Monthly Archives: November 2011

Democracy in Action

A few weeks ago I worked at the polls for a municiple election. The mayor of my hometown ran for another term against a newcomer to the area as well as to politics.

It was a pretty quiet day. The opponents and their families camped outside the polling place from about 6:30 am until the polls closed at 7:30 pm. Around 7:00, a few people started trickling in and taking seats while I and the other poll workers finished our tasks with the last-minute voters.

While I studied the people in the back of the room, the fatigue that surrounded my brain from a long day lifted briefly and entertained an interesting and disturbing thought. These people were waiting for the results. In a few minutes, someone would receive some happy news, and someone would be disappointed. I knew this scene played out at the end of every election day, but I’d never witnessed it up close and personally. I wondered how awkward the scene in our hall might be.

When the polls closed, we ran the tape from the counting machine. We checked the totals, made our notations, and signed at the proper places. Then the Chief Judge walked to the center of the room and read off the results. He didn’t announce the winner, just read the totals.

When it was clear that the incumbent had won another term, the challenger spoke to his family, then walked over to the opposing team. Everyone shook hands and exchanged a few words, and then the man with the fewest votes left.

It was the coolest thing. He had run a good race and made a respectable showing in the polls, but he had lost. Town leadership had been challenged with words and votes, but in the end had remained the same. No guns were drawn, no blood was lost, not even any harsh words were spoken. It was the coolest thing.

Yea for democracy.



Remembering Pat

We are remembering my mother-in-law, Patricia Smith Dougherty, this week. In the van on the way back to Pittsburgh last weekend for the funeral, we told Grandma stories. Here’s mine.

One special thing I wanted for our reception was the lime sherbet and ginger ale punch that had been popular at weddings when I was a little girl.  My aunt, who catered our affair, had problems finding the official recipe, and in her frustration called the punch, “Hope’s punch,” all summer long.  “What are we going to do about Hope’s punch? I wish we could find the recipe for Hope’s punch. I need help with Hope’s punch.”

When my future in-laws visited for some pre-wedding festivities, Pat heard all about “Hope’s punch.”

Kevin and I visited my in-laws the first time a few months after our wedding and brought our wedding album to show off. As Pat sat at her kitchen table flipping through the pictures, she tapped her finger on one depicting the foamy concoction and sighed, “Oh, Hope’s punch,” and looked at me. “That is such a sweet tradition that you southerners have.”

I stilled for a minute not knowing what was coming next. “What tradition are you talking about, Pat?”

“Oh, you know. The one about the bride getting up early on her wedding day to make her punch, and then you call it the bride’s punch.”

I was shocked. I shook my head. “No, no, Pat. People just called that punch “Hope’s punch” because they didn’t know the recipe.”

She looked at me for one beat, shrugged, and then said, “My story’s better. I’m sticking with it.” I felt scandalized thinking about the lie that would be circulating through Pittsburgh society, but it didn’t matter.

Truth was boring. Fiction was better.

Pat should have been the writer in the family.