All Dressed Up with Somewhere to Go


On October 23, 1956, I celebrated my tenth birthday.  There was cake, ice cream and a small party with balloons and crepe paper streamers.  On that same day, in a world utterly removed from my cozy Iowa neighborhood, other children watched as friends, parents and neighbors celebrated an occasion first known as the Hungarian Uprising and later as the Hungarian Revolution.

As I headed toward our kitchen for my post-birthday breakfast on October 24, or perhaps the 25th, the Des Moines Register was lying in its accustomed place on the dining room table where my father always laid it before going upstairs to shave. A huge photograph filled the space above the fold, with the words REVOLUTION IN HUNGARY splashed across the top.  

At that point in my life I never had met a Hungarian and had little idea what a revolution might entail.  But I could read, and I liked to look at photographs. Curious to see what required such large print and such a big picture, I paused to look at the paper, only to have  my mind wiped as clean of thought as our classroom blackboards at day’s end. Gripped by a strange, vertiginous feeling, I realized I was holding my breath as my first, visceral understanding of a world far larger than my own and far less pleasant began to envelop me.

When the Budapest uprising began, there was no 24-hour news cycle, no CNN, no internet or embedded reporters with videophones.  There was only a newspaper lying motionless and mute in its accustomed place while my father readied for work and my mother drank coffee in the kitchen. As I stood at the table, my air of concentrated astonishment caught my dad’s attention. Passing behind me he stopped and asked, “What’s happening?”  I pointed to the photograph. He picked up the front page and scanned it, then brought it to the table. We talked about the events through breakfast. “Maybe you should tell them about it at school,” he said. And so I did.

Lucky enough to be schooled at a time when teachers were left more-or-less free to teach children as they saw fit, I benefited from my teacher’s willingness to set aside her lesson plans in order to talk with us about events in Europe.  She astonished us by finding the 1848 Hungarian National Poem  – with the assistance of a librarian rather than Google – and it  was made into a poster.

    Stand up, Hungarians, your country calls.
    The time for now or never falls.
    Are we to live as slaves or free?
    Choose one. This is our destiny!
    By the God of all the Magyars, we swear.
    We swear never again the chains to bear.

Even as a child, I was moved by the straightforwardness of the poetry, its breathless assertion that chains could fall.   More recently, turning over events of the time in a somewhat different context, I found myself pondering Karoly Nagy’s The Legacy of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution:

Liberty, democracy, human rights are like health. Servitude, oppression, discrimination are like sickness. Totalitarian tyranny is death. A revolution that overthrows tyranny and achieves liberty is a resurrection. During the last week of October and the first few days of November, 1956, most of us in Hungary felt as if we were risen from the dead…
It was euphoria.  We sang our long-forbidden national anthem, embraced each other on the streets, laughed and cried with joy.  We felt redeemed. We were intoxicated by hearing and saying words of truth. We learned the truth and demonstrated it to the World, that what defines a country, what qualifies a society is not any ideology, but the presence or absence of freedom. 

As the days passed, it was freedom we talked about at the dinner table – freedom, with all of its consequences and responsibilities.  On November 4, when Russian tanks swarmed into Budapest to put an end to the uprising, I asked my parents, “Is that going to happen here?”  “Of course not,” said my mother. My father said not a word, not that night and not the morning after.  But on the evening of November 5 he broke his silence to say,”When you get up in the morning, put on a good dress. You’re going to be a little late for school.” “Why?” I asked.  My Dad looked at my mother, and then at me. ” We’re going to go vote.”

In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower was running for a second term against Adlai Stevenson, whom he previously had defeated. To that point, my political involvement had been limited to wearing red,white and blue “I Like Ike” metal stickpins, not because I supported his candidacy, but because I liked the sound of the words. My mother and dad were regular voters. I knew they’d be voting on November 6 and I imagined them voting for “Ike”,  but I hardly expected to take part in the occasion myself.

Clearly it was an “occasion”, because I’d been told to “dress up”. In small Midwestern towns of the 1950s, you dressed for every occasion: Easter and Christmas, of course, but also weekly Sunday worship, trips to town, visits to the grandparents and travel in general. No one stepped aboard a bus or train without being starched and pressed to within an inch of their life, even if they only were traveling to Des Moines or Omaha. And if, by chance, someone were to board an airplane, nothing would do but the best suit, the prettiest dress, well-shined shoes and a matching purse.

So it was that on election day I donned my best dress, patent-leather Mary Janes and the pearl-drop necklace my Aunt T had sent for my birthday. As I settled into the car, trying to avoid wrinkling my dress with the coat I’d needed to ward off the early morning chill, my dad looked at me and said, “Do you know why I’m taking you along?” I shook my head. “It’s important for you to start paying attention to these things.  Even though you’re too young to vote,when the day comes that you can vote, you’ll be ready.”

And so I was. For years we continued the routine. When election day arrived, I got up early, dressed and went with my dad to the polls where I watched, waited and grew ever more eager for the day when I, too, could participate.  After he voted, he’d take me back home so I could change clothes and get ready for school while my mom dressed up for her own election day activities.

Sometimes, when he was taking me back to school with my “excused absence” note clutched in my hand, Dad would remind me that voting is only part of the story of citizenship. “What we do day after day is important, too,” he’d say. “If the candidates we like win the election, we have to work to be sure they keep their promises. If our candidates don’t win, we need to work even harder to help elect them next time. But right now, I’m going to work, and you’re going to school, because those are our jobs -they’re important for the country, too.”

A lesson like that may fade, but it never is forgotten. Working on the docks one sunny afternoon in late October, a radio appeal for early voting in Houston caught my attention. Harris County had lost most of their voting machines in a warehouse fire, and though replacements had been found, officials were eager for as many people as possible to vote early in order to help prevent complications in the process. Though not in Harris County, I felt a sudden urge to vote. My choices had been made for some time, so there was no reason to delay.

