Clubius Contained Part 2 – President (October 1960)

It was a new month, October, when mom said the leaves on a lot of the trees would be changing colors and then falling off onto the ground. I was now walking to school by myself and I had to walk through the leaves on the other side of the park under the trees and then down that “Fifth” street after the park that went straight down to my regular school.

School was okay so far because the teacher really liked me and I was learning how to read really quickly and could even sort of read those “Doctor Seuss” books without anyone helping me. The books I really wanted to read were the ones in dad’s office, like those big red war books. Also the school had its own “library” with books that were easy for kids to read. I also had three new friends, Gabe, Jake and Amanda. One of them was even a girl, but I don’t think she was a “Tomboy” like Molly, because she always wore dresses to school and she thought that boys were “weird”. That was the word she used when she thought something was strange or didn’t make sense. Even though Gabe, Jake and I were boys, and “weird” I guess, she said we weren’t “dumb” like other boys, or “silly” like other girls.

Since I walked to school in the morning, walked home at lunch and then walked back to school in the afternoon, I was doing a lot of walking. But it was good because I didn’t want mom walking me to school like she was in charge of me. Some boys even said that if you were with your mom too much you might become a sissy. Also Gabe and I would walk home together until we got to the street where Gabe lived. Sometimes I would even play at his house for a while, in the backyard or the basement. The first couple times I did that, mom wondered why I was getting home later. But when I told her I was playing with my new friend, she said that was okay, as long as I came home when the streetlights came on. One time Gabe’s mom said I could stay for dinner, but she said I had to “call” mom to make sure it was okay.

I had never used the telephone before, but mom had had me practice so I could remember our “telephone number”, which was actually five numbers, one after the other, and do that “dialing” thing with my finger in the circle of the phone. When I tried “dialing” our number from our phone at home, all it did was make a buzzing sound over and over, which she said was the “busy signal” that meant someone was already talking on the phone I was trying to “call”. That was kind of strange, because I was the one using the phone I was trying to call, but I guess it made sense. Mom said if it wasn’t “busy”, I’d hear it “ring” until there was a click and someone said “hello” on the phone I was calling, and then I could talk to them.

and she really liked it when I called her, so she said it was okay. Gabe’s mom talked to mom on the phone too, and said she and Gabe would drive me home, because it would probably be dark already. When they got to our house, mom and Gabe’s mom talked in the driveway for a few minutes. Gabe came inside with me for just a “minute”, which was what grownups called a really short time. We went down in the basement and I showed him all my toys and all dad’s books in his office. I think mom didn’t want Gabe’s mom to come inside and see that we didn’t have any furniture in our living room.

Mom and Gabe’s mom talked about this “election” thing that was going to happen pretty soon. Mom said she was voting for that “Kennedy” guy, but Gabe’s mom said she might vote for that other “Nixon” guy, but she wasn’t sure. Mom said that both of those guys were coming to “Ann Arbor”, that was the big place we lived in, and that Gabe’s mom should go see them both “speak” if she could. Gabe’s mom said that that might be a good idea, but then she and Gabe had to go home.

Mom and I went inside and down into the basement where dad was working in his office at his desk.

He had a pencil in his mouth when he looked at us, but took it out of his mouth and put it on top of his ear and said, “Hey Coop”, and asked, “What’s up Liz?”

“We should take Coop to see Kennedy and Nixon speak when they’re in town”, she said to him. “You know I’m a big Kennedy fan and hope to convince you to vote for him too, but I think you’d agree Coop should see both of them so he can make up his own mind.”

Dad nodded, and I wondered if I was supposed to do that “voting” thing too, even though I was a kid. But from all the grownups talking about the “election”, I figured it was really important, and grownups didn’t let kids do things that were important.

Dad laughed through his nose and said, “You’re falling for a guy with a pretty face and oodles of charisma.”

“Of course”, she said, laughing through HER nose too, “That’s how I ended up with you, right, your intelligence had nothing to do with it!”

