In 1972 I was 3 weeks too young to vote in the Presidential election. In November of 1976, I lived in Greenwich Village in New York City, and I remember hearing a friend talk about leaving the country if the election didn't go the way he hoped. I remember wondering why he felt that way - even though just a year ago, one of the guys running for President had denied New York federal assistance - infamously though incorrectly quoted by the newspaper as having said "Drop dead" to my city. I didn't make the connection. I hadn't registered to vote, and wouldn't know where to do it if I wanted to.
In 1980 I voted for the first time ever, in the basement of a Presbyterian Church on Capitol Hill in Seattle.
In 1984, I was in perpetual motion. I had a new job, and had moved from a shared house in the suburbs to an apartment of my own. I was also looking for a house to buy. I voted - but I don't remember where or how.
In November of 1988, my son was small enough to sleep in a stroller as I voted in the gymnasium of Madrona Elementary School in Seattle, just a short walk from our small bungalow.
In November of 1992, he held my hand as we walked to the beautiful old Horace Mann School on Cherry Street in Seattle, and stepped into the dark, cool hallway where elderly African-American poll workers checked my name and address in the big books, and sent me to a flimsy folding booth set up on the wide, creaking old Douglas fir floorboards.
Since those years as a home-owner, I've voted in every election, including the primaries. In a city like Seattle, there are always complicated issues that actually affect you, like bond measures, city council races, and judgeships.
We've been in Topanga since 1997, and our polling place has moved around a bit, depending on the expected turn-out. I've voted in a small wooden church; in an old stucco American Legion hall turned restaurant and rental venue; and in a dilapidated trailer housing the offices of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy District. But for the last couple of elections, we've voted at the Topanga Community House.
The Community House is a good place to vote, because its very existence is evidence of people participating together for the good of their community. In 1949, residents of Topanga got together to build a place where they could meet, have parties, hold programs, and join together. This modest red brick building has a linoleum-floored hall with a small stage and a kitchen. We've attended Mothers' Day Teas, community fire prevention meetings, and festivals. Our son played T-ball on the ball field, and played bass on the stage in his first band, part of an after school program in middle school.
My voter instructions tell me to go to the Penny Room - a small meeting room off the side of the main hall - and check in at the Orange Table, where two ladies sit and check me in. The table is actually covered with an orange vinyl Halloween tablecloth.
Although I know they were registered Republicans, I don't remember my parents voting. This is not to say they didn't - they just didn't share the experience with me. I'm sure Dad voted on the way to work. Mom probably voted while I was in school. I just don't have any memory of them doing so, or even talking about it. And I don't know where they would have gone to vote. I wonder if growing up without being familiar with voting or polling places made me delay my own civic participation until I was well into my 20s.
Even though we can now vote by mail, or vote early, I enjoy voting on election day. I enjoy the sense of anticipation, and the sense of coming together with my neighbors. Today as I stood in line waiting my turn for a booth, someone gently poked me between the shoulder blades.
It was my friend Dorothy Ann. She had her granddaughter with her. Other people in line admired the giant stuffed triceratops she was clutching, tail-first, dragging behind her. The poll workers arranged for a chair for the little girl to sit in while her grandma stood at the Inkavote booth.
Even now, I love getting my "I Voted" sticker - it's like a little reward. Perhaps Dorothy Ann will let her granddaughter wear hers, so she will remember going to the polls with her grandma, when she's 18 and it's her turn.