As I stood up and brushed off the sanding dust, the dusty habits of childhood suddenly pushed into consciousness.  Feeling perfectly silly but unable to stop myself, I drove home, showered, and “dressed up” before heading to the polls – even though dressing up in this case meant resort casual with a pair of “good” boat shoes.  Still, it was enough to release a flood of memory. Driving to the school, I thought about my dad, the lessons he taught and the passionate love of country that enlivened him. I thought of him as I voted, and I thanked him as I drove home.

Hanging my good clothes back into the closet and changing into a work tee and shorts, I found myself thinking, “There. I’m ready. My candidates may win, or my candidates may lose, but no matter the result, there’s a lot of work still waiting to be done. It’s the price of freedom.”

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29 thoughts on “All Dressed Up with Somewhere to Go

  1. Linda,

    What a timely post and a good reminder that it’s not a just a civic duty, but an honorable privilege to which millions, no, billions in the world are not entitled. Although I’m thousands of miles up north from you, and will not be participating in your mid term election, I’ll be watching from afar your election results. Maybe not too far, since you’re our closest neighbor. Who you vote for affects us too.

    Just two weeks ago, we Calgarians made history in electing the first mayor in a major Canadian, make that North American, city who is a ‘visible minority’ and of Muslim faith. We voted Naheed Nenshi to be our mayor not because he’s a visible minority, or because he is Muslim. He was elected because voters felt he was the best person for the job, simple as that.–calgary-s-new-mayor-shreds-city-s-stereotypes


    I’ve just discovered a new phrase: “visible minority”. I’ve never heard it, and for some reason it bothers me – I don’t know why. It feels like old-fashioned skin-color stereotyping dressed up in new clothes, but perhaps not.

    An interesting aspect of your new mayor’s election is that I hadn’t heard of it. Of course I’m not a good measure of such things since I’ve ditched the television. It could have been reported ad nauseum and I just missed it. He certainly sounds like a worthy candidate, and a skilled campaigner. It wouldn’t even surprise me to know there were some cowboys who voted for him if they thought he could do the job.

    I did have to smile at this, from the article you linked: ““I think it shows we are not a redneck city. It shows that we are not biased…” Methinks I detect just a little bias there! Of course, I’m hyper-sensitive on the issue now. I’m heartily sick of people who keep pointing to Texas as the last bastion of mouth-breathing, snaggle-toothed, red-neck idiots. I waded into an online discussion of “them fool Texans” the other night and said, “But I’m a Texan, you know.” “Oh,” they said. “We didn’t mean YOU.” Shades of “one of my best friends is Black”. ;-)

    Anyway, all of this is a bit off your point – the wonder of elections is that, very often, the best person does win. Best wishes to your new mayor and to your city. With luck you’ll end by being a model for the rest of us!


  2. Linda,
    Great piece! I’ve just finished voting, myself. It amazes me that so many people take for granted their right to vote. I consider it one of our most important civic duties and I’ve never missed a major election (and very few minor ones) since I had turned 18.

    I hope this blog inspires those who were on the fence about making time to go to the polls to go the extra mile and make their political voice heard! :-)

    Hope you’re having a wonderful day! ~ Beth


    It is a wonderful day, after a wonderful night. We finally have rain, after a completely dry October. With luck, we’ll have more. Everyone’s smiling.

    Like you, I rarely miss a chance to vote. Now and then a special election gets past me – I don’t know it’s coming until I see yard signs and discover it was last Saturday! I even was able to vote when I was in Liberia – the Embassy helped with the process of getting ballots. Of all the things to be upset about this year, the thought of military personnel being disenfranchised is the worst.

    I just came back from taking a friend to the polls – foot surgery meant she couldn’t drive herself. One of the poll watchers said they nearly have surpassed the number of voters who came out in 2008. That’s really quite remarkable, and suggests our precinct could hit over 60% participation. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do that nationwide?

    Thanks so much for stopping by – and for the reminder that duty and pleasure aren’t necessarily opposed!


  3. I, too, have memories of my father taking me into the voting booth, and even holding me up to pull the levers. There were the rows of small blue levers with which you made your selections but, most memorable, was the big red lever with which you closed the curtain and, when you were done, opened it and registered your votes.

    The mechanical physicality of those levers was, I think, important, as was the sanctity of the booth. There was a very satisfying sense of accomplishment when you finally moved the big red lever and opened the curtain. As I think about it now, it was like throwing the switch on a railroad track and, at the risk of stretching the simile, I guess that’s what many voters hoped they were doing.

    Today, for the first time, I’ll be voting on a paper ballot that’s fed into an optical scanner. Our state was the last to make the conversion and many here think it’s a mistake (of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” variety). I’m willing to give the new technology the benefit of the doubt though I’m afraid it will feel more like taking the SAT than casting a vote.

    Al Cyone,

    The first time I pulled that big, red lever, I had to use both hands. It was a very satisfying experience.

    I do think the physical aspects of voting are important. Although vote-by-mail has much to commend it in terms of sheer bureaucratic convenience, actually going to the polls, seeing fellow citizens gathered there, signing forms and so on helps to remind us that we are citizens of a particular country, embedded in a particular time and place.

    When Proserpina was still doing her color blogs and came to the color purple, I thought immediately of the marvelous photos coming out of Iran after their election – all those smiling faces and purple fingers. A friend asked, “Couldn’t they find a better way to show they’ve voted?” I didn’t think so then and I don’t think so now. Those purple fingers were almost like the ashes of Ash Wednesday – a public mark of a private commitment. A civic sacrament, if you will…


  4. Wonderful piece. I had parents who directly took part in the local election process, so the idea of “civic responsibility” was imbibed with my glass of milk at dinner. Politics as such was never discussed; like your own father, they made the distinction between the two. What is important is that we exercise our voting rights, lest we lose them, not how much mud has stuck to whom.

