Columns » Front Porch

Family tradition



In the early gray of Tuesday morning, my father and brother climbed into a tall Chevrolet pickup truck, its sizable bed loaded with landscaping equipment. I climbed into an oddly shaped Prius, its leather seats littered with reporter's notepads and a laptop. My brother eased his monster onto a short dirt road, while I pulled my relative midget onto the asphalt in front of our childhood home.

We arrived at the same place—the Northwest Harnett fire station on Christian Light Road, about 11 miles southeast of downtown Fuquay-Varina, just across the street from the church where we attended Baptist Vacation Bible School as kids—at the same time, to do same thing: Vote for Barack Obama.

But we didn't get here easily or via the same route: Dad (who, in Sarah Palin parlance, is Bill the Builder) was a young Democrat, but local politics drove him to the Republican Party in 1995. My brother (a junior who goes by Senter and maintains the family's construction business) has found politics to be a distraction since Dad ran for the N.C. General Assembly in 1994. But early on, Dad asked me about Obama and liked what he heard. He read books, watched debates, asked more questions. Senter asked Dad about Obama. Apparently, he liked what he heard enough to stand in the rain.

We stood quietly, making small talk with ostensible neighbors who didn't look too familiar, but we didn't talk about politics. Dad had heard enough, especially in the Northwest Harnett precinct. As he tells it, the Obama/ Biden sign he placed in his front yard is one of only two he's seen on the eastern side of Harnett County. He's had to answer plenty of questions from old friends. Though he anticipated the most common response to the flimsy plastic and metal statement, he still relays it with disappointment: "You mean you're voting for a nigger?"

Dad grew up on this road, in the house next door, where my brother also started his family. He went to grade school less than a mile away, where his mother taught and where my brother and I would attend three decades later. Dad remembers the burning cross a few doors down when he was a kid, and the community members with ties to the Ku Klux Klan. He knows that the small black ghetto at the end of the street will forever be called "Smoky." Dad knows old habits die hard. Killing them should be a private decision.

At the polling place, a sticker proclaiming one man as a "bitter gun owner" and glossy Republican voting guides said enough. For every vote Obama received on Christian Light Road, John McCain received three. Obama earned fewer votes than almost any major-party candidate—100 fewer than Democrat Bev Perdue and 500 less than congressman and local boy Bob Etheridge. But, one by one, those crazy Currins—a neighborhood label the yard sign also elicited, I'm sure—all walked into our own voting booths, taking separate paths to the same place.

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