The first election I remember was the Kennedy-Nixon faceoff in 1960. I had never heard my parents express political views before (I was only about six, so no surprise there), but I actually heard my father voice his opinions of the candidates during the nightly news. My parents were still Texan enough to be “yellow dog Democrats” and were not bothered by the fact that Kennedy was a Catholic, though my Dad didn’t think much of Joseph Kennedy.
But what really made me remember that election was the fact that my friend Janie and I got into trouble for creating our own play version of an election debate. If adults could go on TV and argue with one another, then we could ape them and add a few childish twists of our own. We decided, cartoon-style, that we would jump up and down on the sofa, shooting water guns and hurling insults at one another. We thought it was hysterically funny; we cracked ourselves up.
But not my Dad. He did not think that it was funny. And my mother did not think getting her beautiful new sofa wet was in the least bit humorous. Janie and I received a severe chastening. No screaming, no punishment, just words. Janie was a much better behaved child than I, and this probably came as a shock to her. Even I had the wind taken out of me. I came away with the impression that elections and new sofas were serious things.
When I went off to college in 1972, the newly lowered voting age of 18 had been in effect for a couple of years. So that was the first time I cast a vote.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember much about it. I cannot remember whether I voted through absentee ballot in Texas or directly at a polling place in Washington, D.C., where I attended Georgetown University. But I do know that I voted, because my college friends and I were all excited at being able to do so.
And Nixon was still around.
For years now, I have voted at a local community center that used to be an elementary school. It is now being remodeled back into an elementary school, so this year we voted at another nearby elementary school. I wondered whether it would feel strange to vote at another location, even though I am familiar with the school from the year or two that my daughters were in Brownies there.
But some of the people handing out sample ballots were familiar faces, so it felt perfectly comfortable. I accepted my “I voted” sticker after voting, and felt a little wistful that my daughters were no longer young enough to fight over who would get the sticker when I got home. In fact, my husband and I realized with some chagrin that our younger daughter turned old enough to vote several days before the election and we could have taken her to register to vote.
Our older daughter was set to vote in the 2008 elections, but on the day before the elections she received her crumpled application with a note saying that it had been submitted too late. She had filled it out and sent it off in late August to change her voting place from Virginia to Philadelphia and apparently someone had misplaced it until it was too late. Next time she’s voting absentee from Virginia.
So neither daughter got to participate in what should have been their first election. We’ll see to it that they vote in the next one.