    And yes, I am going to vote today. Even if I have to hold my nose…


    Beth mentioned the duties of citizenship, and now you refer to civic responsibility. Sometimes I think the greatest problem we face is our increasing willingness to accept politics as entertainment and the electoral process as politically equivalent to “Survivor”. Duty? Personal responsibility? Dusty, old-fashioned relics that can be consigned to the attic, or tossed out. (Oh, dear. I’m becoming increasingly old-fogey-ish, aren’t I?)

    As for nose-holding, it’s a worthy tradition. There is no perfect platform, no perfect candidate. Everyone has a little mud stuck to them – but the mud’s not the whole truth. Remember this?

    Garlic and sapphires in the mud
    Clot the bedded axle-tree.
    The trilling wire in the blood
    Sings below inveterate scars
    Appeasing long forgotten wars.
    The dance along the artery
    The circulation of the lymph
    Are figured in the drift of stars
    Ascend to summer in the tree.
    We move above the moving tree
    In light upon the figured leaf
    And hear upon the sodden floor
    Below, the boarhound and the boar
    Pursue their pattern as before
    But reconciled among the stars.

    When this is all over, we’ll hope for some reconciliation.


  5. What a solid foundation your father built for you. And how wise of you (beyond your years) to accept that gift so readily, and to hold onto it into adulthood.

    The stark contrast between events in Hungary in 1956 and the presidential election in the US is a jolting reminder that the process of democracy dwarfs any difference of opinion or platform. The freedom to be involved is what matters.


    I haven’t written nearly as much about my dad as my mom – understandable, since he died in 1981 and she’s still with me. But the older I get, the more I understand how deeply he influenced my life. Telling some of “our” stories is a way for me to reclaim them for myself, not to mention illustrating some “old-fashioned” values that shape the way I live my life.

    “The freedom to be involved is what matters…” That’s true in every aspect of life – the political process, yes, but also the involvement of a father with a daughter, a teacher with her class, all of us with history. It’s certainly a freedom a significant minority of our citizenry is taking seriously these days, and I must confess I take some delight in seeing “the Great Unwashed” knocking on some pretty fancy doors, saying “Uh… We think we’d like to be involved in this process, too.” ;-)


  6. Linda, you know I loved this story!

    We did grow up with a lot in common. I remember elections as a child and even “campaigned” at school before I was old enough to vote.
    And like you and others, I have not missed an election unless there was an off beat small one no one really knew about. I even went once just to vote on one silly local initiative! I voted NO!

    And Yes, I have taken my Grand-daughter, Rylee, to the polls with me before and explained how it works to her. I hope to have the opportunity to take Nolan also. And my kids were all involved in the political process; they do not always agree with me on all their selections but they do vote.

    I just loved this story! So fitting for today!


    And I love that you so easily say, “They do not always agree with me on all their selections but they do vote…” Partisanship and political participation are not the same, and, like you, my dad was concerned with communicating the importance of informed participation. He was highly critical of people who vote labels rather than candidates or issues – sometimes I laugh when I think how much “Republican” and “Democrat” have changed since his time.

    And like you, Dad loved to watch the results come in – although his preference for the occasion was bourbon or a beer!


  7. My parents voted at Paul Harris’ store. Gracie Mason, our neighborhood matriarch, made sure it all came off exactly as planned.

    When I lived with Dad, I made sure he received an absentee ballot. He’s still voting.

    How wonderful that your teacher rearranged her lesson plan for the day.


    I have a polling place right across from me – an assisted living establishment. I’m told some of the residents make it their business to ensure there are no shenanigans during voting. They line up just outside the boundary and -well, they watch. ;-)

    Mom still votes, too, although she hasn’t shown much interest in the down-ballot races of late. But propositions, or races for governor, representatives and such – she’s right there, ready to do her thing. Every election I get to hear her fuss for a day or two about the low percentage of citizens who vote. “Foolishness”, is her word for it.


  8. Brilliant and moving. Linda, you outdid yourself!


    My goodness. I’m not so certain about “brilliant”, but I’m glad to see you include “moving”. The fact is this whole post got started when I left my early voting location and suddenly felt tears welling up. That’s what started me thinking, and I’m glad I may have captured some of that emotion.


  9. The description “visible minority” bothers you? I’m glad to know. I’ve been ‘bothered’ for years. I agree with you, it’s just new wine in old wineskin. I don’t know how this originated really, because in the 70’s when I was a Sociology major, we were taught anything that distinguishes a group’s ‘visible’ features is discriminatory. And now, it’s an acceptable term used frequently here in Canada. Further, it begs the question: who are the “invisible minorities”?

    By the time you read this, the election results are all said and done. Curious to know your thoughts.


    I spent some time pondering those “invisible minorities” myself, not to mention the ways in which language has been twisted around racial differences over the past forty years.

    Also during the 70s, I had the pleasure of taking a class called “People of Color”. Although I don’t remember the phrase “politically correct” being used in those days, I suspect that’s what the professors designing the syllabus were striving for. The tremendous irony is that Hispanic, Black and Asian students I knew seemed equally offended by the phrase, albeit for a variety of reasons.

    (A second irony is that I took the class and don’t remember a thing about it, except that I met a neat couple from Oakland who invited me to a Tower of Power concert and introduced me to some pretty good music.)

    As for the election, just a thought or two. I’m not surprised Republicans picked up so many seats in the House of Representatives. What some people see as “gridlock” others consider a deliberate approach to legislation. Beyond that, even the least attentive will show signs of life if you mutter about separation of powers, and there’s been a strong sense of late that the Executive Branch could stand some reigning reining in.

    I’ve not had time to study results for propositions around the country, but I do think concerns about the intrusiveness and growth of government have played a role there, too. An example: there were three ballot initiatives in Houston. The first, dealing with drainage and road construction, passed. While it was clear special interests – for example, engineering and construction firms – would benefit from its passage, Houston can flood with a good thunderstorm, so the proposition had obvious appeal. On the other hand, an attempt to make things easier for incumbents to retain their seats after redistricting and a proposal to keep “red-light cameras” at intersections both were defeated.

