Situated between majestic Great Lakes and the marshes, Ortonville is much like any other small northern Michigan town. It was election day, looking forward to a visit to the ice cream shop, I accompanied my grandpa as he drove the fifteen-mile tripe into town. Country life offered little excitement, but that day an air of uneasiness replaced the usual contentment I felt while passing aged buildings, their drabness contrasted sharply by a few colorful, modern improvements.
Having spent the first of my teen years here, it was easy to detect any change in the town’s mood. I pondered the worried expression on the faces of the few people we saw on the streets. It seemed everyone was in a hurry. There were not the usual groups gathered to exchange local gossip.
Most noticeable was the absence of kids playing in the near by park.As my grandpa messed with the radio in our rusted out Chevy, we approached the traffic light, greeted-not by flashing red, yellow or green, but by uniformed police men armed with guns and appearing much out of place in such peaceful surroundings. As our vehicle slowed to a stop, I was shocked as I saw before me a huge machine gun, pointed in our direction. A young officer walked slowly to the truck and explained, what was going on, “Sorry Sir, but we’ll have to search your truck, just routine procedure.
” As the car was being searched, we learned the reason for such drastic precautionary measures. A man whom we knew and who was a candidate for the sheriff’s office, had been brutally murdered in the presence of his wife and daughter. It was rumored that the opposing party was responsible for the fatal shotgun blast, and other rumors stated that explosives would be brought into town to bomb the courthouse. As this unbelievable information was being given, I sat petrified, trying to convince myself that this was the same town where, only yesterday, I was shopping here with my friends, and talking about school.
Where dogs and children had ran freely on the sidewalks cops now stood with shotguns. Strangely, all this had changed overnight, and the preconceptions I had about my peaceful country and the glorious right to vote were beginning to sound as a sour note. Marching through the streets like ants, the cops with guns gave the appearance of towns I had seen in the movies. Towns which did not know freedom, but captivity.
“He’ll probably go home,” I mused to myself as my grandpa began changing the gears to move on. Surely no one could be so stupid as to go into that courthouse now! Thinking how wonderful it would be to get back to the safety of our farmhouse, I was somewhat taken aback when Grandpa parked near the entrance of the threatened building. The lines in his face seemed to be carved with determination, and with unfaltering stride he quickly mounted the steps to the building. A man had died at the hands of those who tried to control a county’s right to vote.
That “right” was now even more precious. Grandpa was going to vote.