What Matters and Registering to Vote

SDS, 1929 – 2012

We visited my eighty-five year old grandmother yesterday. She lives in an integrated, multicultural, working class town in the Midwest that refuses to die.

We lost Grandpa in January. The side table by her recliner has become a shrine, home to his award pins and belt buckles from a lifetime of service to Davey Tree, handsome photos of him as a younger man, the rose left on his pillow by the mortuary the night they came to the house to take his body.

In all of my time in the medical field I’m still processing that my grandfather was the first person I ever had to pronounce.

She’s good. Really. She dreams of him. This makes it feel as if he’s not quite so far away. She talks to him. She shares her day, as she did for the sixty-seven years of their marriage. Yet, I know she feels alone. They had a rhythm. A pattern. One: director of family life and house. The other: author of his domain. It was a symbiotic relationship, one she says was built on trust.

Living in the same town for scores of years and never knowing a stranger affords one a rich life, diverse with friends. 

As his health began to fail and they were seen out less and less in their usual haunts – mom and pop restaurants, diners, and family owned places that have been there for years – word got around that Dwight was dying. In the six weeks that he was in the rehabilitation center following his final surgery he enjoyed over one hundred twenty visitors. Grandma received cards and notes from check out clerks at local markets and waitresses and staff from favorite restaurants. They tear up now when she comes in. “I loved that man” a Turkish manager at their favorite eatery recently told her.

She loved him. They never quarreled, she said (though I might have to verify that claim with their daughters). They’d just be silent if they were mad at each other, she recalled.

We saw a teal, white-topped Cadillac on our way out to lunch.

“That looks like our Caddy!”

“It does doesn’t it. Was that the one that was owned by Betty White?” (Not the Betty White, but a Betty White.)

“No, that was the Lincoln. The Caddy I bought with my Avon money and in my own name. One of the men on my route said when he saw it, ‘Maybe I need to start selling Avon.'”


She registered to vote for the first time in her life a few weeks ago. Her son-in-law, my uncle, a retired UAW member, collected all of the paperwork for her. She said she watched the convention speeches on both sides and really enjoyed them. She especially loved hearing the President’s wife speak. “You can tell they really love each other,” she said.

Out of respect, I didn’t ask her for whom she planned to vote.

She volunteered, “There were two things that Romney said that really troubled me.” She held up an index finger, looking far bonier than I ever recall. “First: He said he’d end Planned Parenthood. And two: He said to students trying to figure out how to pay for college that instead of taking out loans they should borrow money from their parents. I heard one student say, ‘If our parents had any money we wouldn’t need to take out loans.'”

My grandmother is the second of five children whose coal miner father died before she was a teen, whose widowed mother raised them through the Depression by taking in laundry and mending and who grew used to eating lard sandwiches at school. If it weren’t for food commodities (food stamps today), snaring rabbits in the yard, a family garden, the kindness of family and strangers and the grace of God – they wouldn’t have survived. She married my grandfather when he was sixteen and she was eighteen – not because they had to – and was very proud of having earned her GED. My grandfather escaped the draft for WWII because he was too young. The youngest of four, his mother died when he was a young child, and it would not be an over-exageration to say that he mostly raised himself. He lied about his age to get a job with Davey Tree where he worked his way up over forty-seven years from crew member to a regional supervisor. He took down a thirty foot pine in his grandson’s yard just weeks before he died.

My conservative Christian grandmother is voting for the first time in her life in this election for Barack Obama because she’s one of the 47% who knows that the President understands her life story and that life is more complicated than a balance sheet and an ideological worldview.

I’m very proud of her.

Copyright © 2012. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.


Click here to hear Willie Nelson sing Good Times.
My grandfather loved Willie. I miss him.

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 30th, 2012 at 6:38 pm and is filed under Family, Friendship, History, Marriage, Voting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. Patsy says:

    Wonderful, so wonderful, Christy. I’m happy for you that you are able to experience this wonderful pride and that you have expressed her story so eloquently. I’m glad she’s voting too (and your Grandpa would be proud of her too that she is voting)!!

    ... on July September 30th, 2012
  2. Jennifer says:

    This was lovely. Thank you.

    Hard to believe it was a year ago I was at their house and visiting Grandpa every day in the rehab facility. I am so glad I was able to spend that time with both of them, as I learned a lot about each of them and have memories that will be hard to forget. There is something about spending that prolonged, focused time with my grandparents as an adult that solidified the importance of family, and truly valuing them.

    In addition to still being able to visualize Grandpa sitting in bed, giving his foot a sqeeze when we were alone, and his “Hi sweetie!”one thing that does stand out in my memory was introducing myself to the nurse in the care facility to ask her to come help with grandpa’s ostomy bag, and having her say, “Of course you are his granddaughter. You look alike.” It had never occurred to me, but realize that i really did look like him at that time. It is comforting, of sorts, to have that connection and resemble such a loving and caring person that I always looked up to and enjoyed. It helped connect me to my family just a little more.

    I also learned how aware of love my grandmother really is. She impressed upone me her conscientiousness of empathy and the value of acceptance of those who most others find unacceptable. Even small acts of love really does make a difference in people’s lives, and she shared a few recollections where she was blessed by getting to experience the fruit of her work – the thanks for not giving up on them and being told she always made this person feel welcomed and valued when others did not.

    I am proud of my grandmother to continue to live in love and gratitude despite the loss of Grandpa. It would be easy to sulk, or complain in order to draw sympathy or attention, but she doesn’t.

    Happy voting Grandma. We need more people with your selfless love in the election this year.

    ... on July September 30th, 2012

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