My grandmother is 96. She was born in 1920, the year women in this country were given the right to vote. She would remind me and the rest of my family of this on many occasions. She would also tell us that one day she was going to vote for a woman to be President of the United States. She was raised during the Depression on an old dirt road between Maben and Sturgis.
Granny, as I call her, likes to laugh, dance, and play the harmonica. Some days she is not exactly sure where she is — most days actually — but she’s always been delightfully scatterbrained. She looks for joy and fun no matter the circumstances. I’ve never heard her say an unkind thing about anyone.
On election day, I drove to the nursing home in Starkville where she lives now. I would take her to Sturgis, where I suspected she was still registered to vote. She had lived there the past 40 years on that same old road, about 100 yards from where she was born.
I didn’t want her to miss out on a chance to cast a ballot for the first female President. When I got there I walked into a room full of old ladies. They had just finished breakfast. The television blared “The Price is Right.” Granny was asleep in the chair at the other end of the room. It was a historic day, but I wondered if I should just let her sleep. I knelt down beside her and gently rubbed her arm. She opened her eyes and looked at me as if I were part of her dream.
“Hey, Granny, remember me?” I asked.
“I do.” she said.
“Who am I?” I had to test her.
She thought for a moment. “You’re Jerry’s son?”
“And Melva is your mother.”
“You got it… so that makes me….”
“David.” she sang it sweetly. My wife is the only one who comes close to singing my name as beautifully as Granny does.
I told her about election day and my idea. She was all in. Granny loves getting out and seeing the sights. So we headed to the little town of Sturgis where she was born and raised and spent most of her life. We talked on the way and even though she was a bit confused, she was eager to vote for a woman to be the President of the United States.
“Now this is the one who is smarter than her husband?” Granny asked for clarification.
“All women are smarter than their husbands, Granny.” I said.
She cackled. “I’m talking about Bill Clinton.” Granny liked Bill Clinton, but she said she was much prouder to be voting for his wife.
Early that election morning, I remained uncertain how I would vote for President. I have never been accused of voting Republican and had absolutely no desire to see Donald Trump as President. Still, I was not quite inspired enough to vote for Hillary Clinton either no matter how much smarter she may be than Bill.
I hoped Granny’s excitement would be enough to inspire me to vote Democrat. Then I thought, “maybe I’ll just write-in Granny’s name.”
We visited the Town Hall in Sturgis first, so Granny and I could take advantage of the restroom. A couple of the ladies there recognized her right away and they doted on her a bit. Granny acted like she knew exactly who they were. She may really have. Who knows? She doubled down on their doting by hugging and kissing their cheeks. They told us the polling place was down the hill behind Town Hall at the Sturgis Fire Station.
Granny and I carefully walked down to a metal building. There was not much activity at 9:30 a.m. Four poll workers and one poll watcher all stood up to greet us. Three of them knew Granny and the others knew one or more of Granny’s children and grandchildren. It was another joyous reunion full of hugs and kisses.
As she had not voted in the last four elections, Granny was listed as inactive. The poll workers told me I would need to take her to the Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk’s office in Starkville to have her re-register. I asked if we could fill out a provisional or affidavit ballot? “Not without a valid I.D.,” they told us. Granny’s drivers license expired in the 90’s.
Again, three of the four poll workers knew exactly who she was. I wanted to protest. I make several arguments for her to fill out a provisional ballot. I used my kindest possible voice as Granny was watching. I didn’t want her to see me being agitated.
Voting is a right but the new rules in this State are pretty clear. Those ladies working at the polls had to abide by them and even my sweet Granny could not get preferential treatment.
Granny was confused when we left. I told her we had to go to another location before she could vote. Driving back to Starkville, I knew I could not drag her to the Circuit Clerk’s office. They’d likely not allow her to re-register on election day anyway. My great plans went up in smoke.
I felt like the James Joyce character in ‘Araby’ staring down Highway 12, a disenchanted member of the electorate, driven and derided by vanity. My eyes burned a bit with anguish over my Granny’s lost chance to cast a vote for a woman to be President of these United States.
She fell asleep on the drive back to Starkville. I took her back to the nursing home. She was a bit groggy as we walked down the hall to her room. She held my hand tight and rubbed my arm as if making sure I was really there.
Then she asked aloud, “Did I get to vote today?”
I didn’t hesitate. “Yes, Granny.”
“Did I vote for the woman?”
“Yes, you did.”
» David Dallas is a political writer for the Mississippi Business Journal. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.
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