    Last I checked, there still are three senatorial races undecided. It will be interesting to see what happens there. Election season always is interesting, there’s no question about that!


  10. Great story. I’m glad we have early voting here. Years back I remember employers would let people leave to go vote (and come right back). Now that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    But, even though I am in a red state and my vote means nothing, at least it gives me the right to complain about “the people’s choice”.
    I will continue to excercise my one right as the others are eroded away.


    I happened to catch a discussion of employees’ voting rights on Houston radio the other day. As it turns out, if the polls are not open for at least two hours outside a person’s scheduled work time, that person has a right to be given time off from work to vote. For example, if the polls are open from 7-7 and that’s your scheduled shift, you have the right to be released from work in order to vote. I’m not certain if that’s Texas law or Federal law, but it would be easy enough to find out.

    I don’t think I’d agree that our votes mean “nothing”, even if our candidates don’t win. Heaven knows I’ve been in that position a few (dozen) times. I’ve always figured that learning about the issues, deciding on a candidate and supporting his or her campaign does me some good, even if it doesn’t “do any good” as far as the election itself is concerned. It helps keep that balance between rights and responsibilities ;-)


  11. Linda — I, too, sometimes get emotional when I remember my first experience of voting. It was in the early 70s and I was so proud to cast my ballot. Unfortunately, I voted for Tricky Dick. I’ve been trying to make amends ever since.


    Well, we all have “those” elections in our past. My own first vote in a Presidential election was for Nixon, running against Humphrey. There are so many variables in a campaign – any campaign, not just the highly charged ones – that it can be extraordinarily difficult to know who we’re really voting for.

    I’ve mentioned elsewhere my Great-Aunt Fannie’s claim to fame – she lived in Baton Rouge and was in the Louisiana State Capitol when Huey Long was assassinated. As the story goes, she voted for him for both Governor and Senator. When her sisters asked her why she’d do such a thing (they didn’t approve of the fellow) she said, “He’s a snake, but he’s never pretended to be anything but a snake.” She had a point.


  12. Good Lord, so much worth commenting on in this one.

    One of the sad conditions of our political situation these days is that Ike would be considered a RINO by many of the people who got elected yesterday.

    Where I grew up in the 1950s, Orleans, Mass., on Cape Cod, we had true democracy known as the Town Meeting form of government. There was an elected Board of Selectmen, but their job was simply to carry out the express wishes of the citizens of the town.

    Each year the citizens of Orleans met at the high school gymnasium, that being the only place large enough to hold everyone. Several days before Town Meeting each household received what was called the “Town Warrant” in the mail. The Warrant listed all the business of the town to be carried out the following year. All monies to be spent on roads, schools, parks, etc. and any other “laws” that might be necessary.

    Set apart from, and facing the audience, was the Board of Selectmen and “The Moderator,” who ran the show. The Moderator was never one of the Selectmen. He (it was always a man when I was living there) would then read the Warrant item by item. As each item was read anyone could get up and ask questions of the Selectmen or make any comment about an item that they wanted to. When I say “anyone” could comment, I should say that it was restricted to registered voters of the town as well as any taxpayer in the town. Probably two thirds of the homes in Orleans back then were owned by people who used them as “summer” homes. Since they paid taxes they were allowed to speak since their money was being used, but they were NOT allowed to vote.

    Sometimes the questioning and debate could get quite heated, to say the least. But when debate was ended the moderator would “call for the ‘Yeas and the Nays'” and a voice vote was held. If it was too close to call then, and here’s where the term comes from, the Moderator would say, “It’s unclear on the Yeas and Nays. Stand up and be counted,” and people in favor would stand up and a count taken followed by those opposed. Sometimes, though, a question would be so heated that some people didn’t want to stand up and be counted so a secret ballot would be called for. Pieces of paper would be handed out to the registered voters who would express their approval or not and the ballots would be placed in a box and then counted out. This, of course, took a lot of time even though there were only a couple of hundred registered voters. Town Meeting would go long into the night and some years it took two or three successive nights for the town to work its way through the Warrant.

    Each year there was one group that would be in attendance and that was the ninth grade civics class. It was required and it gave us a sense of what civic responsibility was all about. Some of us, like myself, became addicted to Town Meeting and I went to them until I graduated from high school and moved away.

    Town Meeting was great fun.

    This is the third election since I became eligible to vote that I did not participate in. I have a lot of reasons to justify my non-participation but I do firmly believe in the following:

    If you don’t vote you relinquish your right to bitch and moan about how things are going in the political life of your country, your state, your county and your municipality. Period.

    Just because the Republicans and Democrats put up a clown apiece for each office doesn’t mean you have to vote for one or the other. There are ALWAYS alternative candidates and you can, in fact, write in a name. Don’t be dissuaded from voting for a third-party candidate by people who say doing so is “wasting” your vote. NO IT’S NOT. The only “wasted” vote is the ONE NOT CAST.


    I really enjoyed your description of the Town Meetings. Direct democracy is a different critter, for sure. I’m curious if town size was a limiting factor – either then or now. I can see it working fine with two hundred voters, but 2,000 would be a different matter, let alone 20,000. I tried to remember where I’ve taken part in that kind of governance, and the only example I can think of is congregational meetings at church. It may be that the local Grange was organized that way, or the Mutual Aid Society my grandparents belonged to, but I’m not sure.

    It tickled me to hear you mention Civics Classes. We had Civics for two years, in 9th and 10th grade. That was about the time I stopped going to the polls with Dad, and started involving him in my class projects. At the time, I was too shy to run for office in our mock election, but I made some killer signs. ;-)

    I agree with your point about the only wasted vote being an uncast vote. The only thing I’d add is that I’ve slowly come to terms with the fact that there’s isn’t a “perfect” candidate – not in any of the political parties, and not among the independents. I’ve cast votes for plenty of people who had clearly visible flaws, or not a chance of winning – but they were impassioned about issues I was impassioned about, and that was reason enough. Shucks, I voted for Kinky Friedman in the Democratic primary here in Texas, when he was making a run at State Ag Commissioner. It was a close race, too – that’s one vote I never regretted!


