"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

State of Mind: On My Grandmother Casting Her Ballot

Dear Gram,

I just got back from voting in the 2012 election and as I colored in my little circles for my choices for president, federal legislature, state legislature, judges, a host of constitutional amendments and more, I was thinking of you.  Yesterday you cast your own ballot, hundreds of miles north of Nebraska in Minnesota, and I have never been so proud to be your granddaughter.

When you were born, women had only had the right to vote for three years. Your older sister, Harriet, was born into a world where women did not have the right to vote (and given Harriet's personality, I'm sure that did not go over too well...).  This thing that I did today, I completely take for granted, that I have the right to vote and the rights of all people to vote in this country is measured in years and decades, not centuries.

You and Harriet were the first in your generation to go to college--not just the first women to go to college and graduate.  I remember the story you told of being at the St. Cloud Teacher's College and the Dean of Women telling all you ladies not to wear red, because it inflames the men's passions.  I find that funny now, but I'm sure she was dead serious.  Then you started teaching and in 1947, you met Grandpa, who was a fellow teacher.  Your courtship warmed in the cool air of fall football games, winter basketball games, to an August wedding in the next year and it was a marriage of strength and love that lasted for nearly sixty years.  I still miss him, a loss that hasn't healed much over the last six years.  After you married, though, you lost your job, because you couldn't be married and hold a job.  Over the years, however, as times changed, you were able to teach part time, in history and English, instilling in your granddaughters a love of stories and the importance of telling those stories.  There is power in stories, you taught us, power in the freedom to tell those stories.  As your daughter was born and grew up, women could still be discriminated against in the work place just because they were women.  They were routinely fired (or required to resign) when they married, could legally be paid less than men.  I could also mention the various women's health issues you've had over the years and how what's happening now is unsettling those things that your generation and your daughter's generation thought were settled--but I won't.

Gram, Mom, me, Mother's Day 2008
Politics was not something that we talked about very much as a family, that tight-knit little community of you and Grandpa, Mom and Dad, K2, K3, and me.  As we grew up, politics was personal and private and not something that made for appropriate dinner table conversation.  But ever since your youngest granddaughter found her calling in the political arena, politics has become very important to our family.  It's still something I consider private, controversies and conflicting arguments still make me very uncomfortable.  But you as a role model made this possible, from K3 and her activities, to the courage to make sure that C. went with her parents, M. and K2, to vote when she was only eight months old.  I know that C. is going to go again this year--and probably charm the socks off everyone who is in line.  This morning, as I cast my ballot, I got to meet Ashton, probably about a year old, and there were other children in line.  This is how we pass down our values to our children (and nieces):  we involve them in the democratic process, show them that this is important.

K3 and C., Election Day 2010
Because in this country, voting has gotten harder, not easier.  And for you, six months away from your 90th birthday, you still considered voting an essential practice, not just a duty but an honor and a privilege.  Dad told me yesterday that when he walked into your room at the nursing home, you were sitting at your table, ballot all filled out, ready to go.  Perhaps this election feels more important than others in my own memory, more at stake for the future of our country, for the world that we're bringing C. up in (and her brother, when he gets here in a few months).  But I'm carrying that image of you, sitting at your table, that determined look in your eye, making sure that your voice is heard.  Because the story is important.  And the power to tell that story, of you, is important.

Gram and C., Spring 2012
Over the course of my life, there have many moments where I have been proud to be yours, values and ethics that you have taught us by story and by action.  But today, as I voted today, as I imagine the determination on your face as you sat at your table in your nursing home to vote, given your physical difficulties and how that impacts your accessibility to voting, this feels different.  Today might be the day where I say I have never, ever been so proud to be your granddaughter.  I can't wait for Thanksgiving to come, so I can tell you in person.  Thank you, Gram.

Love, Karen


  1. I didn't know there was going to be a brother!

  2. Yes! He's going to arrive at the end of February! We're all pretty excited.