Elections and politics have always been a big part of my family’s life, perhaps surprisingly mostly on the GOP side.
I used to be told to behave myself and play outside while my grandmother and great-grandmother hosted teas in their homes on Keever Avenue to raise funds and awareness for emerging young Republicans like George Deukmejian and Craig Hosmer. When I was 7 I tagged along on canvassing excursions with my dad, knocking on doors and pestering people to vote for Joe Shell who was running against Richard Nixon in the Republican gubernatorial primary, because many Republicans felt Nixon wasn’t conservative enough.
My great-grandfather was in the Iowa State Legislature and his wife was a suffragette who was a victim of a whispering campaign about her being a lesbian, until the local paper ran a photo of her and her husband and their 11 children in a touring car.
My grandmother was an alternate delegate for Barry Goldwater at the 1964 Republican Convention in San Francisco’s Cow Palace. I still have the badge, kept in a box with a program my grandmother brought me from a Ronald Reagan gubernatorial rally at the Lakewood Center in 1966, signed, “Hi, Timmy! Ronald Reagan.”
Obviously, I come from hardy conservative Republican stock and I would probably have fallen into the Fox-hole and be driving a loaded Dodge Ram pickup with an array of 34 pro-Trump/anti-Biden stickers on the back by now if I hadn’t fallen in with the wrong crowd and emerged as a McGovern Democrat and cast my first vote for president in 1976 for Jimmy Carter, based on the sage written advice of Hunter S. Thompson in Rolling Stone.
By the mid-1990s, voting became a family outing. My wife, my 8-year-old son Ray and 2-year-old daughter Hannah, and Jimmy, our beloved Aussie always took the stroll down to the end of the block to vote in the Sperry family’s garage, Hannah in a wagon and Jimmy bounding along with us. I wish I’d commissioned Norman Rockwell to do a painting of us.
People didn’t hate one another for their opposing opinions yet. One of my neighbors, a fairly new friend at the time, was enthusiastically against Bill Clinton in 1996 and said, “I don’t know why he’s ahead in the polls. I don’t know a single person who is voting for Clinton.”
“Uh, I am,” I said. He was appalled and it led to one of many arguments, but he didn’t unfriend me on the spot.
We never missed an election, always beating the same path to the Sperry house, where they set up a mock election booth outside so the kids could fill out a ballot. In my memory it was always a crisp, sunny mid-fall afternoon, with the liquidambars turning gold and orange and all the various other colors of 1960s home appliances.
Surely, I’m a bit overly nostalgic for those early fall evenings when the kids were little and the smell of burning firewood and the increasingly southward arc of the sun made the lighting so distinctly autumnal that it annually smacks me with a strong feeling of deja vu, reminding me of all those late October and early November days all the way back to when I was living with my grandparents and getting costumed up for my early Halloweens.
And I may be a bit retroactively generous about my feelings for the candidates of a few years ago. I was particularly angered by George W. Bush’s reelection, though after the last four years, he has become almost goofily avuncular in retrospect. Similarly, Obama seems downright Rushmorean.
This year, voting seemed like an honest-to-God matter of life or death. And it wasn’t the typical family outing this time. My wife, Hannah and I drove to El Dorado a couple of weekends ago and slipped our ballots into the drop box. It was an efficient and sterile exercise with no bantering with the neighborhood ladies working the sign-in table or a mock booth for kids to vote, but it was the most important vote I’ve cast in a dozen presidential elections, if not just for me, but for Ray and Hannah, because there are two distinct ways this country can go depending on the election results, and if I haven’t made it clear, I have nothing but hope for them to live in the one our family voted for.
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