If you’ve followed our Safe & Sound blog for a while, you know who Wanda Bridgeforth is: she has been attending the memoir-writing class I lead in downtown Chicago for a decade now. She’s witty and talented, and today is her 95th birthday!
When Wanda was growing up on the South Side of Chicago, her mother worked “in private family,” which meant mama lived at the houses she took care of. Wanda lived with one relative one week, a friend the next, and sometimes, with complete strangers.
Wanda was tickled by the idea of us publishing one of her essays here in honor of her 95th birthday, and she suggested one that opens on Election Day in a small town she lived in just south of Chicago city limits in the early 1940s.
Election – Village Style
by Wanda Bridgeforth
Election Day was always eventful, but this one was extra special. Our 80 year old grandmother was “going to the voting” for the first time, a privilege she did not have in her home state of Mississippi.
Her Sunday suit and blouse were pressed, Enna Jettick shoes polished, bosom ruffle starched and ironed, white gloves washed and placed beside her, hat and purse on the hall table.
The second important event of the day? Mr. C. J. Berry had announced this would be his last campaign. He had been in office for many years and now wanted time to go fishing.
He was a very tall, very lean man whose arms and hands always dangled below his sleeves. He walked with a slow determined step. All the young people said he looked like Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow.
Elections in our village were truly democratic. There were no appointed officials. All candidates had to go through the election process, even if there was only one name on the ballot. If a candidate did not receive a majority of yes votes, he lost the election and the search would be on for a new candidate. However, in all of my years of residency I don’t recall a losing candidate.
The ballot box was on the mayor’s front porch in the summer and on his enclosed back porch in winter. The volunteer election judges worked in three-hour shifts during the 12-hours the polls were open. The polls closed at 6 p.m., and by 7:00 or 7:30 we had our results.
When the day ended we had two big things to celebrate: Grandma’s entry into the voting world, and Mr. C. J. Berry’s pre-retirement re-election as Village Dogcatcher.
Beth here: Wanda never misses an election, and she told me once that every time she casts a ballot, she thinks of the day her impeccably-dressed grandmother voted for the first time. The memoir-writing class she’s in is called “Me, Myself and I” and meets on Wednesdays. We’ll all be together to celebrate her birthday in class today, and we’ll all be together the day after voting day next month, too. However that election turns out, there’s one thing you can count on: Wanda will be sporting a “I voted” sticker to class on November 9, 2016. Happy 95th, Wanda!