Election season always reminds me of my dad… not because he was a political person (he wasn’t) but because of my memories of the election of 2012.
My story starts a couple of weeks before the November 2012 election. At that point, Dad was in the early stages, and still undiagnosed with, Lewy Body Dementia. Evenings, especially nearing bedtime, were particularly difficult for him and, therefore, also for my mom. Restlessness was a given, but there could also be anxiety. Mom discovered that watching old TV shows calmed him and readied him for bed—and following a certain protocol would ensure a relatively peaceful night’s sleep.
I started going over there several nights a week, to be with Dad in the waning hours of the evening. This way, Mom could sit up in bed and read—her nightly ritual—and fall asleep without worrying about him. Thank goodness for the Andy Griffith Show. Thirty minutes of Opie, Gomer and Floyd and I could feel the restlessness fall from Dad’s shoulders. (Truly, isn’t Mayberry a calming influence on anyone?) After an episode of Andy Griffith, some light conversation and a little backrub, Dad’s eyelids grew heavy and I could tuck him in bed and let myself out. I will always remember these late nights with him as some of the greatest blessings of my life.
One night, in late October, an ad featuring Mitt Romney came on TV. “That fella wants to be President, doesn’t he?” Dad asked. “Yes,” I replied. “And the other guy—what’s his name? He’s black, isn’t he?” “Obama, Dad, and yes he is.” Another Romney ad followed a few minutes later. “We watched the debate; I don’t trust him,” Dad said. I asked why and Dad said for him it was about looking into the person’s eyes. “I don’t trust those eyes,” he said. Now, interestingly, my parents most often cancelled each other out. I remember one year Mom had a bad cold. “Are you going to not vote?” I asked. “Not unless your Dad also gets sick,” she said wryly.
“You usually vote Republican, Dad,” I reminded him that night during Andy Griffith. “Not this time,” he said. “I want the other guy—the black fella. I like the way he talks. What’s his name again?”
On Election Day I drove my parents to the polls. I was skeptical whether Dad would actually be able to vote. A poll worker told me that if they were confident Dad knew who he wanted to vote for, I could go into the booth with him. The line was long, and Dad shuffled along, muttering “Oh, oh, oh.” When we were halfway up in line a poll worker asked Dad if he was okay, assuming his moans indicated some sort of pain. “I’m fine, just trying to remember the guy’s name,” Dad replied. When we got to the front of the line, that same volunteer told the worker manning the booth that Dad knew who he wanted and to let me accompany him.
Now you could argue that my dad’s vote was suspect— the result of dementia. But I believe it came from his gut— from a lifetime of military service, work, church, family and experiences. I recall Mom telling me in the last years of her life that she never thought she would have the opportunity to vote for a black person and then a woman. “Isn’t that something?” she said. How many seismic shifts in demographics and perspectives Mom witnessed in her lifetime. This year my youngest daughter voted for the first time, and I wonder what she will have experienced 70 years from now—how different our nation will be then and how her life experiences will shape her perspective.
My husband and I have ingrained on our children the importance of voting—even in a state where it might feel like your vote doesn’t count. Part of the reason we feel so strongly is that my husband’s family lives in Venezuela—a gorgeous, once prosperous nation that has been in the evil clutches of first Chávez and now Maduro. We have told our daughters stories of their grandmother, uncle and aunt standing in line for hours to cast votes that will never be counted. They do it because they can, and we brave the weather and the lines because we can. It’s a sacred right we have and a moral obligation—or at least that’s how we see it in our house.
In homage to the old man shuffling into the voting booth for the last time and in deference to our Spanish relatives who stand up to tyranny even when their votes seem futile, please exercise your right.