by Candice Dyer
I hauled Cabbage and Donnell to vote.
Extracting them from the nursing home proved quite an unwieldy production, involving two walkers and a wheelchair. The alarmed nurses tried to halt Cabbage because they thought she had “escaped,” but I had signed them both out. Off we went, two elderly, infirm African-Americans and me, their freckle-faced aide-de-camp, to save the republic from certain doom.
In July 2017, the Georgia Secretary of State’s office purged more than half a million people from the state’s voter rolls, and 70 percent of them were African-American. The Secretary of State himself, Brian Kemp, was in a tight race for governor with Stacey Abrams, who seemed on course to become the country’s first black female governor. Cabbage and Donnell had never taken their franchise for granted, and they were determined to play a role in history, despite – or because of – all the reports of faulty ballot boxes and long lines.
Donnell, to my surprise, sailed through. He could not balance with his walker, though, so I helped him mark his selections, assistance that is legal for elderly and disabled people, but it raised some eyebrows among the prim, matronly, well-coiffed, white poll monitors with their flag brooches.
Cabbage was next, but there was a glitch. One woman told her that she had already voted by absentee ballot. Cabbage looked confused and glanced at me. I felt rage welling up. I said, “She’s been living in a nursing home since she broke her hip, so she isn’t receiving any mail there.” The woman replied, “Not according to our records.”
I said, “She hasn’t voted yet, but she is voting today. We are here to vote.” I fixed the woman with, I hoped, my steeliest badass stare. She hustled to the back where she conferred in whispers with the other monitors. I took Cabbage aside and said, “I knew there would be some bullshit.” She simply nodded and looked solemn.
While we waited, I pondered my friendship with this pair. Ill at ease among the camo and Carhartt, I had long ago learned not to talk politics or religion with white people in North Georgia, where I live. I went to an African-American church and liked the vibe, which makes me just another neurotic white chick with soul-envy, seeking the solace of black spirituality. It is difficult to find in this part of Appalachia, where most of the melanin is in the freckles, but there is a small African-American neighborhood just up the road from me. Progressive people refer to it as “the community.” Less progressive people have another, uglier name for it. It is literally at the intersection of Hood Street and Ebony Lane – in White County. I could not and would not make that up. Cabbage and Donnell had shared a modest house there, where everyone felt free to drop in at any hour of the night.
Donnell is a 6-foot stringbean with large, opalescent blue eyes that stand out in his pecan-colored face. He is garrulous as a magpie and speaks in a high falsetto voice, which lends a sense of urgency to everything he says and which grates on Cabbage’s nerves. She occasionally raises her fist as if to wallop him.
Since she was a little girl, everyone has called her Cabbage, and if you ask her why, she will say, “On account of my head is so hard.” She is quick at math and used to run numbers when she had more money to play with. Born into another place and time, she might have been an engineer or CEO. Cabbage is also something of a hedonist, enjoying a snort of straight moonshine and maybe a joint while she watches Gunsmoke. Her voice is husky, and her big laugh and incredulous manner remind me of Wanda Sykes. She likes to flirt with young white guys, and many of them flirt back.
She has, as she puts it, “been through some shit.” Her only child, born the year I was, died of sickle cell anemia. And when she tried to move into my pale community in 1970, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in her yard, so she retreated to Hood Street. I thought of these events when she seemed so cowed by the poll monitor; it was a generational reflex. I’ve seen her bow up at black men who she thinks are acting a fool, or at skanky redneck women who try to steal her pills. In her element, on her turf, she is tough as a pine knot. But around white people in positions of power, she goes mute. And it hurts my heart to reckon why.
Cabbage and I enjoy going to the movies. She relished the special effects and beefcake in Black Panther. I also took her to see Selma. We left the theater silent and somewhat shell-shocked by that powerful film with its depiction of racist violence. I turned to her and said, “If you want to punch me just for having a white face, I wouldn’t blame you. Go ahead.” She laughed and opened her arms and hugged me instead.
At the polling station, I was tapping my foot and growing more impatient. I caught the eye of an older worker and tried to appeal to her sympathy.
“Please,” I said, “we’ve been through a lot just to get here. She’s having trouble standing.”
She said, “Bless your heart.”
The monitors finally, grudgingly decided to let Cabbage vote, even though it was clear they didn’t believe she had not already done so. I helped her as I had assisted Donnell, and the women in the room shot me daggers with their eyes.
Stacey Abrams lost, of course, but she still is fighting against voter suppression. As beleaguered Democrats in Trump Country, my friends and I were not surprised. Cabbage shook her head, harrumphed and said, “Kemp is triflin’.” He may be the governor, but he had better stay away from Hood Street.