, is loathe to admit that Ronald Reagan had anything to do with the resolution of the Iranian hostage situation.
I can't tell you the number of times I've heard her say, "The only reason Iran gave up the hostages for Reagan was to spite President Carter. President Carter had been working for months to diplomatically resolve things, but Iran hated him." She never specifies why Iran hated Jimmy Carter so gosh darn much, or how she knows this. Maybe she was privy to some top secret documentation the rest of the world wasn't. Maybe she has a nose for international conspiracy. Maybe she's just madly, blindly, devoutly in love with former President Jimmy Carter.
When asked directly about my theory, this is all she has to say: "I just think he's a really nice man, okay? Why are you laughing? I'm not blushing!"
Maybe that's all he is to her: a really nice man. A really nice man that I'm convinced she has a crush on.