Election Day Stories

Election DayHappy Election Day! I’ve put together some of my own Election Day stories, from what’s happened to me at the polls to how I got there:

  • In the mid 1990’s, when I waited tables at a truck stop Denny’s in Pennsylvania, we were the only Denny’s I’d ever heard of that served beer and wine. But on Election Day, we had to wait until the polls closed before we were permitted to serve alcohol to anyone. Over the years the law was interpreted in various ways, and depending on percentages of alcohol sales, some bars and businesses weren’t allowed to serve at all while others were allowed to serve after 9 p.m. The law has since been changed to allow alcohol sales all day long, although I did see an article dated as recently as 2012 that said South Carolina and Kentucky still operated under the restricted laws.
  • When I was in college, my parents would pick me up from school and drive me home so I could vote on Election Day. Then they’d promptly return me to school again.
  • Back when I was married, I went to the voting location according to where I lived, but they didn’t have me on the list. I’d updated my name, my license, and my address, but somehow, none of it updated my voter location. The volunteers at the polls told me I needed to prove my address, either with a bill that had my name on it (which I did not have) or I could have my husband come in and vouch for my address. I thanked them and went on my way—my way being straight to my previous voting location a few blocks in the other direction, the entire time muttering things like, “If my man will vouch for me, I can vote?? What is this, 1920*?”
    The voting location connected to my previous apartment address still had me listed with them, so I cast my ballot, collected my sticker, and felt good for circumventing the system—especially without needing help.
  • Twice, once in Minnesota and once today here in Pennsylvania, I checked in to vote and was met with, “Oh, of course. You wrote a book!”

Regardless of the outcomes today, I’m sure we all agree that we’re done with dinnertime election calls and candidate mud-slinging. Personally, I’m ready for the day when all political ads have to disclose where they got their mud-slinging information and how they computed their blanket statements—you know, the day where a non-attorney spokesperson has to read aloud the fine print on claims for prosperity and change similar to the way pharmaceuticals have to disclose the laundry list of side effects. “We’re selling a smart-inducing drug that causes headaches and temporary shrinkage of brain cells and some people may grow tails. We’re really overcharging for it, and we approved this message.” Now that’s entertainment.

I’m Jody Brown. I wrote a book. And I approved this message.

*Women were granted the right to vote in August 1920.

Forest for the Trees

Trees postI’ve lived a little bit of everywhere, and each place has had its merits. From the country, the city, the beach, the mountains, and the plains, I’ve enjoyed the different ways of life that are built in to the topography. Now back in my home state again, I’m realizing just how much the landscape of my childhood has shaped my entire life.

Pennsylvania means “Penn’s Woods,” and is named after its founder, William Penn. There are so many trees here it’s astounding. And it’s because of all these trees that the horizon appears closer. Depending on the direction you look, the distance is even walkable.

Growing up in an area like this, that vision of attainability crafts a person. It shapes the way you look at the world, and seemingly, the way you will always look at the world. Everything is possible, because the horizon is always reachable.

The next time you find yourself in the woods, any woods, take a good look around. You’re moments away from that magical place where the earth and the sky meet. It’s all within your reach. Nothing is insurmountable when you put it in the proper perspective.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

Groundhog Day

DSC00179Yesterday, I heard someone lamenting Groundhog Day because the groundhog always sees his shadow on account of all the camera flashes.

I’m a native of Pennsylvania, and as one who has been to the Gobbler’s Knob celebration, I’m here to set the record straight.

First thing’s first, let’s call him by his name, shall we? The groundhog is known as Phil, or Punxsutawney Phil, if you want to get technical. He’s named after the town in Pennsylvania where the ceremony takes place.

German ancestry runs high in Pennsylvania, and it is a German superstition that started this whole thing. Legend says that if a hibernating animal emerges on February 2nd (the Christian holiday of Candlemas), and leaves its burrow, we’ll have an early spring. If, on the other hand, the animal emerges and is frightened and retreats back into the burrow, we’ll have another six weeks of winter. The telling factor, the thing that scares the animal, is its shadow–which has everything to do with a cloudy or clear sky, not camera flashes.

