Saturday, November 5, 2016

Voting: One Family's Legacy

My mother always took my brother and me along when she voted, even when I was so small that I couldn't see or reach the rows and columns of levers, and the massive switch underneath. So the experience was ingrained in me: the privacy curtain, the stale smell of the air in old buildings (schools, churches) not kept up, the elderly men and women who helped my mother fulfill her civic duty. In these public spaces, unlike most, children were encouraged, even celebrated, and few adults missed the chance to remind us kids that someday we too would be granted a golden ticket, like Charlie Bucket's, to vote.

Afterward we'd sit down to a special dinner. My grandmother believed in Election Day dinners. In my memory these were almost as elaborate as Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners, although they involved cold foods, not hot: picnic food in November. My birthday fell a few days before Election Day (still does), and so for me the air was doubly charged.

Once dinner was finished my mother, grandmother, uncle, and aunt would scurry to the family room and watch the returns, sometimes well into the next morning. They, political junkies all, were never more animated than on election night. I would lie on the floor and half-listen to swells of conversation. I didn't understand most of it but by its pitch and tone I could suss out who was winning or losing, and whether we (unified in this if nothing else) were happy about it. No one ever remembered to put me to bed. I'm not sure they knew I was in the room.


Three of four of those people have died, and yet they are with me on Election Day. This I know: They would be appalled by this election season. They would be inhaling it as reliably as they inhaled the smoke from their cigarettes. If they knew how to do so they would be checking as obsessively as I am.

I miss my grandmother, mother, and uncle most on the first or second Tuesday in November. On Tuesday I may not use switches and levers to cast my vote for HRC, but when I ink circles I will sense my departed family gathered around me much the way my brother and I swirled around my mother as she voted. I will smell their cigarettes and feel their passion for the electoral process. And I will be buoyed by their legacy as I vote for the candidate they would have chosen.


Mary Gilmour said...

My father always started election day by crowing 'Vote early and often'. One hear he was a Returning officer for our riding (don't know what your equivalent is?) and when I quoted it back to him, I got 'the look'. Hope your election turns out okay. All of Canada is biting its nails.

Mary Gilmour said...


Christine said...

Will you have an election day dinner this year? Thank you for this post, Sarah.