Lillian Carter, the president's mother, made the awful mistake of saying she was bored in Washington a while back and they have run her legs off ever since.
"I'll never say it again," she said yesterday, kicking off her shoes and settling down in a good-looking Chippendale chair of the East Reception Room.
"It's true, but I'll never make the mistake of saying it again. I don't like New York very much, either."
She said she did hope she wouldn't say anything to upset the president, but it was suggested she was his mother, after all, and could say anything she jolly well liked and if anybody didn't like it, well fudge. The more she thought of that, the better she like it, and began:
"Well you know I've been to Africa to see the progess in food production since the drought. I went by way of France and Italy. They said it might be possible to have an audience with the pope, and as it happened I had the last audience he gave before his death.
"'Holy Father,' I said to him - I was concentrating on not calling him 'Your Majesty' or 'Your Excellency,' because there had been so many titles on this trip. And I'm not a Catholic, you know, and don't know but one down in Plains.
"He addressed the multitude. He said he knew I was 80 in August and he was 81, and told me, 'I am now ready to meet God.'
"I said, 'If you meet God before I do, tell him about me,' and he said,, 'I will.' Let me say I have never felt so close to God as looking at that man's face."
A photographer had asked her to sit where the light streamed on her and she said she didn't like bright lights. The photographer rattled on about the importance of light and she said, "Well, I'm going to do what I want to do," but the photographer kept on about light and she wound up sitting where he asked her to.
"That's what I can't stand about photographers," she said, "they're so bassy."
"Look who's talking," said an aide some distance away who must have ears like a dolphin.
"I heard that. Shut up, girl," said Miss Lillian.
She asked the pope to pray for our country, and for human rights and for rain in Africa.
"Which he did immediately, in my presence," she said. "When I got to Gambia I hadn't been there more than an hour and a half when it began to rain.
"It just rained and rained. In Senegal it rained. In Mali it rained. Everywhere I went people called me the Rain Lady."
"People are skeptical about prayer, about the pope, about everything now. Sometimes they'd ask me if I thought the pope's prayers had anything to do with it and I said of course. Me and the pope and God did it. It rained so much I thought I better call the pope and tell him to lay off."
Miss Lillian was in a soft yellow suit and her hair was absolute silver and her green eyes sparkled the more she got going.
"I have to keep remembering you're a reporter," she said. Usually, one gathered, she sees the press mainly at press conferences where they try to trap her.
"Come on, Mrs. Carter, they don't try to trap you."
"Oh, yes they do," she said, "The Sun-Times, The New York Times . . .
Which reminded her The Times is on strike:
"I was in New York and I certainly missed it. Nothing to read."
She could have read The Village Voice, it was suggested.
"What's that? Isn't that a labor paper? Oh. A lot about music and entertainment? Well, I don't want entertaiment. I want politics. You won't mind my saying I don't believe everything I read in the papers."
Some people, it was suggested to her, worry about what they call the hammering on human rights and the effect this may have on American relations with Russia.
"Russia!" she expostulated. Who's talking about Russia? I asked the pope to pray for human rights in my own country - the Deep South. To me human rights means the chance for everybody to make the most of himself.
"I think the thing that always bothered me the most is to see some people so very rich and others so poor.
"In Africa I was at a lavish dinner. I have to be careful what I eat because it wouldn't do to get sick on the tour, but I saw this wonderful dessert table and thought I bet there's something there I could eat."
Evidently a number of people not actually expected for the dinner joined in and Miss Lillian saw the desserts vanishing as if a tide were sweeping up the table.
"Afterwards," she said, "I saw a man in evening clothes with a broom, sweeping the floor and asked him what in the world he was doing. He was sweeping up the bones. (Diners tossed bones on the floor.) There was one woman flat on her stomach on a table. She ate up the whole centerpiece, which was a swan made of plastic and margarine."
Surely not the plastic too?
"The whole thing," said Miss Lillian. "I got a letter that seemed to be apologizing for the way people ate.
"I wrote right back and said listen, I was delighted for hungry people to eat. You may know I am very much interested in World Hunger. Much is said about vitamins and so on, but I want people to have their stomachs full, nutritious or not.
"When I was in India I was hungry the whole time I worked in the Peace Corps. You know you have to boil the water for 45 minutes, and I didn't have but $10 a month for food. I remember at first I used to spend time picking the wings and legs (of insects) out of the bread."
Then she got to wondering if she was throwing away protein.
"So I know what hunger is. Of course one of the White House aides just this morning said to me she hadn't had any breakfast. 'You'll live,' I told her.
The sun flashed on her diamond bracelet and Miss Lillian grinned to think of the poor hungry White House staffer.
"I went to a leper colony in Mali," she said. "Three French doctors are doing miracles. You know how leprosy makes it impossible to work the joints of your hands and feet" (here she demonstrated the tortured stiff digits), "and I met a boy who had been that way, but they put hinges in. He could shake hands. I touched every one of the lepers. It was wonderful to see the ones in the first stages of the disease in which it had been arrested or cured.
"They gave me a tremendous calabash this big (she indicated something the side of a watermelon, a Georgia watermelon) and you'll never guess what was inside. Peanuts.
"I said get rid of them, I'm not hungry for peanuts. I had a fine aide who was a state trooper and I said take them to their headquarters. Fourteen young men will eat anything."
The conversation had gone on about an hour, and much had been said about drought - even in the South when you go five weeks without rain it is alarming, and the snapping turtles start settling into the sump holes. As you probably know, people drained and cleaned out Miss Lillian's personal pond last year - incredible what can accumulate in a pond in a few years - and restocked it with bream and bass.