Now, the weather forecast is certainly predicted ahead of time, and everyone knows whether it’s supposed to be cloudy or clear at dawn on February 2, but what’s the fun in that?

The “seeing of the shadow” celebration takes place up on the hill above Punxsutawney known as Gobbler’s Knob, in front of a crowd of hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of all ages who gathered from far and wide throughout the wintry night and either sat on the frozen muddy ground or simply stood for hours in the dark, waiting and anticipating.

All night long there is much pomp and circumstance with the revelry of the Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle. These men are dressed to the nines and wearing top hats, looking like they should be at an Inaugural Ball rather than the edge of the woods above a quaint blue-collar town in the middle of the night. There is singing, dancing, music, and cheering, and rumor has it that actor Bill Murray has been known to show up in the crowd to take part in the festivities. (If you don’t know the movie Groundhog Day, please, please, go watch it. It’s a brilliant commentary on how to find happiness in life.)

Camera flashes are the least of Punxsy Phil’s worries as, close to dawn, they turn on giant floodlights to illuminate the crowd-filled clearing of Gobbler’s Knob. At the break of dawn, the crowd gets silent as the Inner Circle knock ceremoniously on Phil’s burrow, and reach in to draw him out (wearing massive, claw-resistant gloves). And the crowd goes wild. It takes a good half hour to even figure out the winter-spring verdict.

Pennsylvanians have been doing this since 1887, though there aren’t written records going back that far. Phil has now officially seen his shadow 100 times, and hasn’t seen it only 17 times, as yesterday was a shadow day, yet again. Another six weeks of winter is in store for us.

But to draw people out of their warm beds into the chilly hills of Pennsylvania in February to wait in the elements all night, I tell you, that Phil is one magical groundhog. The celebration of Phil’s shadow is not only steeped in tradition, but is decorated with smiling faces, young and old, who gathered in a clearing for a chance at hearing those glorious words, “Early spring!” But while we always hope for spring, after this outdoor night, we know we can handle the winter.

My book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon.

Sauerkraut Soup

It’s that time of year again and we just packed the soup into the car for the trip to Grandma’s house, so I thought a repost of this blog was in order. Wonderful holiday wishes to all!

Ahhh, the Soup!
Ahhh, the Soup!

It’s traditional in my family to eat Christmas Eve Wigilia “Vuh-LEE-uh” dinner. Wigilia means Vigil. It’s a Polish tradition, though we’re Slovak (Slovak, Belgian, German, and someone said Grandma has some Russian and Irish), therefore, we’ve adapted the tradition a bit. Our dinner consists of flat wafers, sauerkraut soup, mashed potatoes, creamed peas, and salad. You’re supposed to eat the wafer first. (Topping it with honey adds flavor to the styrofoam-like wafer, which more or less melts on your tongue.) You fill a bowl with mashed potatoes, pour the sauerkraut soup over them, and then top it with sour cream. You can eat the creamed peas on the side, with the salad, or you can refill your soup bowl with more potatoes and the peas after you’ve eaten the soup. The soup itself is made from pig neck bones (for flavor only), sauerkraut, and roux. You have to be sure to really brown the roux.

When I was little, my mom told me we eat this for luck. I told her we eat this because our ancestors thought the stench would ward off evil spirits. (We also eat sauerkraut for luck at New Year’s, but normal sauerkraut with kielbasa, not the soup.)

We never had a recipe for Sauerkraut Soup written down until my sister got married just a few years ago. My great Aunt Irene would make the soup from memory and we’d all gather at her house and eat in shifts. As a wedding present to my sister (the Home Ec teacher), I gathered family recipes from both sides and put together a cookbook for her. A year after my sister got married, Aunt Irene passed away. The tradition however, lives on. Now my mom borrows the cookbook and makes the soup, and we travel with the giant, hot, sloshing sauerkraut pot the 20 minute ride to Grandma’s where it’s served. (That makes it sound like a wild cartoon sleigh ride through woodsy Pennsylvania roads with a hot pot of tipsy soup, and really, it is.)

Jody Brown, author of Upside Down Kingdom and writer at FineLineBooks