Twenty-four years ago next week, Jimmy Carter began his presidency on a simple note. After taking the oath of office, he defied tradition by walking a mile and a half from the Capitol to the White House with his wife, Rosalynn. No limousine motorcade for them, at least not that day.
This modest act crowned a remarkable political journey that began in childhood on a peanut farm in Georgia. It is a boyhood Carter describes simply and eloquently in his new book, "An Hour Before Daylight," a paean to the people, places, and values that shaped the life of a shy, bookish boy who read "War and Peace" in fifth grade and went barefoot from March to October every year.
His was a remarkable childhood, set within a close-knit family and characterized by Depression-era simplicity, frugality, and hard work. The Carters pumped water from a well, used an outdoor privy, and read by kerosene lamp until 1938, when the Rural Electrification Project brought electricity.
Like other farm children, young Jimmy rose before dawn, earning just 25 cents for a full day's work. Over the years, he picked cotton, milked cows, pruned watermelons, fertilized crops, and carried buckets of water to laborers in sunbaked fields. He climbed trees to help his mother harvest her crop of pecans. At age 5, the pint-sized entrepreneur even began selling boiled peanuts on the streets of Plains.
But life was not all work. His parents gave him freedom to roam the 350-acre farm. He also loved to fish and hunt, especially with his father.
The young Carter quietly absorbed political lessons as well. His father never forgave Franklin Roosevelt during the New Deal for ordering farmers to destroy more than 10 million acres of cotton and 200,000 young hogs.