Melisa December 1976 cropped

My Earliest Political Memory Was That Time I Got In Trouble.

Just look at that eight year old up there. She looks like she means business, doesn’t she? She was me. Well, she is me.

I thought it would be fun to tell the (very) short and sweet story of the very first memory I have that involves politics.

Back in 1976 when I was obviously trying to be some kind of supermodel, there was more talk than usual about America and politics. Jimmy Carter and incumbent Gerald Ford were running their presidential race, and we were also celebrating the Bicentennial—the 200th anniversary of the First Continental Congress, which led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. A year-long wave of patriotism hit hard and everything that could be rebranded in red, white, and blue was, everywhere.

Total side note or, as Jim says, “Now we’re going off into the ditch…”: My school’s annual play that year was even America-themed. It was called “A New Flag for a New Country” and I was lucky enough to score two roles: Narrator and Betsy Ross. My mom knitted an afghan-sized thirteen-star American flag, the centerpiece for the play. She also made my Betsy Ross costume and I wore it countless times throughout that bicentennial year. Mom even packed it for our summer trip during the week of July 4 to visit relatives in Los Angeles. I wore it at their pool (AT THEIR POOL!!) and this is the one picture I can find:

Lisa Melisa Julie July 1976 cropped

What was I supposed to be telling you about, now? Oh yes. Back on track. In addition to being highly involved at school as a room mom and costumer/prop-maker as needed, she was active in our community. She was an Election Judge back then and, on November 2, 1976, she was working at the polls in my elementary school.

Back in the 70s, kids didn’t get the day off while total strangers roamed the halls of the schools; we were busy doing election-themed readings and projects in the classroom.

In my third grade class, our teacher turned us loose with paper and crayons, telling us to make a “button” to wear that promoted our favorite candidate. I’m fairly sure that my classroom full of eight-year-olds wasn’t schooled on the issues but what I did know for sure was that I didn’t like peanuts, and I didn’t see why someone should be dismissed from their job for no reason. I made my Gerald Ford button, rolled up a piece of tape, and stuck it on my outfit.

During lunch my teacher gave permission for me to walk down the hall and say hi to my mom, and as I excitedly entered the big room where people were voting, Mom greeted me with a smile…until I got closer and she saw my Ford flair. “You can’t wear that in here,” she whispered.

Turns out, I was electioneering.

I waved goodbye and quickly scooted back to my classroom, a little amused that my little button had caused such a controversy.

I remember being very disappointed with Jimmy Carter became President of the United States, in a very simplistic, unaware, eight-year-old sort of way. I think kids today are very much more informed and authentically involved than most kids in my generation. Kids today not only know a lot of what’s going on due to the 24-hour news cycle and social media, but they’re more likely to be moved to action. Whenever I read the latest stories about kids to are trying to do their part to change the world, I feel like we’re going to be okay.

What’s your first political memory?


  • Momo

    Mine was the Iran hostage crisis. I remember sitting in front of the console television being very captivated by the evening news.

    P.S. I LOVE that you wore that costume to the pool!

  • Katie Thomas

    I remember in the first grade we had an election. The results were 24-1 in favor of Bush. Guess who was the only kid to vote for Dukakis? That’s when I realized I was different than everyone in my hometown.