“Touché”, he said, “But Nixon’s been around the block a few times and knows how to handle the Russians. Kennedy’s just banking on his last name and his political connections. Who knows if he’s up to the job! But yeah, Coop should see them both, though I’m not sure I can work it out with my schedule, though I’ll try.”

“Well I’ll go with him”, mom said, “Even if you can’t. As long as you can watch David. I don’t know if we can afford Margie to babysit. I don’t think you’re ever too young to start getting exposed to our country’s political process.”

“Spoken like a true politician, Liz”, dad said, smiling. Mom laughed with her mouth this time and her eyes sparkled. I wasn’t quite sure what a “politician” was, but I guess that’s what those guys trying to be president were. I wondered if women could be those too.

Both mom and dad really liked it when I asked “good” questions, and it also made them think I wasn’t such a little kid, so they’d let me do more stuff by myself, so I figured this was a good time to ask about this stuff.

“What’s a politician?” I asked. Dad started to laugh through his nose, but then I could tell he was thinking he shouldn’t do that and stopped. Mom nodded, pushed her lips together, but also did a big smile at the same time.

“Now THAT’S a good question”, she said. I had figured the right thing, and asking it would help me do more stuff by myself because I could ask such good questions that a littler kid wouldn’t think to ask. She looked at dad and said, “Maybe both your dad and I can try to answer that one.”

“A politician”, dad said, his eyes looking up above me, “Is someone who’s running for or been elected to a government office.” His voice sounded different, smoother, like he wasn’t thinking or worrying about other things that he wasn’t saying. “Kennedy and Nixon are examples of two politicians who are running, and trying to be elected, to the government office of President.”

I had heard older kids talk about this kind of stuff in the park. Kids did voting all the time, which was raising your hand. “Is getting elected like voting?” I asked. They both nodded and smiled, like that was another good question, so I decided to keep going.

“So people are going to vote for them and whoever gets the most will be President?” I asked.

“You got it”, mom said, her eyes opening wide and twinkling, “Maybe someday they’ll be voting for you!” Then she looked at dad and said, “Eric, I can always count on the future English professor to give us a good definition.” Dad smiled with his mouth closed, I guess that was called a “grin”, and laughed a little through his nose and his eyes sparkled too.

She looked at me like she was trying to figure out what I was thinking. It usually made me worried when grownups did that, and she asked, “Does that make sense? Do you have any questions?”

I always was thinking of a bunch of questions, but I was worried to ask a lot of them, or too many of them, because I didn’t want mom and dad, or other grownups, to think TOO MUCH about me or start worrying about me or think I was a bad kid with ideas they didn’t like. I just wanted to worry about things myself and figure things out for myself without grownups trying to tell me what was the right thing to think about. But I figured I could ask a FEW more.

“Do kids vote too?” I asked. Dad shook his head.

Mom said, “No. Only adults.” I figured that would be the way it worked!

“Adult” was that other regular word for a grownup. Like the regular word for a kid was “child”. I didn’t like either of those words. It made it sound like “adults”, grownups that is, were better. And when grownups thought other grownups were doing stupid or silly things they would say, “You’re acting like a child!”

“Is the President in charge of everything?” I asked. That’s what some of the older kids in the park said.

Dad smiled and said to mom, “I’ll let you take that one, Liz.”

Mom looked up at the ceiling, thinking. While still looking up there she said, “No, not everything. I’d say they’re in charge of a lot of important things, like the military, like making sure that the rules that Congress votes for are followed and the money that Congress votes for is spent the right way. But they get to talk to all the other people in our country whenever they think something’s important, and a lot of people want to hear what they have to say.”

That “military” word was the army and navy I think, and the airplane soldiers too.

“So the President is the general?” I asked.

“Well”, said mom, looking at me now, holding up her hand in front of her and moving her finger back and forth, “In our country, the President is not a general, but he’s in CHARGE of all the generals. That’s pretty important.”

“Well Liz”, dad said, holding HIS hand up and moving HIS finger back and forth, “Eisenhower’s a general.”

Mom pushed her lips together and nodded and said, “Well that’s true, but he actually WAS a general and he’s retired now and he’s the President instead.” That didn’t sound very interesting so I figured I’d ask a different question.

