I watched every minute of the election results last night with three people who aren’t here anymore. They were: my uncle Teddy, who pioneered modern election reporting and wrote the Pulitzer-prize winning Making of the President 1960 (and many others, through 1980); my Dad, an American history textbook editor and teacher, with whom I watched every election night from 1956 through 1980, and last, but not least, my Aunt Gladys, older sister of my Dad and Teddy, one of the first female lawyers to be admitted to the Massachusetts bar, a brilliant woman who could not be hired as a lawyer in her prejudiced times (as a woman and a Jew, she had no offers), but went on to head up the Boston Public Library system for decades.
Teddy, Gladys and my Dad were all with me with me watching history being made last night. My love for politics started at age 6 in 1956 when Dad, Gladys and I watched the election returns. I was the only “I Like Ike” supporter in a family of Stevenson fans and I have the autographed photo to prove it – “David, Keep up your interest in politics, Affectionately, Dwight D. Eisenhower,” in the days when Presidents, and not mechanical robo-pens, actually signed.
We watched on a satellite TV with 5 speakers and a subwoofer they couldn’t possibly understand. Teddy died in the early 80’s. My Dad, one of Teddy’s younger brothers, died in 1980. Their older sister, Gladys, who gave a final read to every one of Teddy’s many books before they were approved for publication, died in the late 1990’s. None of them could know (or readily understand) today’s globally wired, hi-tech world. They were the children of the real Depression, raised with another brother by my strong my Grandmother, who lost her husband, a lawyer and my namesake, in 1931, who, at age 51, collapsed and died while running to catch a train at Boston’s North Station.
Even though they have been gone for some 10, 25 and 28 years, respectively, the ghosts who watched the election results with me were astonished. They could not stop talking about how we finally elected a Black man, an African-American, President of these 21st Century United States. 145 years after President Lincoln declared freedom from the bondage of slavery, none of them believed we would ever see this milestone in their life, my life, or the lives of my kids, (now all grown up and gainfully employed) or even in their kids’ lives – not for a long, long time, if ever at all.
When the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004 for the first time since the WWI era, people in Boston went out to cemeteries and hung up the Sports Page of the Boston Globe on their relatives’ headstones so those relatives could know it finally happened. I may just do that with Wednesday’s newspaper. Teddy, Gladys and my Dad, all my inspirations as rabid fans of politics, would appreciate that a lot.
Oh yes, there were other ghosts around last night. Many had darker skin than mine; some were in shackles from their ships from Africa who died on the arduous voyage coming here, heads bowed now in utter, absolute disbelief. Three hundred years of generations of them. Astonished ghosts, they were and are – them and my family.