I remember a few years ago, most likely in the midst of the Clinton-Trump election, I was at my Grandma’s house, conversing over some coffee and kuchen. As I skimmed through the heaping pile of newspapers that always sits on a chair near the dining room table in her house—reading the endless headlines of the campaign– my grandma started to tell me a story of another pivotal election in American history: the Kennedy-Nixon election of 1960.
My grandma told me of the day that her parents—my great grandparents—voted. My great grandparents, Walter and Ann, experienced a very traditional upbringing common amongst rural North Dakotans in the early twentieth century. Walter was the leader of the family and expected Ann to follow his lead. My grandma pointed out that although Ann was an independent thinker, she did what she was told by her husband.
Walter and Ann were both politically active and civic-minded: sitting on school boards, engaging in community activities, and being aware of elections and politics. They considered themselves Democrats, but the party was quite conservative and moderate in North Dakota during the 50s and 60s.
Of course, the duty of civic and politically active people is to vote. Although a Democrat, Walter was going to vote for Nixon and wanted his wife to do the same. Perhaps swayed by Kennedy’s charm, the fact that he was Catholic, or because of his “Democrat” label, Ann did not find Nixon as appealing. My grandma also recalls that her mother was quite enamored with Jackie Kennedy.
As the family was eating supper on election day, Walter wanted to know if Ann did what she was told. Walter was sitting at the table while Ann was as the sink when he asked her, “so, did you cancel my vote today?” My grandma remembers Ann getting quiet and never actually answering the question. But, I think the silence was all the answer Walter needed. As my grandma puts it, he didn’t take it “too keenly,” mostly because he did not like to be wrong. But this was the first time my grandma remembers her mom showing independence from her husband.
As I reflect on the story I am struck by the power of one’s vote, not only in the grand-scale national sense, but in the personal as well. Ann could use her vote to speak to her individuality and her own opinion in the secrecy of a ballot, all while influencing the course of history. I am also inspired by my grandparents’ civic activeness to be engaged in elections and political happenings so that I can use my vote to effect change where I see fit.
I wish I could have witnessed the scene of my great grandparents actually finding out the results of the election. Maybe they discussed it further or maybe they just sat in silence, or perhaps Walter would have complained as he read the headline of KENNEDY WINS ELECTION while Ann sat across from him, listening with a quiet smirk on her face.