Personal patriotism

By Rebecca Hagelin

A personal story of patriotism was recounted to me several times during my childhood, although I never got too many details. My mother used the story to explain what had inspired her own political involvement over the years, and as a means to help me to understand my simple, but essential, duty to vote.

The unlikely heroine of the story is my five-foot-one, beloved late grandmother, “Money Jewell.” It was her commitment to voting that set the tone and standard for all future generations in our family regarding the importance of participating in the election process.

Money Jewell was an avid Democrat of the Deep South – but more than that, she was an American. She saw the ability to vote as a responsibility that she took seriously and practiced at all costs. I don’t think it ever occurred to her, as so often seems the case with many Americans, that voting is a “right” to be discarded at will, or practiced only occasionally.

Sometime during the late ’40s or early ’50s, Money Jewell was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. At the time, to receive such a diagnosis was a death sentence. Undaunted, Money Jewell decided to fight the cancer. She relied heavily on prayer, her belief in Divine healing, and the best of medical science that the small towns of North Florida had to offer. Her treatment included radiation therapy that was so crude it actually burned her insides to the point that my mother often heard her screaming in pain at night days after treatment.

During one late October and early November, Money Jewell was hospitalized. I don’t know how long she stayed in the hospital, nor in what condition she was at the point of release. I do know that during that era, it was not unusual for an ambulance to deliver still-ill patients back to their homes. I also know that Money Jewell’s release date just happened to come on Election Day.

At some point during the 45-minute ambulance ride from the “booming metropolis” of Tallahassee, Fla., to the tiny country town of Greensboro in Gadsden County, the small-framed, seriously ill, but determined Money Jewell insisted that the ambulance driver take her by the polls so she could vote. Perhaps the driver put up an argument, or perhaps not – I never heard. At any rate, the driver did as he was requested and my grandmother proudly, and with some effort, cast her vote. To Money Jewell, her vote was her vital voice, her sacred responsibility, her right bought with blood. It would have been un-American – almost treasonous – to Money Jewell had she not done her civic duty, even on what many considered to be her deathbed.

Yep, Money Jewell set the voter’s standard all right.

Money Jewell miraculously survived the ovarian cancer and went on to live another 30 years or so. I remember her as a loving, jolly woman committed to her family, her church, her community and her country. She was a woman of simple means. Although well regarded by all who knew her, she held no positions of power other than as a loyal Sunday-school teacher. But Money Jewell was important because this is America and she had a voice that would be heard.

She was very proud that her only son had become a Naval officer and served his country. And she was thankful that her only daughter had become a political activist at an early age. Even though my mother registered as a Republican (only one of a “handful” in Florida at the time), and even stumped door-to-door for Barry Goldwater with tiny children in tow in the early ’60s, the difference in party affiliation didn’t much seem to bother Money Jewell. What mattered most was that my mother carried on the duty to be involved in the affairs of her country.

Hopefully, Money Jewell will serve as an inspiration for you, as she has for me. No matter how busy your day, how awful you feel, or how disappointed you are with the choices on your ballot, it is your duty to those who have shed their blood for your freedom, that you take the time to vote.

Maybe you’ve never gotten around to registering to vote. Unfortunately, that means you won’t be able to voice your freedom in the voting booth today. However, today can be a turning point in your life. If you log on to Operation Vote, you’ll find all the information you need to figure out how to register in your very own precinct.

Don’t let another moment go by without determining in your heart, just like Money Jewell did, that you will vote in each and every upcoming election. Your vote is your vital voice, your sacred responsibility, your right bought with blood.