Earl Johnson dips his sponge into the bucket of soap and lovingly wipes it down the side of his ’71 Barracuda. The black paint shines in the sunshine as he rinses the soap from the body. His granddaughter Maddie, Mad to her friends, watches as he washes the car. “He must love that car.”
“Hiya, Pops!” Startled, Earl flings the sponge onto the car hood and whips around. Maddie giggles, and her grandfather puts a hand on his chest to compose himself. “Child, you know better than sneak up on an old man. What are you doing?” Drawing close to her grandpa, Mad drops the sponge in the bucket. “I came by to check on you. Did you go vote today? I did.” Earl scratches at his white beard and pulls off his glasses. “No, I didn’t go waste my time standing in line. Who was I gonna vote for anyhow?”
Mad watches as her pawpaw wipes his glasses. “Well, I voted for Hendrick. He’s nice looking, he isn’t white, and he speaks very well.” Earl puts his glasses back on and looks at his car. “None of those things you mentioned are qualifications. Did he serve in the Senate? What is his record? What did he vote for when he was a Senator? Does he have a backbone, or does he flip-flop on the issues? These are questions that you need to have answers to before you vote. Skin color, ethnicity, and pretty words do not qualify you for a position in a company much less allow you to run the most powerful nation on the planet.”
“I hate the other guy, there was no way I was going to put him in power for another term.” Maddie crosses her arms and sits on the bucket. Earl smiles. “Well kid, you did your part and that’s important.” Maddie shakes her head, her curls jiggling with the motion. It was enough to make Earl dizzy. “Pops, I don’t understand why you don’t vote. You tell me I did my part, but here you are washing your car instead of doing your part.”
“Come here Mad, let’s go sit in the shade.” Together, they walk into the garage. “You see that flag in that shadow box? The Army gave it to me for my retirement. You see those medals and marksmanship badges? I earned those during my time in the Army. Those photos in that shoe box is photos of friends who died for this country.” Maddie looks around, astonished that she has never seen this side of her grandfather. “I came home from my time in war, and I didn’t even recognize my country. People are meaner than they have ever been. Where goodness once abound, now there is nothing but hatred, jealousy, and vileness. In all my time away at war, I never met a politician’s kid in the thick of it.”
“So, you don’t vote because some people don’t go to war. That’s silly, Pops.” Earl smiles. “It’s only silly to you, Maddie.” Maddie snuggles close to her grandfather and scrunches up her nose at him. “Hendrick’s kid served in the military.” Earl nods his head. “Yeah, he was dishonorably discharged for abusing women, abusing drugs, going AWOL, and multiple other infractions under the UCMJ. He sounds like a stellar soldier.”
“Uh, you’re being difficult. What would it take for you to vote? Can’t you see how important it is to our democracy?” Maddie tugs on a curl and releases it. Violently, it springs back into place.
Earl sprays some orange degreaser onto his hands and lathers them up. Rinsing his hands in the sink, he dries them with a shop rag. “First, we live in a Constitutional Republic. We are not a democracy. Secondly, yes, I realize it is important. Third, it’s none of your business what it takes for me to vote.” Leaning forward, Earl kisses Maddie on the forehead. “I gotta pick up your grandma. Come over later and we will con her into making peach cobbler.”
Earl climbs into the ‘Cuda and fires it up. Punching the accelerator, Earl whips the car into a tight spin and races off down the road. While driving, Earl considers Maddie’s point. Stopped at a traffic light, Earl looks across the street at the diminishing crowds casting their vote. Signaling, Earl pulls in on a cross street and disembarks from his ride. Earl steps quickly to the small building and peeks inside.
“Can I help you sir?” The lady behind the table smiles and beckons for him to come up. “Yes ma’am, I would like to cast my vote.” As dusk approaches, Earl walks out to his car.
“If you’re going to live in the world, you might as well shape it into what you want it to be.”