Don’t bother arguing with Carole Patton over which is the better hospitality: Southern or Midwestern.
She’s got both, and for about 11 hours every Election Day, Morrison residents fortunate enough to vote at her polling location get a sample of such a happy marriage. Not to mention that charming Southern drawl that she can’t – and, hopefully, never will – shake after living in Morrison for 44 years.
I’ll even give her a pass for not calling me Monday night to confirm our Election Day interview at Odell Library. She seemed startled when I introduced myself Tuesday morning – “You really did come,” she said as we shook hands – but what unfolded was perhaps my favorite conversation for The People’s Voice thus far.
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I’m more than happy to give her a pass because she had bigger fish to fry than this wayward swimmer on the eve of one of her favorite days of the year. She spent a few hours at Resthave Nursing Home on Monday, helping residents vote by absentee ballots.
Patton would go to great lengths to help folks carry out their patriotic privilege because, as a freshly minted voter in Arkansas, she fell in love with democracy. More accurately, perhaps, she fell in love with John F. Kennedy.
“I was young. I was in high school. I was excited. Here was this young president. Oh, my gosh. All these other guys are old and playing golf … pffft,” she said. “Do you know what I’m saying? He was young. He had a young, beautiful wife, and little bitty children. It was awesome, somebody who would think like we did. Or a little closer.
“That’s why I’m a Democrat today. You had to choose a party.”
That said, she did cross the aisle once. And she has no regrets.
“Actually, once – long ago, …” she pauses, then giggles, “I crossed over and voted Republican in the primary. Then I couldn’t be an election judge for 10 years.”
Seriously. No regrets.
“We can’t just have one party – then we might as well be communists,” Patton said. “We need the opportunity to choose. We need the two parties, so that we have options.
“It didn’t kill me, did it? I’m here, and I’m OK.”
You can do the math to figure out Patton’s age range, but I can tell you I almost fell out of my chair when she revealed it. It’s a deadbeat scramble between which is more deceiving: her looks or her cat-quick wit.
And then she shared with me the mother of all anecdotes. Almost all of the Resthave residents “were already lined up, and excited to vote,” as Patton puts it. For the most part, they’d done their homework. Their ponies were picked.
But Patton had to take a few extra minutes with a soft-spoken, good-hearted woman. Nearly 90, she could barely speak, and her right arm was paralyzed. So Patton said that when she offered to fill in the circles, the woman answered, “Yes, please.”
But when they got to contested Republican races, the woman got emotional. She didn’t know Bruce Rauner from Adam. Not Kinzinger; that guy from the Bible.
“We can tell them, ‘I’m sure these are really nice people. A lot of people have already voted for them, or they wouldn’t be there. Your party likes them. But I don’t know them. It’s up to you. I can’t help you,’” Patton said.
So she told the woman that they’d “let other people pick that one,” and watched her face light up when she moved on to uncontested races, in which the woman could pick the man who would square off with the Democratic candidate this November.
And Patton was also able to explain the 1 percent sales tax referendum. Even though a few questions went unanswered, the woman beamed with pride when she received what had to feel like a badge of honor.
“I gave her her little [‘I voted’] sticker, and she was so proud of it,” Patton said. “Even if people can’t do 100 percent, they can still do a lot to help.”
Patton left the home, her heart swelling with patriotic pride.
Now, if only she could put that feeling in a bottle and share that “with the people who are just mad at the world,” she finished my sentence, “because things aren’t going well for them at home. And it’s his fault or her fault, and we wouldn’t be in this shape, if it wasn’t for this. They need to just be getting out and doing better for themselves.
“That’s not very nice, is it?” Patton said, feeling as if she was being a bit too forward.
But she wasn’t. Folks who bellyache but don’t get off their duff to do something about it surrender their right to complain. Just because Patton’s gentle-meaning charm made her backpedal a little bit doesn’t mean she wasn’t right.
I love this column for a lot of reasons. At its core, it’s because I love people. But meeting Patton gave me the urge to bang the same drum I’ve pounded a few times in my weekly allotted space.
I love this area. Love it, with its small-town America charms.
She considered moving back to the South, where her son and daughter were living, but couldn’t bear to endure the hustle, bustle and hornet’s nest of interstate highways.
But then, in a fortuitous twist of fate, her son couldn’t bear the fact that there were no sidewalks for his children – 9 months, as of Wednesday, and 4 years – to walk to school.
“There’s none of that personal stuff. The South is a great place to be … from,” Patton qualified. “Here, there’s no bad side of town. All the people are really friendly, and they’ll do anything for you. It’s a very homey town. It’s close-knit.”
And that’s how you end up with a roomful of kind souls like the one I encountered Tuesday.