I’m tired today. I suspect a lot of us are, life has been like that lately. Yet today, I don’t mean the tired in my heart, in my soul, sort of tired. I’m referring to the normal, I didn’t get enough sleep, tired. And, no, it wasn’t because I stayed up way too late waiting for election results. There was no point. I knew it wouldn’t be decided that quickly. I’m tired because I was a poll worker. Yesterday I woke up at 4:00AM, arrived at the polling place at 6:00 and worked until 9:15PM. Yes, we counted every vote. I know because I was in charge of the precinct where I worked. I was responsible for the count and we did it. And remarkably? The turnout was about 85%, a quarter of the roughly 1200 voters came in person. Around 70% of the votes went to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
I hadn’t been a poll worker before this year. If it hadn’t been for COVID-19 I probably wouldn’t have been one. Yet when COVID-19 started raging I thought and listened. Most poll workers are elderly. When I worked the first election in September I talked to two who are over 80. I realized that Democracy doesn’t survive just through people voting. It also needs people to work to make sure they can vote. But this story really is not about me. It’s about the two people who inspired me to do this. I spent fifteen hours on two days for two elections in a potentially dangerous place because of the pandemic, but my risks pale in comparison to what these two men faced. Who are they? Irving Smolens and Charlie King. I doubt they ever met. One spent most of his life in Melrose, MA, the other in Keene, NH. Their paths may have crossed. We’ll never know. What they did mattered. A lot.
Irving Smolens lived here in Melrose, MA. I can’t say I knew him well. He was very active in local politics, stood up against two wars. Our paths crossed several times. Irving was Jewish. And that matters to this story. It matters a lot. Irving landed in Normandy on D-Day. He went ashore, a Jewish man, knowing that he faced more dangers than others, that were he captured, being a Jew put him at greater risk. I became a poll worker partly to honor Irving and his service. And on Monday I realized something. I remembered where he lived and realized that I was the Warden, in charge of managing the the election, counting the votes, in his ward and precinct.
The second man, Charlie King, was my great-uncle, the youngest brother of my paternal grand-mother. I knew him as Uncle Whitey. He served too, in the Ardennes, in what we call “The Battle of the Bulge”. I don’t really know much about what happened to him. My grand-father, his brother-in-law, summed it up really well one day: “Those that really saw something never seem to talk about it”.
I’ve visited the cemeteries at Omaha Beach and outside of Luxembourg City, the cemeteries where the dead from the two battles these men fought in are buried. The places where they left behind men and women who fought beside them, died next to them, some, I suspect, were people they called friends. They both did what needed to be done to preserve our Democracy, to liberate France, and to end the tyranny and killing of the Nazis. What I did pales in comparison, yet it still needs doing to preserve the legacy they helped pass on.
Which gets to the real point of sharing this story, it’s to ask what you are willing to do. I don’t know what the next few days will bring. It looks like Joe Biden will win. One only knows if the other guy will accept it if he loses. It could get messy. Regardless, this country needs healing and we need to do it. Charlie and Irving bought us 75 years of Democracy, paid forward a debt. I know what I’ll to do carry the torch for them. What will you do?
Be the Pebble