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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Disenfranchised From the Valley

Tualco V. March

The Monroe School District has a school levy and bond issue on the ballot. I just voted mine. I filled in the shanks of the “yes” “no”arrows, tucked the ballot neatly in the “secrecy” envelope (below the red line), signed the return envelope, and at the risk of dehydration, applied my tongue to the three glue strips to seal the whole thing off. As I walked to the mailbox to post my ballot, I thought of those bygone days before hanging chads, electronic voting and the ubiquitous mail-in ballot, a simpler time when we performed our civic duty at the Tualco Valley Grange. Tualco GrangeOn voting days, weather permitting, I would pedal Gladys to the Grange Hall to cast my vote.

As I rolled to a stop in the parking lot, the feeling came over me that I had just ridden into a Norman Rockwell painting. There was Old Glory pinned to the siding near the “No Electioneering” sign. I was never quite sure what this meant but whatever it was, I certainly was not there to do any of it.

As I balance Gladys on her kickstand, I wonder if Valley folk at one time rode to the Grange on horseback, tied their nags to a hitching post, marked their ballots, mounted up and trotted back to their farms. By the smell that greets me as I enter the Grange, I imagine this may have been the case—not a barn or stable smell, the smell of large animals--but a musty odor of damp, mildew, disuse: the smell of a used bookstore, as if history itself exuded fumes.

The polling place is staffed by civic-minded matrons, some who may have been present in the Valley back in August of 1920 when the 19th Amendment gave them the right to vote. I am sure by now they have exercised their patriotic duty. There would be no pies baked in their kitchens this day. These women are of sturdy stock, and if you put bonnets on them, each would look right at home on the wooden seat of a Conestoga wagon. They are friendly but business-like, determined to do their best to assist with the vote. Though the resolve on their faces reminds me of the three women in Grant Wood’s painting “Daughters of the Revolution,” I know polling day is a social event for them as well, a chance to visit with friends and neighbors. Get caught up.Who knows what good gossip may rear its lovely head before the polls close at 8:00 p.m.?

The Tualco Grange does not always smell like yore distilled. Twice annually, spring and fall, the smell of strong coffee and fried ham mingles with bouquet of pancake at Grange pancake breakfasts. At the Christmas program the meeting hall smells of children and candy and excitement. I have smelled wedding flowers there once and the good food prepared to celebrate Jerald and Tina Streutker’s Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary. Just recently it must have smelled of birthday cake and candles, someone’s Fortieth birthday—as announced by the black balloons bobbing from the Grange flagpole.

Mustiness aside, today, voting day, smells like purpose, like patriotism. It is an inclusive feeling, like you’re not an “Island” but part of the “Main.” Your ballot is like the Widow’s mite: it’s the little part you can do. And that’s why you approach the sign-in table manned by two “Revolutionary Daughters.” Spread before them is a large, open ledger, for they are the keepers of the rolls, the names of the registered voters in the precinct, you among them. And since the two trustees know who you are, they quickly flip the pages to your page, and there you are, neatly alphabetized. You sign your name longhand just as the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, exchange a few pleasantries for a ballot, and wait for an open booth. You never have to wait long on voting day at the Tualco Grange.

Marked ballot in hand, you proceed to the Third Daughter’s table where she superintends a varnished plywood box ( her husband’s carpentry work, perhaps?). The box has a slotted lid which is secured with a padlock and hasp from the local hardware store (more secure than any “secrecy envelope”). You hand her your ballot, and she removes the ballot number, drops it in a box with the day’s tally. The ballot she returns for you to drop in the slot. You watch it disappear and note the varnish has been worn from the slot, paper worn, from years of voting.

Voting at the Tualco Grange had its rewards. As I turn to leave, the keeper of the box picks up a roll of “I Voted” stickers, peels one off, and with a smile hands it to me. I return a “You’re Welcome” grin. But the sticker is really for Gladys, a bumper sticker of her very own. I rub the dust from her rear fender, apply the sticker, and press it firmly in place. There. “I Voted.” You can’t get much more political than that.civic-minded

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