Everyone knows the old saying, the one designed to keep peace among restless kinfolk: Never discuss religion or politics.
Sandy Graves knows it, too, and spurns it at every turn.
“If it weren’t for religion and politics,” she says breezily, “I wouldn’t have anything to talk about.”
This, as anyone who knows the first lady of Land O’ Lakes, is not entirely true. She can do hours on the history of her community, or what goes into the construction of a small amphitheater.
Even so, politics and religion, and especially how they intertwine, are her preferred milieu. Nonetheless, in anticipation of the completion of a historically wild ride, Graves is willing to take a conditional vow of silence.
It was either that, or, to affix a fitting ending to her efforts on behalf of a certain billionaire reality TV star and developer, pay close to $700 a night for a hotel room anywhere near a Washington D.C. Metro stop. “With a four-night minimum,” Graves says. Yikes.
Yes, Sandy Graves, accompanied by amiable husband Steve, is going to the (even now, mind-boggling) inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States. In exchange for free lodgings with her niece, a pleasant progressive who lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and supported Hillary Clinton, she says, “I am willing to bite my tongue.”
That will be her niece’s loss, because as pleased as she is about the election’s outcome, Graves nonetheless emerged from the campaign with utterly delightful tales that have next to nothing with partisan politics.
We will get to the Blue Ridge Mountains snake woman in a moment.
First, meet Liam, a 7-year-old Wesley Chapel lad who greeted Graves, who’d arrived in response to a request for campaign signs, as if mounted on springs.
Graves rapped, the door swung open, and there was Liam, eyes wide and bright, and bouncing — boing-boing-boing — as he summoned his grandmother.
“Grammie! It’s a Trump supporter! Grammie!”
Weeks later, after Election Day, Sandy and Liam happened across each other, and the boy asked why she hadn’t responded to his email.
“You sent me an email?” she answered. “I don’t think I got it.”
Shrugging, but without missing beat, he said, “Hillary must have deleted it.”
Speaking of whom, Graves noted two errors — one of commission, the other of omission — she considers critical to Clinton’s defeat.
Evidence of the first adorns the back windshield of her Kia SUV, a sticker that proclaims the driver to be an “Adorable Deplorable,” in response to Clinton condemning Trump backers as society’s dregs.
Graves rejected Clinton’s characterization as “worse than anything Mitt Romney said about the ‘47 percent’” — the 2012 GOP nominee’s assessment of the recipient class that had no incentive to vote for him.
Also like the 47-percenters, the so-called Deplorables rallied around their new-found celebrity. “We’re deplorable?” Graves says. “Fine. We’ll take it.”
The omission: According to reports in Pasco, and pooled information from around Florida, Clinton operatives vanished between the March primary and the end of the Democratic National Convention in late July.
Meanwhile, GOP activists worked their precincts like bees, linked to their hives by sharply designed mobile apps. This, Graves noted, was in stark contrast to Clinton campaigners who, when they finally did arrive, lugged old-fashioned paper logbooks.
This, too, boosted Republican hopes. “At last,” Graves said, “our technology is ahead of theirs.” In her gratitude, she couldn’t help wondering how the Clinton campaign could have mislaid so much of what President Obama had proven correct about getting out the vote. It was almost as though Republicans and Democrats had switched playbooks.
All of that was history, however, on Election Day when, in a quirk of scheduling, the Graves found themselves in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains for Steve’s annual camp retreat with college buddies.
“If we’re here,” Sandy told him, “we’re working.”
Assigned a precinct in deep blue Cedar Mountain, between Brevard and the South Carolina state line, they met secretive ticket-splitters — shy Trump voters who planned otherwise to tick Democrat boxes — a couple their age who were first-time voters “because they said they’d never felt needed before, and the aforementioned snake woman.
She rolled up in “a nice Cadillac,” Graves recalls, and asked workers to keep an eye on it. She needed to keep the motor running and the heater on, because it was cold, and she’d brought her baby python curled up in its carrier.
“He goes everywhere with me,” she explained. “He sleeps in bed with me. Of course, my husband doesn’t like it. But, that’s the way it goes.”
“Then,” Graves says, “we asked her if she wanted a Republican sample ballot, and she gave us a look like we were nuts.”
Politics and religion. And snakes. And 7-year-old boys with zingers. That was Campaign 2016 in a nutshell.
The lesson here? Be careful what you decide people shouldn’t talk about.
Revised January 11, 2017