November 20, 2020 11:15:51 AM
You probably did not notice the quiet closing of the epic pandemic Census on October 15. Yep, we're done counting! Ten weeks in the field gave rise to interesting interactions with people and places. I signed up for a temporary learning experience; I was not disappointed!
The heat of early August gave way to balmy October afternoons as I drove creeping along, peering at mailbox numbers while simultaneously keeping up with the NRFU pin location on the Census-issued smart phone. A little tricky, at best. "Is this such-and-such address?" I ask. "I'm here with the Census. Thanks for your time in answering a few questions." "So, what is the Census?" asks a 32-year-old dad.
Sources cite 1790 as the first census conducted on United States soil. These brave workers rode horses to homes on designated Census day, March 1. Constitutional law then required the matter of recording the population. So, as the mail must be delivered in rain or shine, the Census must happen, pandemic or not. 2020census.gov informs that the Census is integral in dispensing with hundreds of billions of dollars of federal money. Demographics are essential in determining money spent on highway planning to educational grants; programs for senior housing to restoration of wildlife and school lunches to child abuse prevention. Furthermore, population count is paramount in reapportioning representative government. The Census count matters greatly.
One way to think about those annoying census-takers, also known as enumerators, is service workers. Our role is very similar to the power company people who you find, without warning, climbing the power pole on your property. Or, you can compare enumerators to the insurance photographer who slips in to takes pictures of your property while you are at work. Maybe the familiarity of these workers makes them seem different that the woman on your porch asking you how many folks lives at your address. She only comes around every ten years. Trespassing is requisite with census work. Gun-toting landowners leery of uninvited guests do not look kindly upon trespassers. Smack-dab in the middle of dove season and get-ready-for-deer-season, I found myself on a field road deep in hunting territory in Caledonia. As the road gave way to impassible footpath, I parked my little Toyota car and began the search for a phantom structure that could be a mobile home. Keeping an eye on my phone pin location, I walked a few hundred feet. Just as I decided "No residence here, just a deer stand", I heard an engine getting closer behind me. "Great! I can confirm no residence with whomever just showed up and knock this address out." I can truly say the posse on 4-wheeler and two pickups did not expect a middle-aged lady bearing a Census bag to be their guest. I can also truly say they were not as happy to see me as I was them! I am married to a gun-toting hunter myself and respect the idea of private property. Additionally, I grew up on a dairy farm and witnessed the fact that not all people hold that same respect; we caught all manner of strangers fishing our private pond. Enumerators trespass. That's the job.
Choruses of barking dogs were common. I carried a little seafoam green container of pepper spray with me for confidence. Late into the job, I deemed it necessary to use. I pressed the tab. Nothing happened. Fortunately, nothing happened with the large bulldog approaching me. I had failed to consider that the container was so old that the spray had long ago evaporated! I came up with what I considered an ingenious way to alert man's best friend of my presence. My procedure was to step out of the car whistling and vigorously shaking the ring on that empty container, scanning my new-every-stop environment. No dog bites. Yay!
A memorable place I visited was a massive cotton field on Highway 45 S. A lot happens in ten years, you know. Granny dies; the old homestead is bulldozed; the land changes hands. The area that once reared children now raises commodity. But Granny's house is still on the books. I need to go check. Knowing I would need daylight for the address, I head south. With not too much daylight to spare, and eye on my gas tank, I travel down another one of those field roads in my little
Toyota. Daylight fades. The distance is much farther than I had anticipated. No to worry, the road is good with only small potholes, no mud. I arrive at my destination, confirm no residence and turn around. The moon is just rising above
the tree line. Honestly, it was surreal. Endless cotton glowing in the moonlight. Enumerating at its best.
I lost count of how many friendly Lowndes county residents gave their blessing for my safety. "You be safe out there!" The wishes fell on thankful ears. Kind respondents handed me bottles of cold water, especially appreciated in August. I was additionally reminded to be thankful for our protectors in uniform. Twice a sheriff patrol car stopped to check on me. Driving slowly and retracing an area attracts the attention of local law enforcement. I felt a sort of comradery with them as we together took care of our community in different ways. Other residents helped me by adding to my private garden collection. Pulling into a shaded driveway, I immediately noticed luscious ferns. I had to exclaim over them. Having finished our business, the woman of the house graciously, in true Southern style, offered to dig some and share with me. I picked up the carefully bagged treasure at the end of the day. Sally, the ferns are doing great, sprouting new green growth. Thanks! In like fashion, Angela took some quick cuttings of her large rosemary and handed them to me as I left her house. She explained soaking the long sprigs in water before using them as kabobs on the grill. Thanks, Angela!
One wet Sunday evening I approached a home and heard sound from within before reaching the front porch. Stepping closer to the closed door, I heard a familiar sound: the hymn "I've Got a Mansion". I could not bring myself to knock and disrupt. I just stood and listened to the final verse. Clearly, the singers had an unseen abode in mind. I smiled as I surveyed the humble home I was visiting, tears in my eyes. They finished singing. I knocked. About five friends gather most Sunday evenings in a tiny living room, encouraging one another. We sang one verse of "Amazing Grace" together before I left. So sweet.
In ten years, it will be census time again. You will receive a notice to fill out your information. Please do! Only about 57% of Mississippians filled out forms initially. A low initial response puts a higher workload on traveling enumerators. Invariably, some of you will again have an enumerator trespassing with the best of intentions. She will be there to gather information that helps your community. She will be driving slowly, peering at mailbox numbers. Go ahead and get new, legible numbers on your mailbox in January 2030! She will so appreciate your thoughtfulness. Thanks in advance for getting off the tractor, turning off the lawn mower, pulling off your garden gloves, or getting up from lunch to assist your local Census worker.
Desiree’ Wilson is a resident of Lowndes County.
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