“How do you vote?” I asked.

“Well”, mom said, “There’s this special day, ELECTION day, when everybody goes to a polling place and votes.”

“Do you raise your hands?” I asked. Both of them started to laugh through their noses, and mom nodded.

“Not when we vote for President”, mom said, “We go into this special little booth so no one can see who we’re voting for and we pull the lever for which President we want, and which person we want for all the other jobs.”

“There other people in charge?” I asked.

She made a funny circle with her lips and said, “OH yeah. There are lots of other people in charge of different things, like the Congress, the governor, the mayor, the city council, the school board. We vote for all of them.”

“Is the school board in charge of my regular school?” I asked.

“Yes”, mom said nodding, “What you call your regular school is a public school and the school board’s in charge of ALL the regular schools in Ann Arbor.”

I wondered if they were in charge of my play school too but I figured they weren’t, because the grownup teachers at my play school didn’t try to be in charge of us kids. “But not my play school”, I said, shaking my head.

Mom made a big smile and nodded. “You’re right”, she said, “Not your play school. It’s a PRIVATE school. The woman who owns it, Margaret Dow Towsley, runs it.”

I knew what “own” meant. Mom and dad said they “owned” our house. They paid lots of money for it so we could live in it, though I’m not sure who they paid it to. And it was strange that word “run”. It usually meant that you were running with your feet, but I guess it also could mean you were in charge of something.

The day that Kennedy guy was going to be here, dad said he had to be out working all day and couldn’t take me to see him, but dad rode his bike to work so mom could take me in the car. So she was going to take me, even though she would have to take David too, because she thought it was “very important” that I get a chance to see him. I knew she really liked that Kennedy guy a lot. She had told my teacher that I wasn’t going to go to school that day and the teacher had said it was okay.

But that morning mom said that she had “the curse”, whatever that was, so we didn’t go. I could tell she didn’t want me to ask her what that was so I didn’t. So I walked to school instead. Dad didn’t come home until it was dark. When he did, mom told him how sad she was that we couldn’t go. She was even crying some, and whenever mom cried dad always got really worried and wanted to do things to fix it and make her stop crying.

“Eric”, mom said, her eyes wet with tears, “This was Coop’s one chance to see Kennedy and I just couldn’t swing it! It was all too damn much to deal with, bringing David too, and I got my damned ‘curse’ today. It really is a curse!”

“Oh Liz”, he said, “There’s still a chance, but it’s kind of crazy. My students were saying that Kennedy is spending the night at the Union but probably wouldn’t get there until after midnight. So a bunch of them are going to go there and see if they can waylay him.”

“After midnight?” mom asked. Dad nodded.

“I could wake Coop up and take him over there and just see what’s what”, dad said.

“But Eric”, mom said, “You need your sleep!”

Dad laughed through his nose and shook his head. “Truth be told”, he said, “I don’t sleep very much these days. I mainly just take catnaps.”

Mom looked at me. “Well Coop”, she asked, “Do you want to go with your dad?”

It sounded pretty neat to me that we’d be going out in the middle of the night, and like dad, I also didn’t want mom to cry, so I nodded.

“Oh Eric”, mom said, rubbing him on the shoulder, “I owe you one for this!” Dad just smiled and nodded.

After bath and at bedtime, first Dad read David the “Cat in the Hat” book”, though I still liked that one too, because that cat never did what the kids said the grownups had told them not to do. Then he read me more of that Tom Swift book we were reading about his “Sea Copter”. I don’t think David could figure out what dad was reading but he still tried to listen, but fell asleep. Then dad said we could sing one song and I said I wanted the Ann Arbor song. He and I sang it quietly because David was already sleeping…

I want to go back to Michigan
To dear Ann Arbor town
Back to Joe’s and the Orient
And back to some of the money I spent

I want to go back to Michigan
To dear Ann Arbor town
I want to go back
I got to go back
To Mi-chi-gan

Mother and father pay all the bills
And we have all the fun
In the friendly rivalry of college life (hooray)
But we have to think of a hell of a lot
To tell what we have done
With the coin we blew in dear old Michigan

I always liked that song because the guy singing seemed like a kid, because he was talking about his mom and dad, though he called them “mother and father”, which grownups sometimes did too. He got his mom and dad to pay “the bills”, that’s what mom paid on the kitchen table, while he had fun with his friends. And then he had to figure out what to tell them so they didn’t get mad.

