I had just turned seven years old the first time I remember going with my mother to vote. Our new house was a couple of miles down the road from the Wittenberg firehouse in Bearsville, NY, our assigned polling station. I was a shy little girl who had a hard time with my very social mother greeting all of our neighbors. I would bury my head in her skirts, pulling them over my face when she endeavored to introduce me. The wonder was that we were inside the building that housed two huge shiny red firetrucks. This was a place of awesome power because the fire siren went off every day at noon setting off a frenzy of barking, howling dogs up and down the mountain.
The mysterious voting booth, hidden behind the curtain operated by a huge lever, made me think of being backstage inside a puppet theater. Because my mom was a folksinger, I had been behind the scene of many local theaters and was familiar with complicated lighting boards and the big reveal of opening and then closing stage curtains. I was a little disappointed when she swiveled all of those tiny levers above my head and nothing dramatic happened at all. As we left, I helped her pull back the big lever and endured saying goodbye to yet more people lining up for their turn to vote.
Thirty years later, my husband and I built our house up the road from the same firehouse, our new polling station. Twenty plus years after that, in the 2016 election, my husband was installed in Albany Medical Center due to have an operation to biopsy and remove the largest tumor on his frontal lobe due to his just diagnosed small B cell central nervous system lymphoma. The hospital atmosphere exuded the tense nature of the election and was carried in the chatter of patients and their families from both parties. The staff was professionally silent on the subject but there was no doubt as to who we wanted to win.
As Richard was wheeled away, he moaned in cognitive confusion, “I just want to wake up in a country I can live in!” Ironically, my older daughter, suddenly called away from teaching as a professor in North Carolina to meet us in the hospital, did not have time to request an absentee ballot. Richard and I clearly were not going to make it to our local voting place that day, and our younger daughter became the only one in our family to vote- in the firehouse.
When I first moved to Kendal at Oberlin, I was happy to think of rolling down from the Care Center to the main Heiser lounge to vote using the apparatus placed there for the next presidential election. I had my newly minted Ohio ID ready to go. Of course, that is not happening in any retirement facility today. Mail-in ballots were provided to all of us in the Care Center, and they were legally filled out and safely delivered to the appropriate place en masse with plenty of time to be counted in a contentious state like Ohio. Today I feel like echoing Richard’s plaintive cry, “I just want to wake up in a country I can live in.”
Of course, I will wake up tomorrow morning living in this country no matter the outcome of this even more contentious election. I am an American citizen and will stay present on the long road to healing the painful divides and glaring inequities of the land we must learn how to actively and lovingly restore.