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How could you vote like that?

Femaelstrom
Alison Osius

Campaign booths flanked the entrance to the county fair last summer.

As Leslie, Bryan and their daughter entered, Leslie handed Graciela, 6, a red balloon. On it was the word “Bush.”

“My daughter’s not carrying a Bush sign!” Bryan, a Democrat, protested.

“Bryan,” Leslie, a Republican and my childhood friend, remonstrated, “it’s a balloon, just a silly balloon. Every kid loves balloons.”

Bryan was silent. A few minutes later Graciela shivered, and he helped her with her jacket, holding the balloon string for her.

Seconds later a red balloon rose swiftly into the sky. Leslie looked up, and at Bryan. He smiled.

In the course of the extremely divided recent election, with emotion sky-high (one acquaintance in Denver punched a wall so hard she broke her wrist, and is now sporting a cast), some of the deepest chasms exist in the confines of single houses.

Ten years ago, when my mother, a widow, remarried, I said, “Mom has married for love twice.” More recently, I added, “Mom has married Republicans twice.” A Democrat, she was an activist in youth, an officer in the student legislature, and profiled in McCalls magazine for being the first peacetime woman president of the senior class at the University of Michigan. A fictional quote in that article infuriated her: it claimed that, when asked which political party she planned to join, she’d said, “They both look good to me.”

She and my father never missed an election, and always canceled each other out.

Before the 1980 election, one of her students in high school English said, “Well, we know who Mrs. Osius is voting for.”

“You don’t know that!” she exclaimed. “Who am I voting for?”

“Reagan,” he said.

“What?!”

“It’s on your bumper sticker.” My father had sneaked the sticker on her car weeks before.

In recent years, she and my stepfather canceled each other out. They always, however, companionably voted together.

This year, however, is different. Let us take an example: Two days after the election, my mother sought the haircut she’d put off while busy handing out pamphlets, manning phones, and policing the polls.

A salon she’d patronized for 17 years squeezed her in. As the normally conciliatory co-owner washed her hair, my preoccupied mother asked with a sigh, “What do you think of the election?”

“I think it’s good,” said Isabelle. “Kerry lied about his war record and he shot himself in the leg to get that medal.”

Mom leapt up. She said, “I’m sorry, but I have to leave,” and, water streaming down her back, walked out.

Things at home had gotten a little hot under the collar four years ago, when Mom and my stepfather each backed their candidates. This year, things were worse. Much worse.

“Mom,” I pleaded. “You’ve been happily married for 10 years!”

“Have we?” she asked agitatedly. “Yes, I guess we have.”

My cousin Debra brought them over a cheery football movie for distraction. Debra, a passionate Democrat and a newlywed, was having issues of her own, aghast at her new husband’s opposing vote. He, however, rose early every morning and earnestly read editorials in the Washington Post to try to understand her points of view.

The two recently attended a dinner party where all three couples present represented split tickets. Despite a moratorium on political discussion, and private reminders beforehand, the dinner grew wild, with shouting and drinking and flushed faces, and spouses leaping to their feet to bellow at each other across the table.

The group tried to switch to playing charades but remained too distracted. “So we all took a walk in the cold autumn night vowing silence on politics,” Debra says. “It worked ” that time.”

Eventually, peace prevailed in her house and that of my mother, though both cease-fires periodically break down. Now all is quiet again. Until the holidays: when my sibs and I, who also differ with one another, get there.

Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at aosius@hotmail.com (write GSPI as subject heading).


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