Charity’s Column: Kitchen table issues

You could go about your business on Shelter Island for years without thinking about your neighbor’s political party or who they are likely to vote for.

You might know where the person who delivers your propane stands on the question of whether yard sales should be regulated, or the school budget passed, and still have no idea how they feel about who should be the president of the United States.

But not this year. Everyone is wearing their yard sign on their sleeve.

Last week, one presidential candidate mocked the other for talking about the importance of the kitchen table as a place where Americans share ideas. Worse, it happened during a debate intended to give the candidates an opportunity to share those ideas. It’s one thing to attack the media. This guy went after my kitchen table.

In my house, the kitchen table is a sacred space. Even if the table is actually a sink, and the one standing over it holds a dripping slice of pizza, if the eater is receptive to the views of nearby household members it counts as a kitchen table, a place where ideas are exchanged, and policy discussed, often in proximity to food. 

My friend Susan has a kitchen table. Sitting at it, she wrote 160 letters last week, and mailed them to voters in Florida where she grew up, and still has family, urging them not to vote for the guy who mocks the power of the kitchen table.

I enjoy talking to strangers on the phone, so in presidential election years, I generally volunteer to call registered voters around dinnertime, and encourage them to vote. I can tell they are near the kitchen table, when I can hear the sounds of food preparation in the background.

Four years ago, enthusiasm for voting was tepid everywhere I called. This year, while calling Texas voters to make sure they knew they were entitled to a mail-in ballot, I kept hearing the same thing, they were taking no chances that their vote would be misplaced, thank-you; they would vote in person.

One 85-year-old woman said in spite of a serious health setback, she would get to the polling place to vote in person with the help of friends. She asked me to pray for her.

The dinnertime phone calls I made another night generated the most concentrated one-hour blast of good karma I’ve ever received. The person who answered their phone at 6:01 p.m. local time was a registered voter. I identified myself as a volunteer for the Democrats, and did not ask about party or preferred candidate.

My job was to make sure they were ready to vote or had already voted, reminding them to use blue or black ink and sign the envelope of their mail-in ballot. That voter, and the next, and the next, were way ahead of me.

Ms. Parker of McClean, Texas answered her phone at 6:16, and shared that she doesn’t talk politics with her neighbors and most of them have no idea she is a Democrat. She’s 91, and voted for Truman in her first election. She is a Yellow Dog Democrat.

Did I know what that means? At 6:21 she told me that even though I was from New York, I seemed like her kind of people, and thanked me for calling.

At 7:42, I helped Wesley in Tarrant County request a mail-in ballot. After I helped Anastacio sign-up for a ballot at 8:03 p.m. he said, “God bless you.”

Another night, I spoke to a 68-year old man in Houston who was coughing so hard I had to ask him if he was O.K. Getting better, he said, recovering from COVID. He was tracking his mail-in ballot through the Texas system to make sure that he got it, and it would be counted.

I also reached three Spanish-speaking voters that night, one who was so amused by my attempt to speak Spanish that she asked me to call back later when her daughter was home.

The voters in Texas are not the only ones who won’t take a chance that their vote goes uncounted. In Manhattan, where I used to vote, people who have avoided entering a grocery store for the past eight months willingly stood in a line for early voting that stretched at least four blocks.

In Riverhead and Southold, on the first day of early voting, people came hours before the polls opened to wait, and vote.

Because, this time, our lives really do depend on it.