At 75, after a life of farming and such back-breaking hard work that it seems impossible to have survived so long, Thomas McCullough just did something he had never done before.
“I voted,” McCullough said. “For president. I voted for Obama.”
McCullough, like his father during World War II and brother during Korea before him, served a stretch in the Army. He worked since he was old enough to carry a cotton sack and did not get much of a chance at schooling. Work and helping on the farm took priority.
But workers at Agape Post Acute Care and Skilled Nursing in Rock Hill the last few weeks made sure all their clients knew that disability, age, rehabilitation after a medical problem, did not mean that those persons could not vote.
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Even if the person had never voted before.
“After all these years, it feels great, too, to vote,” McCullough said.
McCullough is not alone at Agape. Led by Director of Social Work Russ Morrison and life enrichment staffers Nyasia Hundley and Sammy Simpson, staffers helped anyone who needed to get registered earlier this year, and made arrangements for absentee ballots.
Anyone in South Carolina who is 65 or older, or disabled, can vote absentee. There are other conditions that allow for absentee voting - work obligations, students out of town, among other reasons - but at Agape, age and disability are the big reasons why absentee ballots are the route for so many.
Peggy Payne, 57, a longtime client of the York County Board of Disabilities and Special Needs who is a resident at Agape, voted for the first time, too. This lady who worked at Horizon Industries for the disabled for so long, in the bakery and the kitchen and more, now has another accomplishment to add to her list of hurdles she has cleared in her life.
“I voted,” said Payne. “Me.”
The staff wanted to make sure that all the residents knew their vote mattered, said Morrison.
“We just wanted to make sure that each of them knew that if they were here, that each still had the right to vote and that we would help them exercise that right,” Morrison said. “It is just really awesome.”
Many of the voters at Agape are longtime voters who, for health reasons, are at the rehabilitation center.
Margie Marcum, 70, started working at7 picking onions in an Indiana field. She worked in hot kitchens and stores and bakeries after a childhood of farm labor, also voted absentee.
The Grapes of Wrath is not a book for Margie Marcum: It is her life story.
“I’m proud to vote,” said Marcum, a widow. “I lived a simple life. It was hard work. I raised a family the best I could. I think I earned that vote.”
Absolutely, Margie Marcum, in a wheelchair, earned that vote. No vote in America matters more.
Janie Nash also voted absentee. At 84, Nash has voted many times.
“I voted as long as I was able to,” Nash said. “My husband, too.”
She started working in the cotton fields of Fort Mill, then worked in a school cafeteria while raising six daughters with her husband. She worked almost a dozen years in the weaving room at a Fort Mill textile plant and later in life worked more than 10 years as a nursing assistant, too. She retired well into her 70s. The hard work of Elliott and Janie Nash put five daughters through college.
“It is important to vote as an American,” Nash said. “These young people should vote.”
The vote, Nash said, is needed for anyone to help other people.
“When I was a child the preacher would tell us that if we worked hard that some of us would be teachers, or maybe preachers, maybe even grow up to be president some day,” Nash said. “I never thought I would see a person of my race be a president, but it did happen. Mr. Obama has done it. I am proud of him.”
These four voters - two of whom had never voted before - each said their vote was cast for President Obama.
But who the vote was cast for - staff said some clients in the rehab center voted for Romney - seems not nearly as important as the hard lives of work that each of these persons have lived through. The candidates seem not nearly as heroic as these hard and tender voters who will choose who wins.
The America that candidates talk about was built by these people. By their backs and bent legs, by their raising of children and paying taxes and going to churches.– and by their votes.
Each of these four people was asked what advice might be given to a younger person who is too uninterested, too lazy, whatever the excuse is, to vote.
Thomas McCullough, said plainly: “It feels great to vote. I showed it’s never too late.”
Peggy Payne, in a wheelchair, agreed that it is a great feeling to vote for the first time.
Marcum and Nash, the veteran voters, called voting, “Being American.”
These, surely, are four great Americans whose votes matter.
Janie Nash, age 84, who is as much American royalty as any woman alive, put it this way: “It takes votes, and voters, to help people. I want to vote in my country. Every vote counts. Mine counts, same as anybody’s. No more, no less. When we vote we are all Americans.”