I have written enough about cities and travel, that you might think a small-town life is not for me. I spent a couple of hours yesterday going door-to-door in support of a candidate for school board.* Everything I love about small towns was on display.
As my area to canvas I chose two streets just down from the school where I teach. No one answered at the first few houses. I hoped the pamphlets I stuck in their doors wouldn’t blow away.
The next door was opened by a young man. I told him why I was there and offered him a leaflet. He admitted he didn’t know about the upcoming election and he was new to town. Although I knew I should jump into the merits of my candidate, I switched hats.
“Do you have kids?” I asked.
He smiled. “We have a two-year-old daughter.”
“In a few years when she’s ready, there’s a great school just down the street. I’m a teacher there,” I said. “But today I’m a private citizen.”
I summed up my concerns for the election and why he should vote for my guy. He asked a few questions and nodded along.
Several more doors opened enough for a smile and to take a pamphlet, but not long enough for conversation.
At one house, a small child peaked out the window. Then I heard him yelling, “Mom!”
A few minutes later, a woman came to the door in a bathrobe. I felt bad that I disturbed her shower. She took the flyer and moved to shut the door. I thanked her and turned away. I was almost to the next house, when she leaned back out and called to me.
“Are you for A.?” she asked.
“Yes!” I called back.
“Sorry about that,” she said, meaning being abrupt, “I’m voting for him!”
“No problem!” I said. “Thanks!”
Other doors were opened by a business owner with a fussy dog, and in another block, the police chief. I know them and have had each of their sons in class, so we exchanged pleasantries. They took the flyers I offered, but we didn’t discuss the election further. They may or may not agree with me, but it’s probably best that they don’t publicly take sides.
The race is contested, with several open seats, and feelings are running high on all sides. I didn’t stop at houses that already had three signs in the yard. For most people who answered, I didn’t know which way they will vote. A few told me that they will vote for my candidate. No one yelled at me or slammed the door in my face. Most just accepted the pamphlet. Small towns, at least in the Midwest, are nothing if not civil. Once the election is over, we may agree or gripe about the decisions the winners make, but we’ll bide our time and wait for the next election. Once the ballots are counted, we still need to get along.
An older woman leaned down to manage her rambunctious dog, never looking as though she was in a hurry to get rid of me.
The woman who came to the next door is the parent of one of last year’s students. I know her political views are far different from mine, but she smiled at me warmly and asked how I am.
Around the next corner, two parents worked in their yard, while their little kids played around them. I approached the wife, who was closest to the street. She took the flyer and told me she knew who she would vote for, but didn’t say who. Probably not a good sign, but I just thanked her and walked away.
As the weather warmed up, I dumped my jacket in my car and kept going. More and more people headed out for a walk, run or bike ride. I greeted a few walkers and offered them my words.
I met some door-to-door competition, coming from the other direction. Two women were proselytizing. I expected to see Bibles in their hands, but instead I saw tablets. Technology has reached the churches too. I was careful not to dislodge their prayer cards when I stuck my flyers in the doors and hoped they did the same for me.
In another block, I heard a voice calling my name from above. “Mrs. S! Mrs. S! I’ll come down and let you in!”
As I walked up to the door, my student opened it, smiling. “I’ll get my mom,” he said and ran away.
“Mrs. S is here!”
His mom invited me in and sent him off to finish getting ready for soccer. We chatted for a moment, but I could see they were busy, so I headed out.
I take great pains to teach social studies without kids ever guessing my political opinions. But I love that when I talk to the kids about voting and how our government works, this one will know I practice what I preach.
After a couple of hours, I called it quits and drove over to my candidate’s house to drop off the remaining flyers. A friend saw my car and pulled over to chat. Next time we’ll see each other on purpose.
And that’s what small towns are. Families and single people. Businesses, government and churches. Differences of opinion, but mostly civil discourse. Your political opponent may need your purchases to keep her business going, and you might go to the same church. A police officer may pull you over for speeding, but will have the same butterflies that every parent has when they come to a parent-teacher conference. Your kid’s teacher may be holding mini conferences in an aisle at the grocery store. You must be careful who you complain to about anyone, because you never know who is related. Like a large family, people disagree and get along.