After dad said goodnight and wiggled my toe I was thinking so much about everything that I couldn’t really tell if I was awake or asleep. Some of the things I thought about were just like my mind pretending even though I wasn’t trying to pretend. Then I felt someone wiggling my toe. It was dad. I could barely see him in the dark room.

“C’mon Coop”, he said really quietly, “We’re off on our adventure!”

I put on my clothes and dad reminded me to wear my jacket. We went outside, and though it was REALLY dark, it was even MORE quiet, like everything everywhere was quiet. I sat in the front seat on the other side of dad. He drove down to the main street and then turned left. Then he drove down to the hill street and turned right. We drove up the hill towards all those brick buildings that were dad’s school, that “Michigan” school. Even though it was nighttime there were lots of people walking together, talking and laughing. They kind of looked like grownups, but the way they walked and talked was more like older kids.

“Oh boy”, said dad, “All the students are out! We may have to park around here and walk the rest of the way to the Union.”

I nodded. So those people walking were the “students” he was always talking about. I remembered seeing some of them when I went to that “Union” place to get my haircut. Dad always told the haircut guy to give me a “Princeton”, whatever that was. It seemed like just a regular haircut to me.

We walked up a big street along with all those “students” that were walking the same way, in front of us, behind us and across the street. When I watched them, they really talked too much and too fast to be grownups. They were more like Margie or my teacher at school.

“This is State Street”, dad said, “It goes by the center of campus”, and then figuring out I probably didn’t know that word said, “The center part of the big area where all the school buildings are. I can show you the building where I teach some of my classes.” I nodded. I was seeing so many people and they were out in the dark. It was all so strange that I couldn’t figure out what to say.

“The freshmen are looking younger every year”, said one of those students walking behind us. Dad started laughing through his nose and shaking his head while we kept walking. I looked behind us as we walked and saw the guy who had said that. He smiled at me and asked, “Hey kid, going to see the next President of the United States with you dad?”

I nodded, but feeling “shy”, a word I had just figured out at school, I didn’t say anything. Dad kind of looked back at him and nodded too, and I could see that dad was shy too. I had never really figured that out about dad before.

There were people everywhere. It was like when we went to see that real baseball game with Ted Williams. But these people were all those students. I couldn’t see any other kids my age and only a couple other real grownups. We had to walk slower because all the people around us were walking slower. As we all got closer together I couldn’t see much anymore except for people all around me who were a lot taller than I was.

“Hang on”, dad said, and went behind me, put his hands on my waist, made a funny noise, and lifted me up on his shoulders. Now I could see all over the place. There were so many people all around me, more than I’d seen since going to that baseball game or that football game last year. I could hear them all talking to each other at the same time, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Almost all of them were those student guys, there were even some women students, though not as many. Trying to look at all the people around me, I figured I was the only kid.

Dad pointed with his right hand at a big dark building that was all lit up inside the front part behind these giant dark poles that went straight up next to each other. There were street lights around it that lit up the different sidewalks in front of it.

“That’s Angell Hall, where I teach a couple classes”, he said. Dad was really a “teacher”, like the teacher at the regular school I went to.

I looked farther away to the left of that big building and saw stores that were mostly dark, but the street lights in front of them made you able to kind of see them anyway. And behind them was that “tower” building with the clock on it, that Molly and I saw from that Woo-er-ster Park place, when we went on that adventure on our bicycles. It was dark, but the inside was all lit up, and coming out the big windows.

