By RICH FOLEY
I guess I wouldn’t call it a Christmas miracle, but a recent surprise in the mail helped to resolve a riddle that has puzzled me and relatives of my late Aunt Sue since her death. Not only that, I also learned more than I really wanted to about Guinea worm disease, just in time for Christmas.
After Aunt Sue died in 2006, among items we found were a collection of letters including nearly a dozen Christmas cards from former Missouri governor, senator and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. I suppose they might sell for 50 cents or a dollar if I listed them on eBay. Her card from Jimmy Carter, however, seemed to be another matter.
Carter’s Christmas card featured one of the former President’s paintings on the front. It appeared to have been signed by both him and wife Rosalynn.
We wondered why my aunt would be on a former President’s Christmas card list and if the signatures could really be authentic. We found some evidence that Aunt Sue had donated to Habitat for Humanity, also a pet project of President Carter, and thought that might be the connection.
I considered contacting The Carter Center, the former President’s non-profit organization, and asking if he signed his own Christmas cards. I never got around to doing it, but last week, I think I got my answer.
In my pile of mail was an envelope with a return address from, of all people, Jimmy Carter at The Carter Center. Inside was a Christmas card featuring another of Mr. Carter’s paintings and an inscription identical to that of the mystery card. On this card, however, the ink on the signatures was clearly printed on, rather than personally signed.
Not only that, the “signatures” of both Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter showed up elsewhere in the mailing, identical in every detail. There was a letter and a note asking for donations to The Carter Center, which contained the same printed-on “autographs.”
Had my aunt saved the entire mailing rather than just the card, we probably would have quickly figured out the signatures were reproductions. Now I have two nearly worthless Jimmy Carter Christmas cards, both probably printed in the hundreds of thousands, if not more. His letter, though, proved to be pretty interesting.
It went on for four pages, discussing the various activities of the Center. The section concerning Guinea worm disease was especially fascinating. Since Carter got involved in efforts to provide safer drinking water in Africa, worm disease cases have fallen from 3.5 million in 1986 to just 126 in 2014. I’ll leave out the description of what happens to victims of the disease. That’ll be my little holiday gift to readers.
But since it’s the Christmas season, I probably should mention a few items that would make lousy choices for anyone on your shopping list. For example, almost everything mentioned in the song “12 Days of Christmas.”
A large bank has for the last 32 years released a list of what it would cost to buy someone everything mentioned in the song. Many people probably would like receiving five gold rings. The items on the other 11 days, not so much.
The total for the 12 days now supposedly will cost you $34,131. That total will drop drastically after you eliminate everything but the rings. Seriously, do you know of anyone who would actually enjoy 10 lords a-leaping?
The price of turtle doves jumped over 11 percent due to higher grain costs, while the price of a partridge jumped 25 percent due to its current popularity as gourmet food.
A Utah man would like to box and ship you an Old West tumbleweed, selling for about $30 each. He actually has employees to handle the demand from party planners and decorators. Ralph Lauren is supposedly a customer.
Finally, the folks at Yellowstone National Park will sell you a bison head Christmas ornament made from real bison dung for $13.99. Yes, real bison dung.
With choices like these, your gift recipients might be happier if you made a donation in their name to The Carter Center. At least in 2016, they’d probably get their own Christmas card with a facsimile autograph. Big fun, right?