  13. Your wise parents taught you a very valuable lesson in civics, duty, pride, love…

    Being from MA, my first vote was for John Kennedy. I, too, was taught to be a responsible citizen, know the issues, and exercise my right to vote. I admit that occasionally I do not vote in minor elections, but have never missed a presidential election.

    I love to read your stories from your childhood and about family.


    “Home is where we start from…”, Eliot said, and I was blessed beyond words to have such a fine beginning. It wasn’t a perfect home, mind you, but we made do. Best of all, I had parents who instinctively understood that enduring lessons are taught in word and deed – they were willing to show, as well as tell.

    Granted, they didn’t always agree with my choices – but I didn’t always agree with theirs! We’d fuss and argue and then, when someone had just had enough of the politics, already, the conventional closer always was: “Where’s Harold Stassen when you need him?” It was a Midwestern thing. ;-)


  14. Linda – what a fine reminiscence. I don’t think my folks ever talked politics much, and certainly did not take the time to physically demonstrate the importance of voting. I do know my Dad struggled a lot with Presidential politics and policy during the late 60s and early 70s – the eternal conflict of being a ‘good soldier’ and hating the waste that was our involvement in Vietnam.

    Like a lot of folks who grew up poor during the Depression, Daddy was a lifelong Democrat with some Republican leanings as he moved up into the middle class. I’m sure my oldest sister thought he was pretty right wing in the late 60s, LOL, but I remember the man who voted for Jimmy Carter.

    For myself and my Sailor – we both vote, as do the two of our children who are old enough. He votes (ALWAYS) by absentee ballot in his home state, and one of the first things I do when we transfer is to register to vote. We laugh that we probably cancel one another’s votes – Democrat and Republican, though many years of partnership and rational conversation have made us both far more centrist than we were 20 some years ago, and I’m pretty darned sure that neither one of us has voted a ‘straight’ ticket in many years.

    The problems for military voters generally are at the vote counting level – believe me, the armed services go to HUGE lengths to ensure that our service members have the opportunity to vote no matter where they are stationed in the world. We have a junior officer assigned (collateral duty) to ensure that Sailors who want to vote know how to get absentee ballots, and to assist them in doing so. And to make sure those ballots leave the ship in a timely manner. It’s so frustrating to read of incidents when those votes are received but aren’t counted for one reason (excuse?) or another.

    One more thought re: the mud. Nasty politics are nothing new – I only regret that dueling was outlawed so many years ago as it certainly served to reduce both the number of politicians and the most scurrilous of the personal attacks!


    The fact that I can remember the phrase “agrarian populist” being used in conversation is a pretty good indication of how things have changed in the past 50 years or so, just as connotations of the terms “Democrat” and “Republican” have changed.

    The same thing has happened with other words, of course – “unions” comes to mind. The organization and purpose of unions in the coal mines of south-central Iowa was quite different when my dad was growing up. Forbidden to enter the mines by his own father, who was permanently disabled by a slate fall, he was a life-long union supporter until the ’70s and ’80s, when he began to suggest they’d lost their sense of purpose and were evolving into special interest groups and political players. It would be fascinating to have him back, casting his critical eye on today’s realities.

    As I’ve followed the transformation of a young man I know into a Navy pilot and followed him from Florida to Texas to Baghdad, the Red Sea and back, I’ve become increasingly impressed with the support the military offers their members – for voting, yes, but in a multitude of other ways as well. I fear that civilians politics do impinge on military membes’ rights from time to time – not necessarily in terms of flagrant fraud, but in a certain contempt that influences the way responsibilities are carried out. In any event, I certainly hope the “slow” ballots reached their intended targets this year!

    As for dueling – you reminded me of this little entry about a Presidential Duel written by Bob Symon, who blogs about weather and history. Back in its heyday, dueling apparently was quite the thing. There are one or two I wouldn’t mind setting up right now. ;-)


  15. Linda,
    With so much information in cyberspace, just a search and click away, and blogs out the wazoo, I never stay very long in one spot and hardly read anything to the finish. But this story had me riveted to the screen.

    You are such an amazing story teller and writer, and I was right there with you. I could smell the bacon at breakfast and see you in your Sunday best. I could smell your father’s shaving cream . . . and see your mother in her housecoat. You write with such depth of feeling, and I have to wonder if these ideas form while you are sanding?

    Thank you for this marvelous story of freedom and obligation, for I believe they do go hand in hand. Your father taught you well, and it made me recall the first time my own father took me to the polls with him at my junior high school. I wish I had done the same with my children as your father did with you. Thank you again for this reminder . . .


    Never mind the “so many blogs, so little time” business. I’m surprised you can pull yourself away from those trout and drum to read anything!

    I do appreciate your kind words. You’re an excellent writer yourself, and that makes your comments even more special. Sometimes I do get ideas while I’m sanding, but they can come anytime. I give each of them a tentative title, throw them into the draft file and pull them out, one by one. Sometimes little bits and snatches get combined, sometimes one demands to be written, and sometimes, like all of us, I just have to struggle along and make something “work”, even if I’m not completely happy with it.

    As for the depth of feeling… The one thing I strive for above all is to be true to my subject matter. That is, “true” as in a plumbline. I try as best I’m able to let my words be an expression of who I am as a person, and I think that’s responsible for the emotional richness that sometimes appears. I’ve become more and more fond of Faulkner’s wonderful (and true!) statement: “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other.” That doesn’t mean “factual” doesn’t have its place. It’s just not the whole story.