The place that all the people were around was that “Union” place where I got my hair cut. It was dark too, except for more street lights around us that made it easy to see the giant steps and four doors of the front part. There were a bunch of real grownup men up at the top of the steps in front of the doors, talking to each other. They were wearing those dressup clothes that men wore that had that top jacket part and then the “tie” coming down from their necks. One guy had one of those war radios dad had shown me in pictures from his red war book.

It felt like everybody was waiting for something to happen, and I just felt like I was waiting too. It was strange, I’d never felt so many people feeling the same thing.

Then one of those grownup guys opened one of the front doors and two more grownup guys in dressup clothes came out. The first one went up to this shiny silver pole with a special top part that I’d seen people talking into on TV. He touched the top part with his fingers and it made a loud noise that everyone could hear that surprised me. Then he asked, “Can you hear me?” and his voice was loud. All the people standing around waiting got quieter and some nodded their heads.

“This is rather impromptu”, he said, “But it’s my pleasure to introduce Massechusettes Senator John F Kennedy, the Democratic party Presidential candidate.”

Lots of the students waiting clapped their hands. Others “cheered”, like people did when they watched baseball or football games. Dad just clapped but didn’t cheer.

Then the other guy that had come out the door behind him came up to the silver pole and looked out at everybody and smiled. His face was shiny in the light from the streetlights.

“I want to express my thanks to you”, he said, his voice loud and all around me, “As a graduate of the Michigan of the East, Harvard University.” Dad below me laughed through his nose and lots of the students did regular laughing or cheering even. I didn’t really understand that second part he said, but I kept listening.

“I come here tonight”, he said, “Delighted to have the opportunity to say one or two words about this campaign that is coming into the last three weeks.”

People clapped or cheered. I heard dad’s voice below me say, “A campaign is when you go all around the country asking people to vote for you.” I nodded, though he couldn’t really see my head, but maybe could tell I was nodding.

Then he said, “I think in many ways it is the most important campaign since 1933, mostly because of the problems which press upon the United States, and the opportunities which will be presented to us in the 1960s. The opportunity must be seized, through the judgment of the President, and the vigor of the executive, and the cooperation of the Congress. Through these I think we can make the greatest possible difference.” There was more clapping and cheering.

“I’ll try to explain all that later”, dad said.

Then that Kennedy guy asked everyone a question. “How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?”

A few people clapped, but most were still quiet, like they were trying to figure out how to answer that question. Dad was quiet too.

“On your willingness to do that”, he said, “Not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can! And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past.” Most people weren’t cheering or clapping, like they were still thinking or just talking to their friends about it.

“Therefore”, he said, “I am delighted to come to Michigan, to this university, because unless we have those resources in this school, unless you comprehend the nature of what is being asked of you, this country can’t possibly move through the next 10 years in a period of relative strength.”

“So I come here tonight to go to bed!” he said. Some people laughed and others cheered. Dad laughed through his nose again.

“He sure knows how to work a crowd”, dad said. I tried to figure out what “work a crowd” meant, but I didn’t say anything.

That Kennedy guy kept talking. “But I also come here tonight to ask you to join in the effort. This university…”, he said and stopped talking and looked around at everybody, smiled and said, “This is the longest short speech I’ve ever made…therefore, I’ll finish it!” More students laughed and cheered. Dad laughed through his nose again and said, “Working the crowd.”

“Let me say in conclusion”, he said, “This University is not maintained by its alumni, or by the state, merely to help its graduates have an economic advantage in the life struggle. There is certainly a greater purpose, and I’m sure you recognize it. Therefore, I do not apologize for asking for your support in this campaign. I come here tonight asking your support for this country over the next decade.” While he was saying all this stuff, students were nodding their heads and saying or even shouting “Yeah!” like they thought he was right.

Then he said, “Thank you”, and stopped talking. Most of the students cheered instead of clapping, though dad clapped. That Kennedy guy went back in the door and it was over.

Most of the students were standing around talking to each other. Dad made that strange noise again and his shoulders moved under me.

“Coop”, he said, “I’m going to have to let you down. That’s about all I can do.” He reached up and put his hands on my sides and put his head down and picked me up and over the back of his head making a sound like it hurt. “You’re going to have to walk back to the car.”

