When I cleaned out my house to move in 2013, I found a “Women for Nixon/Agnew” button among mementos. My father had been a Nixon fan before Watergate. Had he given it to me as a souvenir? Had my mother worn it?
Dad died so I never got to ask, and my mother and I hadn’t talked politics for decades. We’d made a pact: No more conversations about politics or religion. We had a mostly loving relationship, but conversing about those two subjects and the tension could rise.
Then came the 2016 presidential election. I just had to know who Mom planned to vote for. So I broke our rule and asked.
As a teenager, I toed the line when it came to the rules of the conservative Baptist household in which I’d been raised. Once in college, however, I registered as a Democrat, discovered beer and dated a slew of Catholic boys. After law school, I moved to Manhattan, fell in love and married a Jewish man.
After my husband and I divorced, Mom told me she and Dad hadn’t objected to my marrying outside my faith for fear I’d cut them off. By then, Mom had also revealed she’d been a lifelong smoker. I in turn uncorked a bottle of wine. Mom also adored the priest at my Episcopalian parish. Still, we steered clear of politics.
In November 2015, Bernie Sanders held a campaign rally in my new hometown.
“I’ve got an extra ticket,” a friend cajoled.
“He’s socialist. Too far left for me,” I said. But I relented and on Nov. 25, I waited in the longest line I’ve ever witnessed in Savannah. When Sanders took the stage inside the packed 2,566-seat auditorium, I cheered with the crowd, suddenly caught up in the exciting historical moment.
Sanders brought a message of unity. He talked about the government’s responsibility to represent everyone, not just the wealthy. He spoke of how his campaign had been funded primarily by small individual contributions. What could be more patriotic than “WE THE PEOPLE!”
Granted, our views diverged on certain issues. But would any candidate meet all my requirements? There had to be a better way to make health care available and affordable for all. My unwanted divorce booted me off the family plan, and every year since I’ve scrambled for coverage.
I assumed my mother would vote Republican. Feeling the Bern, I was eager to find out which of the 17 candidates she leaned toward.
One night on the phone, I couldn’t help myself and spit out, “Who do you like for president?”
“You know who I really like?” she asked.
“No,” I said, reminding myself of the Fifth Commandment.
“I really like that Bernie Sanders guy.” Sharp as a tack at 85, my mother wasn’t joking.
“Me, too,” I said, after a moment of silence.
“I don’t agree with everything he says, but I think he’s a good man,” she said.
“Me, too,” I said. Miraculously, we both thought him sincere and caring. For the first time in decades my mother and I were talking politics.
Admittedly, we’d grown closer as we aged. Maybe our mutual losses had even mellowed us somewhat. But we had even more in common than we knew.
I’m glad I broke our pact because Mom died in October 2016. Death often brings regrets, but Mom and I had managed to push past some of the assumptions we’d made about each other and unearthed our commonalities.
There will always be division in our world. But if we push past our labels we might discover we have more in common than we imagined. Because if my mother and I could agree on politics, anything’s possible.