    Of course, anyone who lurks around here for any time will bump up against another of his quotations I dearly love – Gavin Steven’s remark in “Requiem for a Nun” to the effect that, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even dead.” I surely do experience that every time an election comes around ;-)


  16. Linda: In a previous comment on another post I mentioned the very few Texans I don’t have complete disdain for and immediately after hitting the “Post Comment” button realized I’d forgotten Kinky. So here’s to you, Amelia Earhart, first lady of the air.


    Of course you’d love the Kinkster. I’d not heard of him until I made the move to Texas in 1971-ish (I never can remember dates). I distinctly remember working in my tiny apartment, listening to the radio. Suddenly I heard a catchy little tune with that famous line in the chorus: “Get your biscuits in the oven…” A good dose of Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys is a sure cure for the political-correctness-blues. ;-)


  17. I love that your dad took you, that you all dressed up (exactly as I did for anything outside of the house in those days), that he honored what is important and taught you to be responsible.

    What I also remember, being too young to remember much about Ike but the button, was believing in the system. At that time, I believed the President would make the best decision for the country just as I believed the doctor would cure your illness.

    I wish that I could put on that kind of faith the same way that I put on my black patent Mary Janes.


    Exactly. And those underpinnings, that belief in the strength and sanctity of the system, were critical factors in parents’ decisions to teach their children to participate in the system.

    There was a time when we knew with a magnificent certainty that the leaders of our country loved our country. We knew they held its best interests in their hearts, and that they were willing to sacrifice to make it better. Of course that wasn’t universally true, any more than it was true at the founding of the country. But knowing contrary, specific facts about this or that specific leader didn’t do a thing to erode our belief in those truths.

    I fear that when it comes to leadership of various sorts, we’re beginning to reap what has been sown. A sense of duty, a willingness to accept responsiblity, a desire to strive for excellence, an acknowledgement of the dignity of labor and the absolute value of a single human life – well. Such values sound almost unbearably old-fashioned. We’re surrounded by folks who think anyone choosing to live by such values surely is a bore – and boorish, for that matter.

    Sometimes, I imagine this delicious irony: that pretend-radicals from the ’60s, now entering their personal 60’s, eventually end up in the slammer for the “crime” of defending their parents’ values. Now, wouldn’t that be a story?


  18. Linda – great read! Your parents were amazing folks. I am also quite astounded at your memory. Wish mine was so sharp.

    Two things stuck out to me. First, I always took my daughters into the voting booth with me as well. They both vote now too. Second – do you have absentee ballots in Texas? You can vote by mail, OR drop it off on voting day at any voting precinct.

    OK, there’s a third – I always tell kids that they have a job – and it’s SCHOOL! I love that your dad told you that too!


    Memory is an extraordinary thing, and certainly selective. It’s pretty funny to sit and trade memories of my school days with Mom. She remembers people and things I’m completely unable to recall, while I describe things to her she swears couldn’t have happened. Fun.

    Yes, we can vote absentee here. I’ve never done it, so I’m not certain about the procedure, but I think they must be mailed. Perhaps they can be taken to early voting locations, too. In any event – provisions are made.

    Helping kids to see school as their “job”, and their education as a valuable “product” is critical. It just occurred to me that elders need some help seeing their contributions as valuable, too. My mom talks now and then about wanting to get a job. Of course she’s not capable of working outside the home as she used to, but helping her find ways to feel she’s contributing in a larger sense is an on-going challenge.


  19. Linda, I loved the link – thanks for sharing it! Men and women certainly have evolved odd ways to cope with their perceptions of honor, haven’t they?

    Odd byways – did dueling get outlawed because the potential political targets were (literally) getting fat? After all, the bigger the target…. even I could hit someone who was standing still 24 feet away, and I’m really not good at shooting! (Actually – I think it more likely that the increased accuracy of pistols once rifling the barrel was introduced had a great deal to do with it – an unrifled barrel probably gave the best shooter a 50-50 chance at that distance, LOL.)

    And…once you mentioned having one or two duels you wouldn’t mind setting up, my strange brain immediately began compiling a sort of ‘sweet 16’ matchups. We could certainly improve our regional politics in SE VA very quickly, LOL.


    Speaking of dueling… A reader introduced me to a little gem called Googlefight. Enter two terms, and let them fight it out in the search engine. Irony of ironies, when I entered “Hamilton” and “Burr”, Hamilton won over Burr in Google hits by a landslide – several million hits. His winning margin still wasn’t as great as Jane Austen over Charlotte Bronte, though, and it certainly does nothing to undo the result of history. ;-)

    It’s probably a gross oversimplification, but it seems to me dueling at least reinforced, in the most concrete way possible, the truth that behavior has consequences. It would be nice if we could find a less deadly way to impress that on a few people.


  20. Well, the first thing I have to say is you had really exceptional parents and I suspect the home in which you grew up was one of intelligence as well as civic duty. It sounds as though you were treated with respect, not as “the kid,” and your father’s commitment to his civil responsibility and to his daughter’s future was remarkable and beautiful.

    And, it is a post like this that reminds me or reinforces how twisted our schools have become. Yes, when I was that age, we didn’t have google, we had librarians and card catalogues and we learned how to search for things. The teachers responded to the learning needs of their students, not the prescripted guidelines of the state or the country. And you know what — I don’t really know anyone who didn’t “turn out” — perfect able to cope, succeed, and excel.

    This is a wonderful post — I’ve missed not being able to read you lately and I’ve much to catch up with, but this was a grand start.


    I’m laughing and have been since you posted this. In fact, my dad did refer to me as “the kid”, and I’d forgotten it. As soon as I read the words, I could hear him speaking them – and without a hint of a derogatory tone. Some people say “the kid” and it sounds like “the trash”. Others use the phrase and it sounds for all the world like “the dog”, as in “Hey! Anybody seen the dog?” Of course it helps if “the dog” happens to be, say, a Labrador retriever who thinks a really good day involves cold weather, water, and a brace of dead ducks. That’s a good dog! ;-)

    I did grow up in “a home of intelligence”, even though neither of my parents had more than a high school diploma. Even that cost them something – Mom’s own mother died when she was sixteen and she had to raise her younger sisters. Dad, kept out of the coal mines, had to leave town to find work, but ended by becoming an Industrial Engineer. Both of them were passionate about education, and they were willing to nurture curiosity in a child.

