It was a sunny day, the first Sunday in November, back in 1980. I was in the kitchen of my little farmhouse, first homesteaded by Rutherford B. Hayes . . . yes, that Rutherford B. Hayes. Technically, my address was R.R. 2, Inman, Kansas, but actually, I was 11 miles from Inman, in a different county. But Inman was the closest “town” with a post office.
My 20 acre Kansas horse farm was located on the southwest corner of a mile square section of land, on a dirt road. Back then; all the roads in the county, except the major highways, were dirt. But I didn’t mind. The house was far enough off the road; it didn’t get the dust thrown up by the occasional passing car. My nearest neighbor was over a mile away, across the flat wheat fields, but with the Cottonwood and Cyprus trees lining the sections, I couldn’t see any signs of civilization. It was beautiful.
Standing in my kitchen (which was also my dining room and living room); I could see a pick-up pass along the road in the distance . . . an unusual sight on a Sunday afternoon. I didn’t think anything of it until, some minutes later; the truck came down my long, sandy driveway and parked by my kitchen window. I had just moved to Kansas three months before and knew very few people, including the nicely dressed older couple who just pulled onto my land. While the woman stayed in the cab of the truck, the farmer got out carrying a tin. Before he could knock at my door, I was there, curious as to who would even know where I lived.
“Afternoon young lady, I’m Jackson Whitaker and my wife Opal Mae is yonder in the truck. I’m running for County Clerk in Tuesday’s election, and Miss Opal and I are driving around the county introducing ourselves to the county folk. We’re delivering these cookies that Miss Opal made and asking for your vote.”
Wow. I grew up near Newark, New Jersey, where the mayor ran for re-election from his jail cell . . . and won. I was unaccustomed to this.
“How sweet . . . won’t you come in?” I offered, pleased to have visitors to my lonely abode.
“That’s nice of you, Little Missy, but we have a lot more people to go see. Just remember to vote for me, Jackson Whitaker for County Clerk, on Tuesday. Enjoy the cookies.”
I promised I would, seeing that he made the effort to come all the way out to my place with homemade cookies, just to ask for my vote. That would never happen in New Jersey.
Tuesday came, and I was sitting in my office in Hutchinson, and I figured I had better find out where I needed to go to vote. I called the Rice Co. Courthouse to find my precinct.
“Hello. I’m new to Kansas and I need to know where to vote. I live in Inman.”
“Are you in Inman?” the lady asked.
“No, I’m in Rice County.” I corrected.
“Then you’ll have to go to the old Rice County Elementary School just outside of Lyons, on the 9 mile road.”
“The nine mile road? How do I get there from R.R. 2?”
After writing down the directions that included, “Go 20 miles west, turn right at the big red barn, go three sections, and then another right by the two silos on the old Roland place, and then a left at the stop sign . . . you can’t miss it.” I felt lost already.
But, I’m always up for a challenge, so I thanked her and was about to hang up the phone when she said, “Don’t forget to get there before 5 p.m.”
“Before 5?” I inquired. “I thought the polls stayed open until 7.”
“Well, there’s no electricity in the old school, so you have to get there before the sun goes down.”
“No electricity?” I was baffled . . . then added, “So, how do you run the voting machines?”
“Voting machines?” she replied, as if I had spoken another language.
I thanked her and hung up the phone, planning to leave work in plenty of time to get to Lyons. I knew it would take me the better part of an hour to get to the polling place, so I left work at 3:30. One thing about driving in Kansas . . . it’s all straight lines.
I followed her directions and sure enough, past the barn, the sections and the silos, I turned left at the stop sign and there I was, in the dirt parking lot of an abandoned red-brick school building. There was one other car in the lot. I entered the building, and into what was the gym/cafeteria at one point.
There were two ladies sitting behind a desk in the middle of the room . . . one of them was crocheting, the other reading a book. “You must be Lynn, number 35. You’re the last one. We’ve been waiting for you.”
They offered me a cookie and a small, paper cup of punch, pointed to the solitary card table and chair, and presented me with an inch thick, stapled package of legal-sized paper. Each office up for election was on a separate page beginning with the candidates for President: Jimmie Carter and Ronald Reagan, among others. Then there was a page containing names of those running for Vice President, a page of names for the Senate seat, the Congressional candidates, the State Senate, the State Congress, and so on . . . all on separate pages.
I leafed through the papers, one after the other, searching for the County Clerk page to find the name Jackson Whitaker, to vote for the nice man who came to my farmhouse, homemade cookies in hand, to ask for my support. I finally got to the County Clerk page expecting to search through all the candidates to find him, and there was his name . . . Jackson Whitaker.
He was running unopposed!