When I was growing up, my dad was a professor at Ohio University (Go Bobcats!). I went to Putnam Elementary School on the college campus, along with my sister, Linda. The two of us would walk up the big hill with a million steps (it sure seemed like a million) to his office after school and ride home with him and our other two sisters after he was finished teaching.
I will never hear the theme song of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" without immediately being transported to the back seat of our green Pontiac station wagon, riding home with my dad, and feeling safe and snug and happy with the routine. I suppose that ride home with Dad and NPR were the reasons I began to learn about "current events" (as we called it in school). Sometimes my sisters and I would have the treat of hearing Dad talk about politics with his graduate students. I always thought they were yelling, but Dad would assure us that it wasn't yelling—just "discussing enthusiastically."
My parents discussed national politics and local issues at home, too. They were, and still are, avid newspaper readers. As my sisters got older, they would get involved in dinner-table discussions of elections and politics. As the youngest of four girls, I was the last to graduate into the coming-of-age ritual of joining the political discussion. That is, except for writing to the governor when I was in elementary school, asking him not to close my school. I still have the response his office sent, which was treated with great reverence in the family at the time (encouraging my budding activist interests!).
When I was 7, my oldest sister, Karen, took me to see the late Paul Newman, who was at Ohio University campaigning for Eugene McCarthy. He had attended college there before World War II. To be honest, just this moment, I had to look online to find out who he was supporting; it really didn't matter much to me at the time. Even a seven-year-old gets a thrill from a campaign rally with Butch Cassidy, and I knew it was a cool and important thing!
I remember my mom taking me with her to vote at Morrison Elementary school. It felt very mysterious. That was partially because I got to go inside an elementary school that wasn't where I usually went—which was sort of like getting a sneak peak at another planet. I thought it was very weird that my mom knew where to go to vote in that alien world. Years later, I began voting in an elementary school in the neighborhood where I lived in Columbus, Ohio. It was oddly familiar, and I felt all grown up like Mom; things had come full circle from that fall day when I witnessed that exclusively grown-up activity: voting.
I still feel proud to wear one of those corny stickers you get after voting, and I wear mine all day. You know the ones, the "I voted" stickers? When I was a kid I figured that voting must be a really important thing if my parents got stickers for doing it.
I recently did a quick poll (pun intended) of my family members of all ages to find out how they think their relatives have influenced their voting behaviors. The common theme—from my parents, who are in their 80s, to my youngest nephew, who is 13—was that we share an assumption that we will all vote, no matter what.
My 17-year-old nephew, Robbie, said it best: "Of course I'll register and vote when I'm 18. I've never even considered NOT voting!" It's our family value and it's been carried down through the generations. Even my oldest sister, Karen, a hippie who once described herself as "about as counterculture as you could get back then," said there was never the slightest doubt in her mind that she would register and vote.