    I share your frustration with the educational system. The lowering of standards is absolutely appalling, and the blather about education as a process for instilling self-esteem rather than encouraging excellence leaves me absolutely speechless. As one tenth-grader said to me last year after a particular “competition”, “When everyone gets a ribbon and no one gets a trophy, it doesn’t make me happy. It’s boring.” Well, yes.

    Thanks for much for stopping by – I’ve missed you, too, and I’m glad you’re able to be “out and about”.


  21. What an absolutely fantastic piece of writing. Your parents and teachers were incredible.

    The overload of information that bombards us today is overwhelming, and it seems to dilute the importance of world events. I loved how you described that simple newspaper headline, and the impact it had.


    Look at you! You must be feeling better, and that pleases me no end. Thumbs up for antibiotics.

    Thanks for the kind words – you’re exactly right about teachers and parents alike. Even the teacher I hated the most taught me some important lessons – although it took about 30 years for me to appreciate them.

    We are overloaded with information. Even though everyone’s hyping social media with everything they’re worth and there are a gazillion “news sources” on the net, I’ve found that simply turning my back on much of it has been helpful to me. No Facebook, Digg, LinkedIn or Stumble for me. I use Twitter to publicize my blog posts, and email for correspondence. No iPad, no smart phone. No television. I’m not a Luddite and not a snob – I simply would rather spend my time in other ways.

    I think I’d be a perfect candidate for the Moonbeam McQueen Home for Wayward Bloggers!


  22. Two comments . . .

    Dueling: One of my relatives, Stephen Decatur, the youngest man to reach the rank of captain in the United States Navy, was killed in a duel.

    Hungarian Revolt: I remember the whole thing vividly. I was in the eighth grade and followed the revolt to its sad and bitter end. The next year I met my first Hungarian, Bales (? spelling) Szabo. He came to live with a family in our small town who eventually adopted him. I think we were all impressed with what he had done. At the height of the brutal suppression of the rebellion this 14 year old packed a set of clean clothes in a bag and then WALKED to Austria and freedom. I don’t think any of us at school could imagine doing that ourselves.

    When I went away to college, I met my second Hungarian who also walked to freedom. His name was Louis Havas, a brilliant pianist. Louis was older than most of us at the school and few people got to know him as he spent hours in one of the recital rooms practicing.

    More recently, as office manager for my friend Stephen’s construction company, I got to know three more Hungarians. Two were brothers, Tibor and Imry. Tibor was tall, Ichabod Crane-thin with Sideshow Bob feet. He wore a size 15 shoe. Imry was a giant of a man. There is only one way to describe their personalities and every time Stephen refers to them to other people he always says, “true gentlemen.”

    The third was Lazlo R___. Remember the Li’l Abner character Joe Btfsplk, the guy with the cloud over his head? Well, that’s Lazlo to a “T.” The man had a reverse Midas Touch. Everything he touched turned to crap. EVERYTHING.

    Lazlo had owned a Mercedes-Benz repair shop in Fort Lauderdale which he sold at a good price. When he went to the bank to deposit the money they said, “Oh, Mr. R___, step right this way, we can make you a lot more money investing this than you can get off of a savings account.” A slick-talking banker convinced Lazlo to invest his complete repair shop largess into high-tech dot com stocks. Well, we know how that went. Lazlo lost everything. He tried to sue the bank and after several years of litigation he constantly lost.

    Lazlo’s last day working for us saw him make the local evening news when he went to the offending bank, sat down in the lobby, doused himself with a liter bottle of gasoline, pulled out a Bic lighter and demanded his money back. What he got was Baker-acted.


    Once I stopped reading the concluding word of Mr. R’s story as “baked”, I was able to settle down a bit and enjoy your comment. I must say, it did put me in mind of that old saying: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.” In his case it might have been, “Just because you’re acting crazy doesn’t mean there’s not a logical reason for it.” Sad story.

    Once again, serendipity strikes. How strange that I should have mentioned Aaron Burr to Lee, above, and then discover your Stephen Decatur’s wife Susan once was pursued by Burr. The list of Decatur’s commands is impressive – and interesting that he was also the first military hero not to have played a role in the Revolutionary War. I’ll bet discussions about his first command included a few references to that fact!

    When I think about events like the Hungarian Uprising, the Holocaust, the bombing of Dresden, the London Blitz, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and so on, I wonder what will happen as more and more who witnessed these things and passed on the stories to the next generation begin to die. Great chunks of history already are being excised from textbooks, or shaped to fit more easily with current convictions. Of course victors and victims experience events quite differently and have quite different perspectives – both deserve to be heard. But there should be room for Joe Friday and his “Just the facts, ma’am” attitude at the table, too. The preservation of facts is as important as the discovery of truth.


  23. Great story, Linda.

    I love that your Dad included you in the election process from such a young age.

    I, too, remember those days when it was expected to dress up for any type of excursion.

    “Visible minority”? I haven’t heard that one before. If it was used here recently, during our Governor’s campaign, I missed it. We just elected our first woman to the post and she’s the daughter of Indian immigrants.


    I think it’s remarkable that I only now learned of your new Governor’s heritage here, reading your comment. I’ve read a bit about her campaign and victory, but was only aware that she’s (obviously) a woman. I think that bodes well – there was a time when her status as the daughter of immigrants would have been front and center.

    Arti’s a Canadian, and I think that phrase “visible minority” probably is unique to their discussions. I discovered in the Wiki that the “term is used as a demographic category by Statistics Canada in connection with that country’s Employment Equity policies”. I hadn’t thought about it, but of course there are “linguistic minorities” in Canada, too, and apparently “visible minority” is meant to make clear that a characterisitic other than language is at issue. I still don’t like it, but at least I can see a reason for it.

