The Men's Club had been willing to take anyone who happened to be passing through, never dreaming they would hit the campaign jackpot.
"If you were running for president, Miss Lillian," they told her when it was over, "we'd all vote for you."
For 45 minutes Thursday, speaking to them from the stage while they drank beer and flicked ashes into their paper plates, she had regaled 250 predominantly Republican members of the Bow Lake Village, N.H. Men's Club with a sampler of titillating Lillianisms, including an offer to put out a contract on Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini:
"I don't know a gay from a hole in the ground -- in my part of the country we don't have 'em."
"One kissed me on the back of the neck at that dinner for homosexuals and when one of that other kind came up to kiss me I didn't know what to do. I'm old but not naive."
"You know when my sex life ended? When my husband died."
"Don't ask me about Chappaquiddick because I wasn't there."
"I know I'm in somebody's back yard but I don't care. I've been in front yards, too."
"I used to have a son who could drink any beer you people could, but he quit. It looks so funny to see Billy going around with a Diet Cola in his hand. When he said "Would you like some orange juice?" I said, "Who in the world are you?"
"I have a nip of bourbon every night. The doctor told me don't take tranquilizers -- that doctor's been dead a long time."
"My son the president is running for president again. He's doing the best he can about the Iran situation. When he's in trouble I'm in trouble, when he's tense I'm tense. Boy, have I been tense lately."
"If I wasn't so darned old, I'd run against him."
"Frustrated by Congress? Jimmy thinks Congress is just Congress, so what the hell."
"I think Jimmy did right by letting the shah come. How can you send somebody to the firing squad? I think Jimmy's doing right by telling him he wants him to leave as soon as he's able. I'll be glad when he leaves."
"You are such a lovely person, a lovely woman," one of the men began near the end of her talk, getting to his feet and speaking across the cavernous hall to where Miss Lillian stood alone on the stage. "If you were in the presidency -- you have a lot of common sense -- and you were dealing with a fanatic, what would you do?"
"About who, which fanatic?" she asked.
"The one that's predominantly on the minds of the American people right now, the Ayatollah Khomeini," came the answer.
Said Miss Lillian, without a pause: "If I had a million dollars to spare, I'd give it to someone to kill him."
Later, the laughter, applause and cheers still echoing as she pulled on her mink jacket and walked out into the crisp New Hampshire night, the president's mother muttered:
"Jimmy's going to kill me."
The Age of Surrogation. The Kennedys did it first, blitzing the campaign trail with their womenfolk. The Johnsons followed with their whistle-stop variation. Now enter the jet-age prototype for the '80's, the one-day Carter version unloosed Thursday in New Hampshire.
In one 10-hour period, a flying cavalcade of three Carters (Rosalynn, Miss Lillian and Judy) and one Mondale (Joan) hit 21 communities in six counties, bringing them to the attention of some 90,000 Granite Staters, according to optimistic estimates.
"As a political exercise," crowed a pleased Carter-Mondale campaign staffer, "it was very effective."
Never mind that Jody Powell as much as wrote off New Hampshire in early October -- If Ted Kennedy announced his candidacy.
"I think it will be very difficult. We haven't even thought about winning." Rosalynn Carter said Thursday, her gray wool coat still on as Executive One was taxiing for takeoff on the return flight to Washington. "But we've thought about doing good."
Doing "good" in Ted Kennedy's back yard means getting at least 30 percent of the Feb. 26 primary vote. That's what Jimmy Carter got in 1976 and despite campaign aides' disclaimers that "we're not playing that percentages game up here," some, at least, are playing the game. Constantly.
Across the state, grass-roots Democrats have endorsed the senator from Massachusetts. Recently, "Democrats for a New Democratic President" voted unanimous support, claiming to represent 300 state political leaders.
So why, Rosalynn Carter was asked, why even bother with New Hampshire?
"We always do the best we can everywhere -- why leave anything to chance? Why not try?"
They flew into Manchester where Gov. and Mrs. Hugh Gallen and a few loyalists were waiting. But no crowds. From there, four motorcades sped off in different directions.
Three of the six counties visited are considered critical since they will produce 64 percent of the Democratic vote in the primary. Nowhere were crowds overwhelming. Some, even, were embarrassingly small. Nobody complains.
Invitations to coffees and receptions went out from the committee's Washington campaign headquarters. Local hosts were old Carter supporters from '76. In scheduling, Rosalynn was the star.
"Her remarks are substantive," said Ellis Woodward, press secretary for the committee's northeast region. "She's not pretentious, knows how to pose with people, remembers them from '76."
So Rosalynn went off to Kennedy strongholds. At lunch, there was a sentimental pause in Hooksett. At Robie's General Store, where Carter launched his drive to the White House four years ago, Mrs. Robie had tuna and egg sandwiches waiting. And apricot nut bread. But not an endorsement.
"Undecided," said a Robie daughter.
Buying milk over the counter, the governor told a reporter: "Jimmy Carter helped me when I needed help. Rosalynn Carter helped me when I needed help. I'm not going to walk away from the president because the polls show he's in trouble."
Outside, Sean McLaughlin, 8, stopped Rosalynn to tell her he heard "your father -- whatever -- is going to Texas."
"That's all right," Mrs. Carter reassured the boy while others around him giggled, "you can call him my father."
Further on reporters stopped her to get her reaction to the appointment of a special prosecutor in the Hamilton Jordan drug allegation case. What impact could it all have on the campaign? She could not know, she said.
"But I think he is one of the nicest young men I have ever known and I have never known him to do things that he shouldn't do that are wrong. He's like one of my family, not much older than my oldest son. . . ."
The message of the day was energy. And Iran. They were inseparable, Rosalynn Carter told crowds she addressed throughout the day.
"This crisis has brought home a very important lesson: Our dependence on foreign oil is a clear and present danger to our national security."
There were elaborations. And some setting straight of records.
"My husband did not decontrol home heating oil -- former President Ford decontrolled home heating oil, and the senator from Massachusettes voted for it," she told an East Derry audience, a so-there note in her voice. v
Over in Bedford, Joan Mondale had a similar refrain for a morning coffee audience.
"We import half of our oil, and the cost of that oil has increased tenfold in seven years. It is the single most important cause of inflation."
East in Epping, Judy Carter also carried the message.North in Plymouth, Miss Lillian put her foot down.
"Don't ask me about energy, honey," she said in a variety of ways, all of them adamant. "I don't know anything about energy except that I'm the most energetic woman my age I know of."
Not all of it was energy. Nor Iran. At Jim and Deanie Reinhardt's house in East Derry, John Barry, on the faculty of Pinkerton Academy, wondered about the cost of staffs for wives of presidents.
"If we're going to get a package deal of presidents and their wives with their own staffs and schedules maybe they ought to run a package deals," Barry said later.
And he also wondered if Rosalynn ever thought about debating the wives of other candidates.
"Never," she said.
At Pembroke, the subject of debate also came up, this debate between Miss Lillian and Rose Kennedy.
"Shoot," said Miss Lillian, "we were born in two different worlds."
En route back to Washington she expanded on her reaction:
"I never even heard of Rose Kennedy."