Birney Imes: Working the polls


Birney Imes



Bet you don''t know the memory span of a goldfish. How about what a baby gold fish is called?


Spend the day in a room with six other people and there''s no telling what you might learn.


Sometime before 7 o''clock Tuesday morning I was one of seven volunteers standing in a classroom cold as a meat locker swearing to whatever it is poll workers swear to do. We would pass the day in the drivers'' ed room at the northwest corner of Columbus High helping about 400 of our fellow Columbians elect a Ward 3 city councilman.



Along for the ride were Jim and Jean Bigelow, John Earhart, Robert Borden, Frances Yarbrough and my wife, Beth.


Frances, John and I were assigned to handle the L through Z''s. Jean, Beth and Robert, A through K''s. Jim was the bailiff.


Weeks earlier I had agreed to work the polls without giving it much thought. As the day drew near, I began to wonder what I''d been thinking -- 13 hours confined to a room would seem like an eternity. I was in for a pleasant surprise.


Like midmorning when 90-year-old Frances Lawrence showed up. "This isn''t going to change the price of eggs one bit," Frances said as she shook my hand. "You know this isn''t much sugar for a dime and too much for a nickel," she chirped after marking her ballot. And then sensing our amusement, she offered something about "slower than cream rising on buttermilk."


All of that naturally led to conversation about what to do if you''re finned by a catfish. Rub the slime from his belly on the wound. Actually, any fish-belly slime will do. According to the all-knowing Internet, the slime coating of a fish is its first line of defense against infection, and it can be yours too.


From fish slime we segued to a discussion about the differences between parched and roasted peanuts, which happened to be one of the few unanswered questions of the day.


Jim Bigelow said if it thunders in February, it will freeze in April.


On the subject of thunder, Robert Borden, who in the 10th grade took a mail order taxidermy course and has been stuffing animals since, said a snapping turtle won''t turn loose until he hears it.


Fred Bell, who is always ready with a joke, cast his vote and then announced that there are only two kinds of husbands: those who are henpecked and those who lie about it.


Perhaps the most useful tidbit of information tossed out was, "My Very Educated Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pickles," which, of course, is code for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, though maybe you should hold the pickles since Pluto has been declared a non-planet.


And then there is HOMES, an easy way to remember the Great Lakes.


Frances Yarbrough is one of those connect-the-dots kind of people who wants to know who your kinfolks are. To Georgia Whitten: "Are you kin to Mayo?" Georgia: "That''s my husband''s brother." To Larry K. Turman: "What''s the K stand for, Larry?" "Keith," Larry replied.


As for Frances, she met her husband, Ronnie, on a CB radio. She was Goldie Locks, he was Bassmaster.


After they had talked for two months, Ronnie asked her out.


Frances, then 19 or 20, told her on-air suitor he would have to meet her parents first.


"When he walked in, I said, ''That''s the man I''m going to marry.''"


"If anything happens to you," she''s told him since, "I''m not going to remarry. He might beat on me, and I''d have to kill him."


Frances, who seems to know just about everybody in Columbus, is also a font of knowledge about things like the memory span of a goldfish (two seconds) and what a baby goldfish is called (a twit).


Pastor James Gardner of Living Faith Tabernacle and wife Sandra showed up to cast their ballots around 4.


When asked how he was doing, Brother James responded, "If I was any better I''d be in heaven with Mama and Daddy."


Somebody -- Larry Turman maybe -- quoted Hank Williams Sr.: "Don''t take life too seriously, you''ll never get out of here alive."


Candidate Charlie Box came by a couple of times. Charlie was not taking Hank''s advice, at least not on this day. The popular YMCA director waged a serious campaign, and 68 percent of the voters showed their approval.


As it turned out, it was a well-spent, though demanding day. Though turnout was light, it was encouraging to see the steady stream of voters and the earnestness with which they executed their responsibility.


The city and county need poll workers. I encourage you to volunteer; you''ll get to know your community better and very likely you''ll have a good time. Make yourself a note right now. If you''re like me and have the memory span of a goldfish, you''re sure to forget otherwise.


To volunteer to work in city elections, call Registrar Brenda Williams at City Hall. The general election for municipal races will be June 2. Call the circuit clerk''s office at the courthouse to volunteer for county and national elections.


Voters, myself included, are often confused about where to vote in local races. Many vote one place for city elections and another for county and national contests.


According to City Election Commissioner Chair Leon Speck, city ward lines crisscross supervisor districts and thus the need for different precincts.


"It gets confusing," Speck acknowledged.


New registration cards indicate where to vote for both elections. If yours doesn''t, you should request a new card from the circuit clerk''s office, Speck said.


Write or phone Birney Imes at The Commercial Dispatch, 516 Main St., Columbus, MS 39701, 328-2424, or e-mail him at [email protected]



Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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