    I’ll bet you remember the true “box lunches” for travel, too. They generally were cardboard, tied with string and filled with things like apples, hard-boiled eggs, celery and carrot sticks, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and homemade oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies. That was first-class traveling!


  24. Oh, this one is ripe with so many things.

    I have to tell you I was worried, from a very young age, about invasion from Russia. Though I tail somewhat behind you birthday-wise, because I come from a very politically active family there was always discussion at the various family dinner tables on world issues and I picked up early on the Russian threat. Your question to your father about whether or not the Russians would invade us made perfect sense to me.

    Further, there were always pictures of Ike on the kitchen cabinets at my Gran’s. I didn’t even know that anyone would be running against him. It was Ike and nothing but. (Later, my husband would enjoy sparring with Gran on politics and people and teased her about sending our kids to Harvard.)

    Yup, I loved hearing about the dressing up. Can you imagine people today dressing up to fly from here to there? They would be shocked to consider it; annoyed to have to do so. Here’s to starchy dresses and shiny Mary Janes.

    I busted out of work on time so I could vote. Wasn’t going to miss it. And they still had “I voted” stickers left and I got one. (It fell off in the car and I found it stuck to the seat the next morning, which made me smile, nevertheless…)

    So what is the import of all these memories, and shared memories at that? Well for one thing, it’s awesome to read this stuff, to have you remind me about how it was, from Iowa to New York and likely west to Cali, and to share all the nature and temper of things. Great times. And to have you stand right up and remind us of how it feels, not just that we should vote, but how it feels, the many things around it, the “tapestry” of voting and the way it resounds.

    We are fortunate, oh, so fortunate. And how cool is that that it is so embedded that you would go home and change first? Beautiful things, there are in this world. Tradition is one of them.

    Thanks for sharing this piece of your own tapestry and thank you for posting that 5 cent stamp!!!!! I do remember it,clearly! And the I LIKE IKE button.
    Memory brings meaning to the Present.


    Somewhere on the internet there’s an image of Ike on a campaign swing, speaking from the back of a train at the depot in Newton, Iowa – my home town. (I ran across the image, didn’t save it, and now can’t find it again.) My dad got an identical button that day – and I, too, remember the stamp.
    It’s amazing to me how many memories can be unlocked by the smallest bit of detritus, how many forgotten pathways reopen.

    It’s equally amazing to remember how narrow the gap once was between the country’s “leaders” and “the people”. When I flew for the first time, it was from Des Moines to Washington, D.C., via Dayton, Ohio. The plane was full of military men, including a general or two – flying commercial, for heaven’s sake! Maybe that’s part of the reason we dressed up – we never knew who we’d be meeting. And when I reached Washington, I was free to walk unaccompanied, here and there, through the tunnels, the office buildings, the hallways. Quite a difference in 1964!

    We are fortunate. People have fought to preserve what we have – on the battlefield, but elsewhere, too. I think we have a responsibility to pass on the gifts we’ve received to those who will come after us.


  25. I grew up (and continue to do so) in a world quite different from the ones you have described. And still, perhaps not.

    India is a little of Hungary and some of the US and several other worlds. We have democracy here now and had external control then and are a melting pot of several concepts, including “Why Vote?” I’ve never voted, primarily because I grew up as an Army child, like we call ourselves. My father never had a voter’s card, since we’d be moving every couple of years or so. In all this movement, we’ve become observers of the political scenario in our country.

    But this is not why I wanted to write to you. I simply want to tell you what all the others have. You’ve written a post that warms hearts. Even those that sit miles away. That’s what I wanted to add.
    Thank you.


    And you have warmed my heart. I am amazed that someone from so far away should read my words and be touched – not because we are so different, but only because it is possible. There are criticisms of this cyber-world we have, but I find it wondrous, and the ties made here worth nourishing.

    Thank you so much for your kindness in leaving a comment. You are welcome here any time, and I look forward to reading your own work.


  26. I found you via a link from bronxboy’s blog. What a lovely story about a father, a little girl, and a history lesson from the 50’s. I love how you linked the Hungarian uprising, with Ike’s re-election bid and a little girl in her best starched dress going to vote with her Dad.


    How kind of you to stop by! One of the great pleasures of writing these vignettes is that it’s a way to recapture some of those moments for myself, sharing them with others in the process. I’m old enough now to have seen many friends and relatives begin to lose what they never thought it possible to lose – memory itself. My hope is that when mine begins to fade, I can revive it a bit with my own recollections!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. You’re always welcome to visit.


  27. A fascinating mixture of personal and world history, amongst other things, Linda. Voting is compulsory in Australia, but not here in Chile, by the way.

    And talking about how we used to receive the news in the days before Internet and cable TV, etc., I have a strong memory of a morning two decades back, when I was living in Japan (teaching English), and went to the front door of our apartment to pick up the English language newspaper. The headline was: “Berlin Wall Down”.


    I’m surprised by Australia’s compulsory voting – I never would have imagined such a thing. I suppose part of the reason is that, while we used to hear, “I’m going to Canada”, today’s mantra is more “I’m going to Australia/New Zealand”. I’d assumed it was more a bastion of “do your own thing” than compulsory voting suggests. ;-)

    In this country, I’m not sure if it would be a good thing or a bad thing. I did skim a couple of articles and found the arguments you’d expect on both sides of the issue. Interesting.

    I do think that, in the days of newspapers, truly newsworthy items compelled more interest. There are only so many pages in a newspaper, and editors had decisions to make. Clearly, “Berlin Wall Down” belongs. Such gems as “Beekeeper Shot by Bear Booby Trap” or “Did Jessica Simpson Buy Her Own Engagement Ring?” might not.

    I’ve spent some time enjoying your site – I do so enjoy your work.


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