My Earliest Election Day Memory

Dad had rushed through his shower and the whole house reeked of Right Guard deodorant and the thin pork chops that mom had fried for dinner. My brother and I were being tightly bundled up. Fall was already firmly entrenched. It was pitch dark and the air was a few degrees beyond crisp. This was election day 1976 and our little family, all four of us, made the two block walk down the street to the Fairmoor elementary school gym so my parents could do their civic duties. Even as a five year old I recognized the gravitas of the moment. My parents, younger than I am today, so realized the importance and privilege of what they were about to do and I could actually feel it. My heart beat a little faster than normal as we stood in line to enter the gymnasium. As the line inched towards the double doors our breath gushed plums of fog against the orange glow of the sodium light on the old brick school bell tower.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity for a five year old we entered the gym. I noticed how the glaring lights reflected off the highly polished linoleum tile of the floor as my parents signed in with a couple of scary older ladies with beehive hairdos and cat-eye glasses. We took our spot in yet another line. The large gray mechanical voting machines were instantly fascinating to me.

My dad took my hand as we entered the wondrous machine, that seemed like something out of Willy Wonka's factory, and he pulled the lever. The polyester curtains closed behind us with a loud ratcheting noise creating an instant alcove of privacy. Then something magical took place. I stared in awe as my father carefully studied his choices and began flipping the tiny levers. It felt to me as though my dad believed he was choosing the winners himself.

In contrast, the world has changed so much in so many different ways this experience already seems like it happened lifetimes ago but I revisit it again every election year. One advantage of having survived over four decades of such drastic change is it allows us to use these memories as a yardstick. Through my five year old eyes, the world of 1976 seemed less cynical. The 1976 I remember wasn't a perfect place but a moment in time where more people resided comfortably in the middle than the outer fringes of the extremes. Once we were greater than Democrat or Republican, we were American.