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Secret Ballot

Here’s a little story from the 1960s.

My parents were ordinary working people. They went to Mass every week. They voted in every election. My father was a World War II combat veteran. My mother had worked in a defense plant, making rubber seals for gas masks on the second shift. Neither one was a college graduate. My father was the child of immigrants. My mother worked in banks. My father began as a bartender but worked his way into midlevel management at a sporting goods company. We never owned a new car. Neither one of them was ever arrested. They stayed married until my father died.

In those days, campaign buttons were very popular. Neither of my parents ever wore a campaign button with the name of their favored candidate. We did not fly the American flag from our porch. In fact, I don’t think we had an American flag in the house. My father got a free flag when we buried him.

Both my parents took the concept of the secret ballot very seriously. In fact, neither one of my parents ever told the other how they’d voted. We didn’t discuss politics in my house, though we took a newspaper, and we watched the evening news and, as I said, my parents voted in every election.

I don’t know if either of my parents belonged to a political party. They never told me. They were both from Massachusetts, though, and both of them nearly starved to death during the Great Depression, so I’m assuming they were Democrats.

The only thing I ever recall my father saying about politics was during the 1968 presidential election when Air Force General Curtis LeMay was the running mate of segregationist George Wallace.

“That jackass oughta stay home and polish his medals,” my father said of LeMay, under whom he had served.

If you asked my mother who she was voting for in any election, she answered with, “None of your business.”

When my father was tending bar, he was particularly contemptuous of patrons who wanted to “talk politics.”

“One of those guys came in tonight who wants to talk politics,” he’d say to my mother. “I told him to watch the ballgame.”

That was also my father’s standard response to customers who wanted to complain about their wives.

“She’s probably over at her sister’s house talking about what a bum you are,” my father would say to that kind of patron. “Why don’t you watch the ballgame like everybody else?”

I wasn’t raised in a conservative household. I wasn’t raised in a liberal household. Our family values didn’t come from a political party. They came from the Catholic Church, and my parents paid for me to attend a Catholic school because they knew they didn’t teach religion in a public school. I don’t recall either of them ever complaining about paying for public schools I didn’t attend.

My parents did not want to “debate the issues,” although they watched political debates on television and, as I said, they voted in every election.

I get paid to write. Sometimes, I get paid to write about politics. I don’t write; I don’t eat. It’s a job that suits me, but sometimes I wish I’d picked something else. I was not raised to share my opinion about important things.

As the country grows ever more contentious, as each one of us bursts with the need to express our political opinion, to out-shout the other side, I guess you could say the fictional “national conversation” continues.

Still, I think sometimes we’re so busy trying to score points that we forget to think, and I miss the quiet men and women who kept their hands on the wheel and kept us between the lines.

Marc Dion is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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