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During the past long weekend – thanks to organized labor – I had a chance to spend about 48 hours in Florida visiting with my mother and meeting her new cat. Those were the highlights.
The lowlight was that the phone kept ringing.
”Oh, it’s another political call,” Dora would say curtly after checking the caller ID. I don’t know what tipped her off, or if she was correct in that she would never pick up these suspicious calls, but I’m not surprised by them. Dora is a hot demographic. She’s a retired, registered voter in a swing state. Possibly even more curious to the pollsters, she’s been registered in Florida as both a Democrat and a Republican. At the moment, she’s a registered Republican. It’s a leftover from 2010, when she jumped ship so she could vote for Charlie Crist in the GOP Senate primary in hopes of fending off the eventual Marco Rubio win.
We did not, however, talk much about the upcoming election, though I did ask if she and her ”hand and foot” (a game, I’m told) crowd have been. Nope, not really. They have, however, been talking about 50 Shades of Grey. And Dora also opined a bit about The Villages, the GOP’s Central Florida stronghold of seniors – not her sort of retirement town. Even with the Republican National Convention in their metaphoric back yard, the election just wasn’t a big topic in my mom’s 55-and-over restricted condo community.
What Dora and I did talk about was her life, as I continued my effort to record her memories. At 80, there are plenty. She remembers her feelings of despair and confusion when Franklin D. Roosevelt died, as well as sometimes picking up Eleanor Roosevelt’s column when the first lady hit a topic that caught her childhood attention. She remembers the jubilation that followed Germany’s surrender, as well as the Baltimore swimming pool she went to as a girl, the one with the ”gentiles only” sign.
Beyond our conversations, I know she’s seen so much more. She’s lived on Army bases and in foreign capitals. She’s lived through the Korean and Vietnam wars. In her lifetime, European colonialism ended. She’s divorced. She’s been widowed. She’s lost a child. She watched the towers fall on 9/11, and remembered that her first husband, since dead, had worked in that burning Pentagon. She can remember a time before any sexual revolution trying to plan her family via the rhythm method, and my dad ripping up her ”flow chart” when he discovered it under their bed.
The arc of her life has covered plenty of ground, because life just happens. With the passing of time, she could only see more, not less. That’s why, again, she’s voting for Barack Obama. It wasn’t necessarily a given. She’s voted, sincerely, for Republicans before. Dora is, after all, a relatively moderate woman. She’s pro-choice, but probably doesn’t feel too passionately about the union label. She’s fiscally conservative and loves a tax break as much as the next retiree.
But it’s 2012 and she has a gay son (that’s me!) who is legally married to a man. The world she and I live in now is a world away from the one either of us was born into. The son of one of her nieces, my cousin, is a young transman. She probably didn’t see that coming, but in commonsense fashion she accepts it as just another part of life and moves on.
Until the GOP does the same – making the tent bigger to accommodate not only gays and pro-choice constituents, but social evolution generally – and becomes a party for the future with a bit more Olympia Snowe and a lot less Todd Akin, it will founder in the past and find that winning yesterday’s elections doesn’t count for much today or tomorrow.
Will O’Bryan is Metro Weekly‘s managing editor. Reach him at wobryan@MetroWeekly.com