The Storyteller: Confusion on Election Night

https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8c10945

Every election turned out the same way. The Democrats got every vote except one, and nobody had any idea who was casting the Republican vote.

Even in 1936, the little Mississippi town thought it might amount to something one day.

It had a bank. On the north side, past the creek, was a gin for the cotton coming out of the delta. A railroad track ran so close to downtown a freight train barreling West would rattle the windows in City Hall.

But the Great Depression sapped the little town of its money and its energy. Boll weevils stripped the cotton fields. And the little town began to dwindle away. Only a couple of dozen hardy souls managed to hang on.

Abe Patterson was the only rich one amongst them. He owned a plantation. He had inherited it from his daddy. Abe drove the first car to bounce its way down the dirt road some folks called Main Street.

He laughed loud. He laughed a lot.

He kept his money at home and didn’t spend a lot of it. Abe didn’t have to. A man who has everything already has everything.

When the cotton was ready to pick, Abe hired everybody who wasn’t working, which meant he hired every man in town with the exception the Mayor, the doctor, the postmistress, the cook frying eggs in the downtown diner, and Old Ferdie, who wasn’t quite right but met the train with a mailbag every day.

Abe didn’t own the town. But he could have if he wanted to write the check. He couldn’t write the check. He never put a nickel in the bank.

The town got along fairly well.

But nobody trusted Abe.

“He’s a Republican,” said the whispers.

“He’s against us.”

Always has been.

Always will be.

Caleb Pirtle

As far back as anyone could remember, the Democrats formed the power base for their little town. It would have been a solid voting block, but, every time an election rolled around, someone had the audacity to vote the other way.

Every man and woman who carried a paid-up poll tax receipt came down to the polling place on election day, circled a candidate’s name, handed their ballot to the election judge, and went on about their business.

The results were always the same.

Democrats 24.

Republicans 1.

As the years slipped, the final tally never varied.

“Must be Abe.”

That was the rumor.

“He’s never been one of us.”

“He’s a money man.”

“Owns it all.”

“Always trying to get more.”

“Hell, when the bank’s in trouble, the bank even has to borrow money from Abe.”

“Can’t trust him.”

“He’s high society.”

“He’s out to get us.”

Abe Patterson was the Republican.

Who else could it be?

Every so often, they all shuffled down to vote again.

“Don’t know why.”

That’s what they thought.

“It’s a waste of time.”

“It’ll be just like last year.”

“Twenty-four good, honest, hard-working Democrats.”

“One stinking Republican.”

But still, they all gathered outside City Hall on election night and waited for the mayor to write the results on the slate bulletin board.

Here he came. It didn’t take long.

Polls closed at seven. The mayor was walking out front with a piece of chalk in his hand by seven minutes past seven o’clock.

“How’d it go this year?”

“No surprises.”

“What’d the Democrats get?”

“Twenty-four votes.”

“And the Republicans.”

“They got their one vote.”

Damn Abe. He was the one reprobate they could do without.

During a wet and chilled winter – it was the third of December – Abe Patterson came down with pneumonia. That’s what the doctor said. He was old. He was growing feeble. He went in his sleep.

The undertaker dug a hole. The preacher did his best to get a good-for-nothing Republican past the Pearly Gates.  Everybody said amen and went home.

No one remembered Abe until election night.

He wouldn’t be voting this year.

Death had taken their only demon away.

Nothing left now in town but Democrats.

Abe’s vote couldn’t mess up the results this time. Somebody cheered, and somebody passed a bottle of bourbon, and the Democrats felt as good as they had felt in a long time.

Promptly at seven minutes past seven, the election judge walked out with his chalk.

He began to write.

Democrats 23.

Republicans 1

No one spoke. They all eyed each other with suspicion and quietly walked home. Now they couldn’t trust anybody.

Who among them was a traitor? It might have been Old Ferdie. But they didn’t let Old Ferdie vote.

That night, they knelt and said a prayer for Abe Patterson.

Some even cried.

A damn good Democrat had gone to the grave.

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