My brother ran for office this week in the town where we grew up.
He was an opposition candidate in the other party's stronghold and, though run by neighbors, the race had its share of rancor. Last I heard, my brother won by a couple hundred votes.
I can't tell you how proud I am of him.
But it wasn't always thus. After all, one of us is a Republican, the other a Democrat. And to me - as to anyone outside a small town - township supervisor is the kind of seat that can seem insignificant. When he announced his intention to run, I thought "Why? Why would anyone ask for six years' worth of meetings on things like drainage?"
With disbelief, I watched him order lawn signs and give out T-shirts. There were teas and debates. His Sundays were spent going from door to door with his pediatrician wife, telling me later, "MB, you won't believe who I saw yesterday." I myself saw no point to any of it, except that his three kids got to spend extra time with their grandparents, who bought them the kind of plastic swords little boys covet and parents today tend to forbid.
Personally, I consider lawn signs to be litter, an annual marring of the magnificent Pennsylvania leaf spectacular. I am squeamish at the notion of shaking someone's hand in hopes of gaining favor. I seek at all costs to run the polling place gantlet without making eye contact. But this year I, like the rest of my family, was tapped to work near the polls on election day ("My brother so-and-so is running for township drainage meeting-goer. Would you consider voting for him?"). Which is worse, politicking or saying "no" to your brother?
So at the appointed hour on Tuesday, with a rare knot in my stomach, I took up my post in the pleasant parking lot of a church near the house where I grew up, a few towns over from where I now live. It is little different from polling places elsewhere, its issues and personalities perennial, though they always seem unique to the players.
In the musky fall air, under a dazzling canopy of leaves, I reacquainted myself with the electorate - with the woman who bought our old house, with neighbors who were the parents when I left, and who now are older, but vital grandparents. "Mary Beth, I haven't seen you since your father died." "Do you recognize me?" "How is your mother?"... "How is your mother?"... "How is your mother?"
The thing I liked about this crowd was that, when they emerged, they knew that they had chosen, that they had done the right thing - but not a soul would know their vote and they could remain friendly neighbors.
Early in his campaign, my brother decided to stay out of the political sludge. He did stay out, and I admire him for that. After all, every race and every church parking lot harbors its own potential justification for "going negative," and as in the bigtime, there are local politicians who think the only potential loser is the guy who gets the fewest votes. And so even this week, in the conviviality of the old neighborhood, I heard stage-whisper snipes and worse. Every child I know would know better.
My brother stopped by the church parking lot for a little while, handsome in a gray suit and fresh haircut. The prospect of his "working" a crowd made me wince, until that day.I learned Tuesday the extent to which - even outside public office - he has made painstaking and appreciated contributions to the quality of life in his town. I realized as he leaned over to speak to some older men - contemporaries of our father - that my brother has earned the respect not just of his peers but of his elders. In him was a glimpse of our dad - a man never in politics but always beloved for his interest in serving others.
Ha! My little brother - who'd always encroached on my space in the Rambler wagon - a public servant. Who'd a thunk it?
• Mary Beth McCauley is a freelance writer and mother of three.