In Jimmy Carter’s hometown of Plains, Georgia, a giant roadside statue of a peanut bearing the former president’s toothy grin draws carloads of tourists, but for those living in the camper park directly behind it, the enormous caricature signifies home.
“It kind of watches over us I guess, that big grin,” said Debra Liscotti, who usually stays for several months a year at the site, where about two dozen camper cars are parked.
The 13-foot (four-meter) peanut was brought to Plains after a 1976 presidential rally in Evansville, Indiana and has remained ever since.
Apart from capturing Carter’s unmistakable smile, it also references his background as a peanut farmer in the small town, where he returned after his single term in the White House (1977-81).
Since Carter recently began hospice care at his nearby home, the traffic at the peanut statue has picked up –- and residents of the Plains RV Park have taken note.
One flower bouquet left at the beginning of the week has turned into two, as the site takes on the feel of a makeshift shrine.
The grinning nut, located along Highway 45, recently got a facelift: A fresh coat of paint was applied last Sunday, a day after the 98-year-old Carter announced he would spend his “remaining time” at home and forego additional medical treatment.
Donna Peacock and her partner have been staying at the RV park since January, working as seasonal volunteers at the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park, which includes sites around town like the president’s boyhood home and high school.
The RV park, she says, consists of a hodgepodge of residents in town for various reasons, with just a few full-timers. The peanut is a helpful landmark for those en route for the first time.
“We were trying to find the campground and they explained it to us: When you see the big peanut, that’s where you turn,” said the 59-year-old retired schoolteacher, originally from Texas.
– Always smiling –
Liscotti, who is in her late 60s, spends time in the park when she comes to visit an uncle in Plains.
She says “there’s no mistaking” Carter’s smile, and that her uncle “used the peanut for me as a reference” the first time she came to the site.
Even the park’s resident Canadian is appreciative: Carter “was a breath of fresh air,” 74-year-old Mark Laberge of Ontario told AFP from the doorway of his camper, where a dog watched through the screen door.
The enormous peanut consists of polyurethane foam sprayed over metal hoops made from chicken wire, according to a sign at the site.
Elise Maxson stopped by on a car trip from Iowa with her family, including three boys and a dog.
“It’s fun but he’s an exemplary man and I don’t think that that can be encapsulated in a peanut,” she told AFP from her car.
Peacock, who once met Carter at a Christmas event during a previous volunteer stint when he was in better health, said the peanut might be “a bit overexaggerated.”
“But I understand why they did what they did with the teeth and stuff because he smiles all the time,” she said. “All the time. Just amazing.”
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