When Election Day came, my daddy and I crawled up into his truck,
the 1980 lime green and white Sierra or the dark blue King Cab
Ford Ranger—always American cars because he was an American
man although America didn’t always want him.
The Masonic Lodge downtown was the polling place then.
Mr. Pete Jacobs, our neighbor, was a poll worker.
“Hey, Little Barbara!” he would boom and I would wave,
look at his light eyes and his black suspenders.
I would go with my daddy into the ballot box.
He would draw the curtain; there was always plenty of room
for us. I stood beside him and he cast his vote. He didn’t
say anything. My Pa was a man of few words. He’d come out
grinning with his ballot in hand, say something to Mr. Pete, who gave
me a sticker that I’d wear with pride all day.
Although at that age I didn’t know what a vote meant.
Didn’t know how many people had died for me to be able
to watch my daddy cast a vote in the 1990’s. Didn’t know
about the Hamburg Massacre or how black women
in the South still weren’t voting in 1920.
We would climb back into the truck and drive home.
My daddy, one of my first teachers, modeled for me
how to participate in a democracy that ain’t never been
about the people; he taught me how to show up.
Like I’m doing now at this new polling place, the line
long. I brought a book. I’m scared they’ll say I can’t vote.
I’m scared that I left my photo ID that’s required now.
But it’s all good. I have the voter machines in sight
in this middle school gym.
A little boy is with his mother at the table where you sign
your name. “You’re coming to vote today?!” the poll worker
asks him. And nearly all of the poll workers here are Black women.
“Yes ma’am!” the boy replies. “And what’s your name?”
“L.J.” the boy replies. My daddy’s name. And I wonder what
the little boy’s L.J. stands for, because L.J. was all my daddy ever had.
The poll worker tells L.J. to have a seat in the bleachers.
He can’t go to the voting machine with his mama,
but he can watch her vote from afar. L.J. is mad he can’t go,
but he sits on the bleacher with his Spiderman figurine anyhow.
I go vote. Not straight ticket. I want to click on every name.
Write in a few others. I press and press and cast my ballot.
I get my sticker. I will wear it with pride all day.