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The Longest Ride

March 2024
1min read


THIS STORY TAKES PLACE IN the sandhills of Nebraska on April 20, 1920. I have just turned eight, and my sister, Bertie, is six years old. We are sitting on the top rail of our eight-foot-high wooden corral fence. It is a beautiful early-spring morning, and we are watching our parents riding east along a three-strand barbed-wire fence. They are on horseback and are on their way to vote. Mama will be 38 in three days, and she is voting for the first time in her life. Mama is dressed in her best riding habit and is riding a gentle but high-spirited sorrel-colored horse named Jeff. Mama always sat so straight and proud. We thought she was beautiful. Dad is dressed as usual, only he is wearing his good Stetson hat. I’m sure he shined his boots too. He always shined his boots before he left the ranch.

The polling place where they will vote is nine miles northeast of our ranch. It is a one-room country schoolhouse set out in the sandhills, no other buildings in sight. The folks will be cutting through many pastures and opening and closing just as many barbed-wire gates to get there. You had to know where the gates were and know one hill from the other to do this.

If they had driven to the polls in their 1912 Ford, the route would have been twice as long, with twice as many gates to open and close. The road was only wagon tracks in the sand, up and down hills. Taking the road, they would have had a pretty good chance of getting stuck in the sand, having a flat tire, or suffering some other breakdown. Going on horseback was a much faster, surer trip.

By the time our parents reach the voting place, cast their ballots, visit with the neighbors, and ride home, it is late in the afternoon. They have made the trip knowing they would cancel out each other’s vote. For some reason they never agreed not to ride those 18 miles every election day to cancel out each other’s vote.

The trip was not so bad for the April primary, but the weather for November elections could be very cold. I often think of my parents voting when I am riding down the street a few blocks to cast my ballot. I’m in a nice warm car and have no gates to stop and open, yet I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it, if my vote will make a difference.

Dad died in 1956, at the age of 84. Mama lived to be 100 years and 8 months. I am 90 now and Bertie 88. We live only 20 miles apart, and we often get together and talk over old times. We don’t always remember things the same way, but we remember the same about the great day that Mama and all the women in Nebraska were allowed the right to vote.

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