That’s Precinct ‘H’ – as in home

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published March 13,1996 in the Suburban Life, added March 14, 2015



I’m not a person who does anything for 25 years at a stretch, except living and wielding a pen.  I don’t like looking further down the road than say, tonight at midnight.  And to do the very same job for 25 years would seem incredibly boring to me.

So when someone asked me to fill in as a poll worker in my precinct after we moved to Madeira, I meant it to be an O.T.O (one time only), as we used to say in the linen service biz, one of my long-ago jobs down in Louisville.

The presiding judge in my precinct, Louise Kemp, gave me a frantic call.  One of her workers had flown the precinct.  Would I take the spot?

This was before Nancy Reagan and “Just say no,” my favorite defense today.  I did exercise extreme caution.  I simply could not, I explained to her, because I was recovering from extreme major surgery and had a very bad back.  Besides, I whined, I had two children who needed their mother.

But Ms. Kemp was not easily reckoned with.  Nonsense, she said.  Let my husband take the kids for the day.  And she’d bring a special chair for my back.  I’d be fine.  She had no doubts.

What could I do? I did it.

True to her word, she brought my special chair.  As I sat there, reigning over Precinct H like princess Di in her royal digs, Ms. Kemp and Mr. Maurer told me jokes and kept me amused.

In addition, all my new neighbors I’d been itching to meet came in and introduced themselves and chatted.  It was better than a Tupperware party, because men came in to vote too.

That night, after a 14-to16-hour day, I was exhausted but exhilarated.  It actually had been fun, except for getting up at 4:30 a.m.

So when the next election rolled around, I decided I’d do it just one more time.

After that, elections came and went every year, like the Vernal Equinox and Elvis Presley’s birthday.  I’d get my notice, show up at the accustomed place, and work.

Like the years, people I worked with came and went too.  The persuasive Ms. Kemp went on to a full time job.  But her replacement meshed with our group.  We went merrily on, doing our best.  And having fun.

We were a well-oiled machine.  We worked together.  We played together.  We got along.  Some of my best friends are people I first met and worked with in Precinct H- Louise Kemp, Ellen Meece, Diane Thornsburg, and our current presiding judge, Rita Schraer.  Over the years, I’ve worked with some wonderful people there, with the exception of one or two.

While others came and went, I was constant, working every election.  My life’s circumstances changed.  I, too, started working full time.  But I had a boss who realized I enjoyed working in the polls and considered it my civic duty.  He turned his head and allowed me to take off on election days.  I toiled on and became a fixture in Precinct H.

Last fall, I looked at the calendar, did simple math, and realized I’d been in Precinct H for 25 years.  Horrors. How could it have happened to one who couldn’t celebrate the 35th anniversary of anything?

But I decided to make the best of it.  People retire, I reasoned.  They get written up in the newspaper.  Someone gives them parties, and presents them with watches.  I deserved that too.

I thought about it all winter.  I’d retire this spring.  I’d write myself a story, throw myself a party, and by myself a watch, which I’d present to myself.

But as the March 19 primary approaches, I realized I can’t retire.  The voters are my people now.  I’ve learned the fabric of their lives.  I look forward to seeing them, and they expect to see me there.  Ray Reardon told me a couple of years ago that he looks for my face, to tell if he’s in the right polling place.  If I retired, he probably couldn’t’ vote.

Then there’s the fun I’d miss.  We make up games and surveys to prevent boredom.  One election, we kept a survey of left-handed voters.  Another time, we listed men who wore ties.  Yeah.  We’re the fun bunch- Rita Schraer, Jim Blankenship, Betty Glenn and I.

And we have our own doughnut man, Bill Meece.   Actually. He’s my doughnut man.  When his wife, Ellen, worked there, Bill would bring food to her.  One day, he brought doughnuts.  Since I would walk through fire, wearing paper underwear, for a doughnut, I arm-wrestled her for them.

After that, Bill brought doughnuts to me.  When Ellen moved on to a full-time job, Bill continued to bring me doughnuts.  Still does.

Not being known as Ms. Generosity, I seldom share the doughnuts.  Sometimes, I do fell sorry for Jim Blankenship and give him just one.  Usually, I eat them all myself.

Bill’s visit is a big event of the day.  Last fall, we presented to him, amid pomp and circumstance, a cushaw squash from Farmer’s Market, after he had expressed a liking for cushaw pie.

So, I can’t retire just yet.  Not as long as the doughnuts come.  But I still want my 25th year party and the watch.

I haven’t planned the party yet, but I’ve given heavy thought to the watch I want one just like the one that peeps out from the cuff of Kentucky coach Rick Pitino’s Armani suit.  I can just see it peeping out form the cuff of my Kentucky sweatshirt as I watch the Wildcats win the NCAA this year.  Go Big Denim Blue.

I want that.  But my budget says go to the local drugstore and look at the Timex rack.

Ellen Meece suggests that a Loony Tunes watch, with Tweety Bird on the face, might be appropriate.

I’ll let you know about my watch.  But you’re all invited to my party. And I’ll see you at the polls.