(On election day, I can’t help but think back to our 2008 canvassing in neighboring New Hampshire.)
A tall vibrant man in a flannel shirt held back his dog, but only slightly, asking if we were Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons. When the four of us answered “No”(on both accounts) from behind car doors, he told us we could approach his house, a neatly built log cabin with a long view of distant Vermont hillsides.
He softened a bit at the sight of Lloyd, 13, and Aidan, 8, dressed in Obama “Change” t-shirts (the ones they bought in Unity) before telling us that someone had already been to his house–twice that week–from the campaign.
We apologized for the intrusion, explaining that we weren’t meant to be duplicating efforts, but he countered that the others–a young couple and two college students–had said the exact same thing.
More apologies followed after which he stated, “I’m a lifetime Republican–40 years,” and then he added: “Until this election.”
There was a collective exhale.
Thirteen-year old Lloyd jumped into action with his clipboard, asking the man if he’d be voting for the NH democratic candidate for Senate. The reply? A firm, “NO.”
When he told us that he was voting for Obama however, we all smiled. He shared how nervous he was about the election and asked us if we thought Obama stood a chance.
“Watching the television is making me crazy,” he said.
We commiserated with him. We didn’t have tv.
“You could call your friends or email them,” we suggested, “Especially if they live in Pennsylvania or Ohio.”
“That won’t help,” he explained. “They’re all like I used to be… making six figures. They just don’t get it.”
8 year old Aidan offered him some campaign materials which he politely refused before we said our goodbyes (on “almost” friendly terms.) Just as he stepped back onto his porch, he turned and asked if anyone needed to use the bathroom.
There was a pause, and then a “YES, Please!” from me; my bladder had been full since the first road of houses where we began this afternoon.
He then invited everyone in to see the house which delighted my husband who had once dreamed of building his own log cabin.
The man’s unsuspecting wife was in the kitchen emptying groceries when four strangers poured in through her mudroom. “Just some Jehovah Witnesses,” I joked before slipping into her bathroom. I let her husband explain.
She winced when he offered to take Casey and the boys upstairs. “The bed isn’t made,” she said, but he headed onward, engaged in a conversation with my husband who had appreciatively noticed his collection of antique pistols.
By the time I was out of the bathroom, she was giving the kids handfuls of leftover Halloween candy and he was pouring everyone lemon-aid.
“It’s so great you’re doing this, especially with your boys,” his wife offered, almost guiltily. “My own sons are grown, but I called them and reminded them to vote. My oldest works on Wall Street,” she added.
We continued to chat, while her husband invited Casey downstairs to see his WWII machine gun. The boys quickly followed behind.
“His brother gave them to him,” she explained, as we went on to discuss how far we both had to travel for groceries and how much we liked the Obama website.
When the men returned, we said our goodbyes, refusing even kinder offers for lunch, and they walked us to the door and watched and waved as we pulled down the road. “Good luck,” they called after us.
The next stop was a horse farm across the road. A man in coveralls grumbled that it was his cidering day so we offered to make it quick as we watched him drop apples into the grinder. He politely but firmly refused and his young daughter stared as we drove away up the dirt road.
The split level a quarter mile down was the next house on our list and we were almost turned away there too. It was a nice day for early November and as we pulled into the driveway, the owner was strapping a kayak to his Subaru. We hadn’t stepped out of the car before he complained that he had already been visited that week, twice. We apologized once again and explained that we didn’t know why they’d send us to the same places. This was our first time canvassing.
Checking the democratic polling sheet, we asked if we had his name correct, only to discover that it was his son’s name that was listed. “This household was divided up until a month ago,” he explained with angst. We’ve always voted Republican. Then he added, “My son’s out at sea.”
“Oh,” we replied cautiously, figuring we were heading into tender territory with a son in the military.
“Not in the service,” he said, reading our faces. “He’s out on a ‘Semester at Sea.'” He pointed to his baseball cap that said, “SEA,” and then told us all about his son and how he had gotten interested in Marine Biology after a childhood visit to Sea World and how he had combined Psychology with that major to work with dolphins. My other son’s in college too. “We’re all voting for Obama now,” he told us.
“What changed?” we asked.
He spoke of McCain’s age and Obama’s ability to relate to the people, of Sarah Palin and of the economy. “My friends and I all owned businesses during the Clinton years and we did really well for ourselves, really well. None of us are doing that well now.”
We shared that we had heard a similar shift from a neighbor up the road.
“Who, Stan?” he asked, taken aback. We didn’t recall the name and didn’t feel right saying. “The guy with the shooting range?” he pressed. My sons’ heads bobbed before we could stop them.
“My own boys used to go up to his place and shoot,” he said, shaking his head. “Wow, Stan’s voting for Obama, who would have thought!”
“Did something change?” we said.
“Oh, yeah,” he answered. “Biden said that no one is taking away his Glocks. ”
He went on to reiterate that he wanted a President that could relate to the world and to our day to day lives. He said that Americans needed a wake up call. He thought we all needed to reconnect with what makes this country great.
Guns aside, we all agreed.
Kelly Salasin, November 2008