A Sense of Belonging

It was only six blocks from the house where I grew up. For me, a little off-orange,
nearly pale peach, painted house at the corner of 4th and Wyandotte represents democratic participation. The humble one-story house had pine siding and probably was filled by six rooms, plus a covered porch walled in to create extra living space several years before I first saw it. Certainly livable; absolutely characteristic of a modest, lived in, working class family home. It smelled of mustiness, that faint but discernible odor created by antiques and years of closed-up windows. The walls had knickknacks in the front room, the only room I ever saw. In my mind, the steps to the front door were not poured concrete…odd, since its first owner likely worked at the concrete mix plant that closed the same year I was born, about two miles out of town, right on the Katy Railroad tracks. Instead, there were stacks of cement blocks, six rows in total in a pyramid, shaped like steps.

The grass grew in the summer and was mowed regularly, complementing the home.
Even though it was mowed, the grass was rarely trimmed at the sidewalk, curbs, or driveway; the latter was formed from crushed gravel. At the comer of lot, a flagpole was placed on which I would see, nearly every day as I walked to school or rode my bike on the way to the drug store or baseball practice, a United States flag.

I do not know the homeowners’ names nor do I know if I ever met the occupant. I
remember it not because of its appearance – except for its color, it looked like so many other houses in my childhood neighborhood. Some of my friends lived nearer to the house than I did, but the relative proximity to others’ homes is not the reason, either. The reason I remember it now, 20-some-odd years later, is this house was the polling place for the ward and precinct where we lived, the only neighborhood I knew before I went to college. The first time I cast a vote was in that house, for my mom for school board. The second, and final, time I voted in that house, I cast a vote for Al Gore, in the Democratic Primary on Super Tuesday, 1984. Unlike the peach colored house, Gore continued to be in my political life, for I had the chance to help reelect Senator Gore while I was in Knoxville for grad school, to vote twice for him as Vice President, and most recently to cast a vote for him in the presidential election of 2000.

Every other time I have voted, it has happened at a school, library, or public building, a place that is, well, not someone’s home. The American Legion hall where we now vote has different smells, an industrial entrance, and a large parking lot. The hall, a place for veterans to interact with one another, has a symbolism that never could be approached by private home. Its spacious, voting day accommodations and the rows of folding tables cast a different ambiance, a less intimate environment, than the wood-paneled living room.

I am a parent now. Each election day, we take a family trip, children in tow, to vote at the American Legion hall. The ritual of voting is important, and it seems that the older child is developing some understanding of the importance of the exercise. Her knowledge is congruent with her understanding that there are multiple states in the United States, that the country is represented by what she calls the “states flag,” and that some of her daycare classmates are from other countries. As meaningful as all these influences are – voting, the American Legion, my children and their budding understanding of democracy – I still reflect, each time I cast a vote, on that house, that house on Wyandotte Street. That house conjures up memories that ground my political awareness, memories of the influences I have had in my life. I recall images of citizens filing in to vote, of community, of neighborhood affiliation, and of the gift and rights of democracy.

Jeffery Powell

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