Watching the Returns

Watching TV on election nights frequently brings up the childhood trauma of listening to the returns the night my father lost his bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate. I often wonder if my excitement about a candidate is not directly proportional to the likelihood things will go badly for him or her, as they did for my dad on that night in 1972.

My parents had gone to some sort of election night party–stop me if I’ve told you this story before. I probably have, but like a victim of a crime or a person with PTSD, I seem to have a need to go over it again and again.

So it was 1972, and I was 11 and my brother was 9, and we were in our hometown of Jane Austen’s Village, and my parents had gone to the ballroom or some such place at the Governor Dinwiddie Hotel. I am not kidding, that was its real name. I’m from a place where they’re only one step past naming things after Lord Cornwallis. After all, he was British. And "British goods were ever the best," as the snobby grandmother in the "The Story of a Patriot" taught all good little boys and girls who visited Historic Billsburg. Because even though we were supposed to sniff and think she was a snooty Tory, we still knew she spoke the truth.

This kind of frantic stream of consciousness is a symptom of my election night weirdness. I believe my analyst might have called this the activation of a complex.

Anyway, my brother and I were at the house we had lived in when we were really little, at that time mostly occupied by our grandmother. We were upstairs with a small black-and-white TV. I kid you not. Neither of our homes, the one in Jane Austen’s Village or the one in the Northern Virginia suburb where we lived for six years, had a color TV at that time. Feel free to marvel at that fact.

So there we were, watching the election returns, without my grandmother.

My grandmother preferred to listen to the returns on her transistor radio.

A brief interruption, while we all do The Time Warp.


Okay, that felt good.

So, downstairs, at the end of a long, darkened hallway, my poor grandmother reclined stiffly on a small couch, legs covered by one of those black crocheted afghans with the brightly colored flowers in each square, the transistor radio pressed against her ear.

This was back in the day, you understand, when precinct returns could be heard on the radio. Because there was still such a thing as local radio. Believe me, children, it did exist.

Again, upstairs, two kids watched the returns alone.

As an 11 year old girl who worshiped her father, I had no doubt he would win. When the numbers suggested a negative outcome, I didn’t believe them. When predictions were made after only 52% of the precincts were in, I did not understand how that made a difference. How could this be happening?

How, indeed. I understand tracking polls and all the rest. I understand sampling. I understand!!!

But on election night, I feel the panic. I feel the panic. And I feel it especially when I like a candidate and see him or her losing.

Tonight I’m wondering, are they telling me it’s "too close to  call" just to keep me watching? Or are they truly surprised, these all-knowing journalists, to see Obama running behind Clinton?

Anyway, I feel sort of badly. If I had remained neutral, I expect he would have run it going away.

Maybe I ought to start pulling for someone I *don’t* like?

For tonight, it’s too late. So I will sit here somewhat manically, watching , and hoping to fall asleep and wake up to a different result. And I will think sympathetically of the politician’s children, whatever their ages.

14 thoughts on “Watching the Returns”

  1. “It’s just a jump to the left…” Hee!
    Oh, dear, what a wonderful terrible memory.
    And even though I’ve never been related to anyone who ever ran for anything, I will madly and obsessively click F5 to get new percentages even after it has become clear that my candidate didn’t win.

  2. Oh, sweetie…it’s only a PRIMARY!!! I need to pray for you; it’s a long time until November…
    What a poignant story, a perspective I’d never heard. I’m glad you shared it.
    I find myself fascinated this year, while disgusted at the hoops these men and women have to jump through in order to represent us. They look exhausted. I’m not sure about this process – well, the length of it. Democracy is good, but this seems like a distortion of the ideal.
    There are more election nights to come. Chin up.

  3. This is wonderful but sad story.
    It’s only the 2nd primary, and they will pull the same number of electoral votes out of it. That’s what I keep telling myself. It’ll be okay.

  4. As I write this, Hillary has won NH and I guess I’m glad. Or maybe not. God bless her, the last couple days have been brutal, and it sounds like you can relate.
    Thanks for sharing your memories –

  5. The mother of one of my best friends was a party activist (one of those vanishing liberal Republicans, back in the 60s) and I remember going to HQ to watch vote tallies for some local election chalked on a blackboard! And in college, the only time the college provided TVs for the student lounges was on Election Night! And 1972 was a bad election year, for sure. But be not dismayed. There are lots more primaries. And I think We are going to win this year!

  6. WE just never get away from the thoughts and feelings do we??
    We had a black and white TV too. AND getting bottled coke was a TREAT that only happened occasionally.

  7. I can’t even bring myself to watch election returns when I care about the candidates in that distant, I’ve-never-met-’em kind of way. I can’t imagine the trauma of seeing someone you love lose in that way.

  8. loved this story.
    Even though I’ve never been there/done that, my love of politics and watching election returns has definitely changed since I started working for elected officials. When it effects your every day life that much, election returns can be a real kick in the gut. I can’t imagine how much more so that would be for the candidate’s family.

  9. Hey! We’re doing the Time Warp on the Weds. Festival too!
    I can’t stand to watch returns. I feel so bad for the people who lose and the people who work for them. The media says such ugly things. And I hadn’t thought about their children…oh, dear…poor Little Songbird!
    I really prefer the newspaper, thanks…

  10. I remember how stunned (and sad) my parents were at your dad’s loss. I also remember that I was one of a bare handful of students who voted for McGovern at Across-the-River Prep School’s mock presidential election. It was a bad year for our team, not to mention that our state elected one of the dumbest Senators in history instead of your wonderful father.
    Consolation prize (for me, anyway) — your family returned to Jane Austen’s Village.

  11. oh, how hard that night must have been for you!
    can’t stand watching election news anymore. the last 2 presidential fiascos did me in. my state’s primary isn’t until next month, but i think i’ll do vote-by-mail this week and be done with it. this campaign has gone on forever and will not end for a long time. i have to believe it will turn out better this time, though.

  12. You *have* to love a woman of the cloth who does the Time Warp. I’m just sayin’….
    I’ve never been related to anyone running for office, but I too can get those pangs and pains when something isn’t going well. But these are still just the primaries, and I’m honestly still torn between Hillary and Obama. While Hillary has the experience, I fear that many people view her as divisive. But Obama is my Senator, and he’s got a great track record and reputation here in Illinois. It’s not all hype; he knows and understands the issues and is great at finding ways to get people to work together for the greater good. He’s always been extremely accessible to his constituents, and actually listens to us. While I think he would make a great president, if he doesn’t get the nomination at least he’ll still be my Senator.
    I guess that puts me in a win-win situation. Maybe that’s why I was so calm at last night’s results. Then again, I’m sure Obama will use Clinton’s win to motivate his supporters even more. He’s a very positive and optimistic guy.

  13. I remember my parents and their friends staying up for the election returns … I lurked on the stairs while they had their party and watched the news come in.
    I also remember when my dad lost his bid to serve on our town school board. Not quite the US Senate, but I was just as flumoxed. How could anyone NOT want my dad to serve?

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