In particular, I wondered, was there any birthday gift she was hoping to receive from her husband of 71 years?
He’d already given her one, she grinningly confided.
Hmm, I thought to myself. What exactly does a former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner give to the woman who has herself done pretty much everything worthwhile? A lovely hand carved piece of furniture perhaps (President Carter is an accomplished woodworker)? Or maybe he’d decided to dedicate his next bestselling book to her?
Turns out he’d gotten her a robotic vacuum cleaner.
You know, one of those indispensable machines that seems to glide across messy floors with a mind of its own, going where it knows it’s most needed to do the hard, yet essential work of making things better. And yet somehow it always manages to find its way back home to its charging base, the source of all its power and support.
My jaw practically hit the floor. Wait. ... You’re telling me the Carters vacuum?
Talk about your “Stars: They’re Just Like Us” moment.
It was only later that I came to see the gift as a perfect metaphor for their remarkable relationship. For some seven decades, they’d gone together wherever they were needed, making things better for the people and places they encountered. Yet even when they took up their own separate causes, as with her groundbreaking work that led to the creation of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, they always drew on each other for power and support. And most of all, love.
There may have been no better example of that than what occurred midway through that 90th birthday interview. The session was only to be with Mrs. Carter, I’d been advised several times beforehand by her press person. Don’t expect a busy President Carter to be there. And yet suddenly, there he was, gliding across the room to be by her side. Offering up fond and gently funny observations to help rocket boost my article on the extraordinary hometown girl about whom he’d told his mother after their first date, “She’s the one. I’m going to marry her.”
They’d always be each others’ home base, he really seemed to be saying.
He was right.
And as gifts go, that one was priceless.