I nodded. I knew he had lifted me on his shoulders so I could see what was going on, but it hurt him. I felt bad about that. I figured I should say something besides just nodding. I knew what mom would want me to say.

“Thanks dad”, I said. We walked with the students who I guess were going home too, and past the students who were just standing around still talking to each other.

“So what did you think?” dad asked.

I didn’t know what to think. This “politics” stuff was what grownups worried about, it didn’t make sense to me. But I figured I should say something, or dad might think I didn’t like it.

“I don’t know”, I said, “There were so many people, and it was even nighttime.”

“I know”, he said, nodding, “That Kennedy can sure draw a crowd. My students were all excited about him being in town. I’m sure some of them were out here though I didn’t see any.”

We heard a woman’s voice behind us. “Hello! Hello! Excuse me!”

Dad stopped and turned around, so I turned around too. She looked like one of the students and she was wearing a Michigan sweatshirt. I knew I had seen her before but I couldn’t remember. Breathing hard, she put her hands on her waist, and then looked at me.

“Is that Cooper Zale, my student?” she asked. Then she looked at dad, “Is this your dad? Mr. Zale?” I nodded.

Dad nodded too, smiled and said, “I am Cooper’s dad, but call me Eric.” He held out his hand and she shook it.

“I’m Hannah Zimmerman, Miss Zimmerman, Cooper’s teacher at Bach”, she said, “So you brought him out here in the middle of the night on the chance that Kennedy might speak?” she asked, like she was really surprised.

Dad looked worried like she was thinking he was bad for bringing me. I was worried too.

“Well”, dad said, “His mom really wanted Cooper to see Kennedy speak but they missed the speech at the station earlier because she wasn’t feeling well. So I had heard some of my students saying that they were all going to the Union after midnight because they knew he was staying there. So I suggested to his mom we’d try to go out tonight and see if he was going to speak, since it’s not a school night.”

“Wow”, she said, brushing back the hair from her face, “That’s really great. So you’re a professor here at U of M?”

Dad closed his eyes, shook his head and laughed through his nose and said, “Just a grad student trying to finish his PhD in English Literature and trying to make a few bucks as a teaching assistant.”

“Well”, she said, nodding, “Good luck with all that. I just got my teaching certificate at the Ed School two years ago and landed that job teaching first grade at Bach.”

“Yeah”, he said, “Liz said… my wife said that she thought you were doing a really good job. Coop seems to be enjoying school.”

“He is?” she asked, then looking at me, “You are?” Still looking at me, she shook her head and said, “You should tell your teacher these things young man! That would really make my day!” Then she looked back at dad, “He’s a very bright kid, but now I know where he gets it.”

I could tell that dad liked her and was happy she said that.

“So… Eric”, she asked, “Are you a Kennedy supporter?”

Dad blew air out of his mouth and said, “I see his appeal, but the jury’s still out, in my mind at least. We’re planning to take Coop to see Nixon speak when he’s in town too.”

She nodded, and then started to laugh, and not just through her nose. “Mrs. Sanderson would string me up if she knew I was having this conversation with you. It’s all about the proper attitude, the proper decorum, in her mind.”

“She’s the Principal at Bach, right?” dad asked. She nodded, and then dad said, “The chair of our English department is the same way. The man drives me crazy!”

She shook her head and said, “I feel for you.”

Another woman a ways back called to her. “Hanny! There you are!. We have to get home or you’re going to have to carry me on your back!”

My teacher turned and looked at that other woman and called back, “Yeah I’m coming Dee, just one more sec!”

She turned back to us and said, “That’s my housemate. We were roommates in grad school and are still in the same house.” I could see her thinking about some other things, but then she said, “Well… gotta go. It was GREAT to meet you and Cooper’s mom’s great too. Cooper’s so bright! And I hope you won’t tell Mrs. Sanderson that we had this conversation.”

“No problem”, said dad nodding, “Your secret’s safe. Good to meet you too.” My teacher waved at us and turned and ran back toward her friend.

