In the tumult and the excitement of the decades of the ’60s and the ’70’s, my dad insisted that I go to college, and ranted and raved if I indicated any level of disinterest or interest in attending a college that wasn’t on his list. Although I would be the first child, and daughter, to attend college, the word “feminism” was never spoken in our home. I was expected to attend college but, ironically, the notion of women’s rights was taboo.
My mom knew when to keep quiet so as not to raise her husband’s hackles, and quiet she continued to keep for years when he had his temper tantrums — even for years after he, the self-appointed chief of our family’s Thought Police, walked out. It took another 45 years after Dad left home for my parents to be officially divorced, allowing Mom to finally sell the family home and discard as much of the old (emotional as well as physically moldy) baggage as possible, and move into the present. The hallelujah celebration was muted, however. Just a few months earlier, signs of Alzheimer’s had appeared. Mom now finally free from one form of oppression, another toxic and unknown form took its place.
Among all the millions of little details of moving an elderly parent from one home to another, and one year later to yet another, is the change of address for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. And in that process is yet another question:
If you are a registered voter in PA and are changing your drivers license or photo ID address, would you like us to notify your county voter registration office of this change? Yes or No?
Sometime later, she received her official new voter registration card, which I put in a safe place.
In a political vacuum, Mom and I would talk about whether she was registered as a Republican or as a Democrat. The ghost of the conversation was always about what party her ex-husband, my father, chief of the now former Thought Police, thought was best. Pennsylvania had a long history of being a Republican state. Meanwhile, her memory and cognitive functioning were in declinem as was her ease with walking.
And then came Hillary.
Primary after primary I heard my mom talk about Hillary. Mom wasn’t interested in watching the debates on TV. If the content of the debates was lacking in substance or difficult to follow an argument or a position, the brain disease of Alzheimer’s made it even more impossible for her to follow the candidates. No matter. My mom knew whom she wanted to vote for. Hillary. She also knew whom she hated. Trump.
“I want to throw things at the TV when I see him.”
The Pennsylvania primary was months off but meanwhile we would just have to figure out how to get her to the polls. The senior community would be running buses to the polling site. My biggest fear was that I would determine she had registered as a Republican and would be unable to vote for Hillary in the primaries. When I had time one day, I checked that out… Nope, Democrat. My other fear was that when she got into the voting booth, she would forget whom she wanted to vote for, or wouldn’t be able to figure out how to actually vote. Or maybe she just wouldn’t want to get up and out of bed on that day.
The Pennsylvania primary was one of the last.
The afternoon before the primary, I phoned her to check in. “Hi, Mom.”
In the most casual voice, she answered: “I’m sitting on the floor. I just fell. I used my cane to pull the phone toward me. My legs are off to one side. “
Okay, I remind myself to not panic. Among all the other thoughts encircling what remained of my brain was: Had she broken a bone? Had she fractured the hip that had been replaced years earlier? Did I need to figure out how to get her to the hospital for evaluation and x-rays?
“Mom, I’m going to call the front desk but they might want you to go to the hospital for x-rays. Would you be willing to go?”
“I’d rather not.”
I phoned the front desk, who got security there right away and a nurse from the clinic to her apartment to assist. The nurse determined that it was most likely a groin pull. That was a relief! Still, the nurse asked me to make a judgement call on whether to get her to the hospital for x-rays, just to be certain. I hate making judgement calls like that. Just to be certain.
The rest of the evening, her aid made a special trip in offer assistance, as did my mom’s sister, with ice, food, anti-inflammatories, over-the-counter painkillers, and love and comfort. Mom’s sister brought the supplies of a democracy: a paper sample ballot for a serious training session. She had my mother practice picking the candidates of her choice. Also of concern was now getting my mom to the bus to the polls the next day. Mom already was walking slower than a sloth even with the assistance of her walker and making more and more stops along the way to catch her breath. How would she ever make it to the Main Building where the bus was picking everybody up?
The following day, my mom’s aid showed up, got Mom dressed, and fed, iced her knees, groin area, and hip area, applied Voltaren Gel, and had her take more over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories. She stayed a little longer, long enough to get my mom into her car and drive her to where the bus would pick her up for the 4pm run to the polls.
At 3:35 I phoned my mom. “I’m sitting outside. The breeze is blowing and it’s lovely here. I’d rather be here than inside.” So far so good. Her sister would be along shortly and the two would take the bus ride together to the polls. Mom was relaxed and calm. I was not. “This is so exciting, Mom!”
“What’s the big deal” my mom asked. “I’ve voted before.”
Later that night I phoned my mom.
Through all the amyloid plaques and the tangles of the Alzheimer’s brain, through the loss of memory and what they call cognitive functioning, through her depression and her desires to stop living, feminism – and Mom’s voice – had finally broken through. Mom had voted for Hillary.
Said my mom a bit later, after she’d had some rest, “She’s a woman. I like the fact that’s she’s married to a president. I like her policies. Liberal woman. Aggressive. Conservative. I think she’ll do what’s good for women. Good for the country. Her husband was a good man and they can talk it over. I voted for a Republican candidate once but I can’t remember who.” Then she answered the question that hung in the air, which settled this question, “I wouldn’t have voted for a woman if I didn’t like her policies.”