Sunday, October 7, 2007

Twenty-five Names - February 2005

In case anyone was worried, I’m here to tell you that democratic governance in northern New England is alive and well. I know this because last weekend it occurred to me that time was running short to get 25 registered voters in my town to sign my nomination papers so that my name can go on the ballot for the school board. On the day of town meeting, this year March 28, those inclined to go to the fire house and vote for a bunch of unopposed candidates are invited to do so. The results will be announced later that night at town meeting in the Lincoln Academy gym.

Three years ago, when I first ran, I was surprised and a little offended to find that more people voted in the election than voted for me: something like, 96 people voted for third selectman but only 90 people voted for me. While no one voted against me, I wanted to know, “Who are these six people?” Since then my political skin has toughened significantly.

So while I could forego the whole 25 signatures thing (thereby not get my name printed on the ballot) and could just write myself in and still probably get elected, that’s not the way to do it. I was charged to get no fewer than 25 names and no more than 100 and to turn the paper into the town hall by close of business yesterday, February 10.

When I found the nomination papers underneath a stack of clean laundry on my dryer last Saturday with just two names listed, my husband’s and my friend Rachel’s, I knew I had some work to do. I hollered up the stairs to no one in particular, “I’m going out to get some names!”

“When will you be back?” asked Marty, instantly appearing on the top step. He is our son who needs to know the precise details of everyone’s comings and goings even when he already knows the precise details of everyone’s comings and goings.


“Yeah, right.”

“I will,” I replied, but felt accused.

Since it still gets dark rather early I first hoofed up the hill to our most distant neighborhood neighbors, Charley and Fifi. Charley is in his early 80s but can pass for 59. He plays a lot of golf and eats one granny smith apple everyday. Through the glass panel at the side of the front door, I could see the TV on and then Charley making his way down the hall behind their excited Westie, Michael.

“Come in and watch some golf,” he said cheerfully. How could I turn that down? So I took off my boots.

We chitchatted in the living room for a bit, caught up with recent doings, and I made my intentions known. He took my clipboard and signed on without hesitation. “Fifi’s up in her sewing room. Go up and see her.” So Michael and I climbed the stairs and had a nice ten minute chat with Fifi.

Onward. I stopped back at our next-door neighbors, Roger and Martha, who had returned home from somewhere. “Come in! Come in!” A 20-minute visit ensued. Following that a new addition, not yet seen from the inside, needed to be admired; a lovely neighbor recovering from surgery made her way out to the kitchen to say hello and sign on; another neighbor signed with her just-awake toddler in her arms while I talked dogs with her husband. I made an extended visit to our friends Rachel and Jay. They are nearing the end of a long construction project and, before Jay could sign, all new developments had to be inspected, including the newly-revealed and finished wood floor in the hallway.

“This beats the hell out of that old carpet,” I said. This had long been the consensus of everyone so such a stupid remark didn’t merit a reply.

I headed back home. It was six-thirty and no inspiration about supper was rising over my horizon.

“Where have you been?” Scott asked me as I rounded the kitchen door. He was standing in a contemplative mood at the open refrigerator. “It’s dark.”

“I was out getting names.”

“Yeah,” he said Marty-like. “Did you get them all?”

“No, but you should see Rachel and Jay’s new hallway floor.”

Over the next few days, I kept my pen and clipboard in my car and hit up people outside the Post Office, in the school parking lot. On Tuesday, I was just a few names shy of the requisite 25. I was waiting to pick up Marty after a play rehearsal and scanning the parking lot for fellow citizens. Having just come from work and wearing nice shoes, I was loath to get out of the car but also a little desperate to get this thing signed and delivered. Just as everyone was loading up, I spotted a woman in a van, a friend of a friend, whom I know to live in Newcastle. I’ve met her here and there but I didn’t think she knew who I was. I picked my way across the muddy parking lot and motioned for her to roll down her window. She looked at me quizzically.

“You live in Newcastle, right?”


“Would you sign my nomination papers for school board?”

“Sure!” As I tiptoed/ran back to my car to get my clipboard, I heard her call behind me, “Don’t run, Heidi, I’ll come over.” She was smart and wearing boots. We met up halfway between our cars and while she signed the papers, she said, “Your son’s a great little actor.”

“Wonderful! Thanks!” I said. I love it when people compliment me on my children. “He didn’t get it from me.” She handed back my clipboard and smiled and we said our goodbyes. I was back in the car and starting to pull out when she called to me from the driver’s side of her van.

“You know, I could easily bring Marty home after practice on Thursday and Friday. I’d be happy to do it.” She knows where I live? I thanked her and told her that would be great, especially on Friday when my other son has a riding lesson in the afternoon.

I drove home thinking about the wonder of what had just happened. I acknowledged that I knew something about this woman: I knew that she lived in Newcastle. I asked her the favor of signing her name. Such a simple gesture opened up something between us: Don’t run, I’ll meet you halfway…Let me take your son home for you. How sudden this welling up of kindness and generosity, this willingness to say, “I know where you live too.”

Is that all it takes to make a connection with another person? Do we only have to say, “I know a little bit about you and here’s a little bit about me?"

When I was a freshman in college I took a course called Modern Myth, partly because I was interested in modern myth but mainly because Scott was taking it. It was assumed we’d read the Narnia books and The Lord of the Rings. We read some Charles Williams' snovels that I didn’t like and C.S. Lewis’s, Till We Have Faces which, upon finishing, caused me to think, “Well, once was enough for that.”

I remember very little about the class except for one thing the professor said. And it was this: He explained his reading of the verse in the New Testament where Jesus says “there will be no marriage in heaven.” He said, and I paraphrase, that in most civilizations marriage is the most in-depth warrant, or permission, to know another person. In marriage, in a good one anyway, we have the most intimate access to another person, in mind, in body, in spirit. We have it to lesser degrees through bonds of kinship and friendship and on down to our acquaintances and colleagues and neighbors. In the presence of God, in our right minds so to speak, there will be no need of artifices such as marriage or family. Knowing one another deeply will be as natural as breathing.

In this life I don’t think our souls are well-prepared to be married to more than one person at a time. We aren’t equipped to handle such knowing or being known with huge numbers of people. But we can approach it gently, by degrees, with the people we find around us and it makes the road so much less lonely. Scott and I believe we are richer for living and raising our sons in a small community where we are given the limited warrant to know many people around us... a place where, when you knock on the door to ask your neighbors to do a little civic thing like sign nomination papers, they invite you in to stay awhile.

Yesterday, the day my papers were due at the town hall, we had our big New England snow storm. I had only 24 names because someone I thought lives in Newcastle actually lives over the line in the next town. I called the clerk to see if the office was open in the storm. When she answered I asked how late they would be open and, as an afterthought, whether I could sign my own nomination papers.

“I don’t see why not,” she replied.

As I hung up the phone, I said aloud, “Okay, you, sign here," and signed on line 25. I smiled. It was the briefest conversation I'd had.

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