If my grandmother were alive, today would have been her 97th birthday.
She’s been on my mind a lot the last few weeks, and not just because I always think of her in October. Whenever we draw close to election day, I remember her.
In 2004, when John Kerry was the D on the top of the ticket, I had election day Grandma duty. She was essentially wheelchair bound, and she had never been able to drive. So I had the job (and, I realize now, the privilege) of taking her to vote.
I remember pushing her awkwardly through the doors of the school where she voted. She had something to say about everyone and everything, because she always did, and she was making me laugh, like she always did.
As we waited, she reminded me repeatedly how she would be voting. I swear I can still hear her voice, with her Jersey City accent and her Baltimore hon –
“Make sure to put me down for the Ds! I always vote D. Those other guys – sheesh! To hell with them, hon.”
She was a low-rider in her wheelchair and disabled enough that she couldn’t stand at the voting machine. When we reached the booth, I had to actually cast her vote for her.
It’s a tremendous responsibility to place another person’s vote, and I knew it. In fact, I think I was more aware of it than she was. As I went through the ballot, I kept asking her, name by name, to tell me who she wanted me to select. She gave me a few specifics, but after a while she got cantankerous – “Does it have a D? Just vote for the D.” She yelled and waved a fist at me when we got to the school board section and I said she’d have to pick a name. (We left that one blank.)
After the final D was checked and her vote was cast, she and I headed back to her assisted living home. Her “I voted” sticker took pride of place on her chest – because she was proud. Really proud. I was with her partly because she refused to vote by absentee ballot. She wanted to be there, even if it meant she was directing someone else to push the buttons for her. And she wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon bragging about it to her friends.
My grandmother wasn’t well-educated. She didn’t approach elections as an intellectual. Her loyalty to the Democratic party wasn’t based in an extensive understanding of economic or social policy. Instead, it was based in her own experiences – of who came through for working class families like hers during the depression (FDR was her gold standard) and who, as far as she was concerned, continued to come through for the little guy over the decades. Grandma was solidly middle class for most of her life, but I don’t think she ever stopped seeing herself as a poor Italian girl with eight siblings from a run-down part of Jersey City.
When I took my her to vote all those years ago, Hillary was barely four years out of the White House – and grandma and I both wanted to see “those other guys” move out too. As luck had it, we lost, and they got a second term. Grandma didn’t live to vote for another president.
Hillary is back, fighting for the White House, and I wish more than almost anything that my grandmother could be here to vote for her. She’d have done it with pride, her “I’m With Her” sticker only slightly less important than her “I voted” sticker.
I also wish I could hear what she’d have to say about Hillary’s opponent – though I have a pretty good idea what it would be.
“This Trump character? Christ. What a shot in the ass.”