Dad and I finished our walk back to the car and I remembered getting into the car and dad driving. But then the next thing I knew I was waking up the next morning in my bed. It all seemed like one of those “dream” things.

Mom and dad drove me to see that Nixon guy too. He did his talking at the train station from the last car, the “caboose”, of the train. He talked for longer than that Kennedy guy did, but mom didn’t ever cheer and only clapped when some other guy told us that Nixon was going to talk, and at the end, because I think you were supposed to clap when anyone finished talking like that, even if you didn’t like what they were talking about. Dad didn’t cheer either, but he did some clapping in the middle part of his talking, when Nixon talked about the Soviet Union and this “communism” thing, whatever that was. I think it was something they did in the Soviet Union but people didn’t want to do it here.

And then on “Election Day”, mom and dad took David and me with them and we all walked to this place to “vote”. It was cold and windy and the sky was all gray. We walked to this building on the main street and had to wait in line for our turn. First mom, and then dad, went up to this long table, and said their name, the street we lived on, and the numbers that were on the front of our house. That was called our “address”. Then the woman sitting behind the table looked in this giant book with big pieces of paper and found their name. Then they had to write their name in that special way next to their name that was already on the piece of paper. Then they each had to wait for a “voting booth” to be empty so they could go into it and vote. The booths had curtains around the outside so you could close them and nobody could see who you voted for.

When it was mom’s turn I went with her. David stayed with dad and went into a different booth to vote with him. We went inside the small inside part. It was pretty neat. There was this big tall machine with all these words and “levers” on it, that looked like something from Tom Swift’s laboratory, or the controls for his spaceship. Or like that little place where the Wizard of Oz controlled that big scary head thing and fire jets when Dorothy and the others went to see him. Mom said that the curtain was to give you “privacy” so no one could see who you voted for, because it was supposed to be a “secret ballot”. Your “ballot” was who you voted for.

Mom showed me there were two “rows” of “levers”, one for “Democrats” and the other for “Republicans”. “Kennedy” was the first name on the “Democrats” row, and “Nixon” was the first name on the “Republicans” row below it. Mom said you got to pick one person for each “office”, which wasn’t like dad’s office but more like a job. To pick someone you just turned the lever by their name. I had learned to read enough that I could read Kennedy’s and Nixon’s names. Mom said that since she wanted to vote for ALL the democrats, she just had to turn this bigger lever on the left side of the row.

Mom asked me if I wanted to turn that lever for her. I was worried that that wasn’t okay because kids weren’t supposed to vote. But she said it was okay, so I did it. It was really neat because when I turned the one big level, all the smaller levers next to it turned too with a small clunking noise. Then she pulled this REALLY big lever and the voting machine made some bigger clunking noises and the curtain opened behind us.

We waited for dad and David to come out of another one of those booth things. I saw a couple other kids there with their moms or dads. It seemed most grownups really liked doing this voting stuff. Dad and David seemed to take a long time. I wondered if dad was explaining about voting to David, and since he didn’t know as much as I did it would take a lot longer. A curtain of one of the booths opened and David came running out towards us and nearly fell down, but he didn’t. Dad came out and looked at us and nodded with his lips pushed together.

We all went out of the building and started walking on the sidewalk going home. David wanted to walk next to me so I had to walk slower so he could. Mom and dad were next to each other behind us. Mom put her hand under dad’s shoulder and grabbed the top part of his arm, like I saw some other grownup women do when they were walking with a man they were married to or even just liked a lot.

“So Eric”, mom said, “I’m not going to ask you who you voted for because you deserve your privacy and it’s supposed to be a secret ballot.” I looked back at mom as we all walked and she did that thing where she looked at me and closed her eye then opened it again and the edges of her lips did just a little bit of a smile. Then she said, “But you’re welcome to tell me if you want to.”

Dad laughed through his nose a little bit, and he looked at me too and did that same thing with his eye. “Got it, Liz”, he said, still looking at me. I guess he didn’t want to tell her. I wondered if he voted for that Nixon guy but didn’t want her to know.

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