Back Home in Plains, Amy Carter Discovers Debating and Tolstoy—and the Charms of Mick Jagger
updated 04/19/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 04/19/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST
The "Beach Fling" dance is in full swing at landlocked Tri-County High School near Buena Vista, Ga. The kids have festooned the gym with crepe paper and constructed a brace of crude palm trees to provide the proper seaside ambience. The music of the Disco Mindbenders thumps out of the speakers at an ear-numbing level. And there, in the midst of a circle of dancing kids, dressed in a short beach-print skirt and a bare-shouldered top, is Tri-County's most famous freshman, Amy Carter. Like most of the other kids in this heavily Baptist enclave, the former First Daughter dances decorously, without a partner, but the sophistication of her four years in Washington shows through. "This is John Travolta style," she explains when the music stops. "It's passé!"
Amy Carter has become a teenager. Gone are the tree house and the legendary lemonade stand. At 14, a young girl's fancy turns to different diversions—Mick Jagger, for instance. In her bedroom after school, Amy pops a Stones tape into her Walkman, flops on her bed and gazes at a wall covered with more than 50 pictures of her aging idol. "Is that not a handsome face?"
In every visible way she has reverted to being a normal all-American kid. While her father and mother write their memoirs and indulge in a post-presidential passion for woodworking, Amy plays with her Siamese cat, earns money washing cars for her family, shops for clothes with her girlfriends, worries about her algebra course, and rides her bike around town with her headphones always clamped on her ears. And yet, even as she returns to normalcy, Jimmy Carter's daughter still pines for the city on the Potomac. This summer she will return to Washington to work as a page for Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn and stay with a friend. "I love Washington as much as I love Plains," she says. "I look forward to being a Senate page. It will be exciting to be back in Washington, seeing my friends again."
Saying goodbye to her Washington playmates was the roughest part of Amy's transition to life in Plains. "When I came here, I had to make new friends," she says. "I was just like anyone 13 years old who had to leave her friends and move away." Amy quickly picked up new pals, though, including eighth grader Grace Murray, senior Tracy Daniel and her father's secretary, 21-year-old Lori Fossum. "I get along with most people I meet," she says with an irrepressible smile. "I may be just a little shy, but after all, Prince Charles found Shy Di." Her mother agrees that Amy has found a new life. "She has adjusted very well," says Rosalynn. "It was hard at first. Not for her, but for others. They didn't know how to treat her. But it lasted only for a short time. Everything is quite normal now."
Amy has always adjusted well. She grew up on a constant shuttle between Plains and the capital cities in which her father made his career. At the age of 3, she moved from her hometown to the Governor's Mansion in Atlanta. "I remember the rooms of the Governor's Mansion," she says. "We used to slide on the ballroom floor." At 8, she was back in Plains, living with her grandmothers while her parents hit the campaign trail. When her father startled the nation by winning a series of 1976 presidential primaries, Plains became a magnet for the media. Amy took the attention and her father's celebrity in stride. "I was asleep when Dad won the Presidency," she remembers. "They woke me up and said, 'Your dad's President.' I said, 'Oh,' and went back to sleep."
For Amy, the Carter Administration was four years of fantasy coming true. When she wasn't exploring the world—from South America to Switzerland, Wyoming to Nigeria—the world's most famous faces were coming to her living room. She met James Cagney and Harrison Ford and Pope John Paul II. Much to her current dismay, she did not meet Mick Jagger. Even her mundane memories of those years seem somehow special. She recalls skating at a local rink on Saturday nights and art classes on Wednesday. Most of all, she talks of her days at the Hardy Middle School, the Washington public school where she spent three years—and where she discovered an abiding love of creative writing. "Once we had to make up a character and then, to our surprise, we had to write a play and portray our characters," she says. "I was stuck with being a fat, balding professor, and one of my friends had to be a football hero. We were devastated because some of the kids got to play cool teenagers."
Since returning to Georgia, Amy has shown interest in some of her father's favorite high school activities. He was a star debater; she is studying debating under Uncle Billy's daughter, Kim Fuller, 25. Dad was a voracious reader; she has begun to tackle the classics. "I'm reading War and Peace for him," she says. "He read War and Peace at 14." She keeps informed on politics but isn't sure she wants it to be her profession. "I would like to be an architect but I'm not that good in math," she admits. "I might be an attorney. I have this fantasy. My friend Courtney and I are going to be attorneys, four of our friends are going to be actresses and one is going to be a model. Well, the attorneys are going to represent the actresses and the model. Then, when things really skyrocket, we're going to buy Bob's Famous ice-cream parlor in Washington. He has great Oreo ice cream topped with crunched Heath bars." She pauses and then flashes that famous Carter grin. "I have another fantasy. I'll be in Studio 54 and guess who walks in—Mick Jagger. And he asks me to be his lawyer."