My Turn: Catching Bernie – It’s no mystery why the ‘grayhairs’ are so fond of the man from Vermont

  • Sanders Jane Wingate

  • Bernie Sanders has struck a chord with older voters, including thisgroup of supporters at a campaign event in Laconia on Jan. 4. Jane Wingate

For the Monitor
Friday, January 08, 2016
It’s that time again, when we New Hampshirites squawk about all the presidential candidates and their ever-growing retinues flooding the state, and damn, it was only a few months ago that the summer tourists blew out, the leafpeepers trickled out of the state and the snowbirds flew south, leaving the rest of us to huddle around the wood stoves, bleary-eyed from watching all the campaign stuff on TV.

But really, we love all the media attention as we approach the Feb. 9 primary. You know how it goes: You see it in the news, and after a while you get it by osmosis. You’re schmoozing with your cronies over coffee and doughnuts in the local diner, when a candidate walks in, trailing a video camera and a couple of campaign people, and leans over the tops of booths to chat you up. And you can’t answer because you’re trying to choke down a honey-glazed donut hole while frantically brushing the icing chips off your shirtfront so you can – depending on your reaction to the candidate – either kiss his hand or tell him to bugger off so you can finish that box of holes.

Bernie Sanders is our guy. We’ve been watching him throughout his career in both the U.S. House and Senate, and have been impressed by the bills he has introduced, as well as the votes he has cast. So, as longtime Bernie fans, we were of course delighted to hear he was going to make a run for the presidency.

At the end of June, when the Sanders campaign said he was going to be at the Governor’s Inn in Rochester, we signed on for the event.

June 28 was a miserable day: foggy, intermittent downpours. But the weather didn’t discourage the fans; even before Bernie blew in, all the seats in the banquet hall were taken, people were standing around the perimeter, and outside, the overflow crowd was under a tent, protected from the rain.

The atmosphere in the hall was electric and the crowd diverse, hailing from area towns big and small. Families with young kids, old people talking to young – a gathering of people from all walks of life.

We got there early, scoring front-row seats. Bernie arrived, and got right to it, delivering his usual stump speech, with few variations. He took questions from the crowd, and then he was swamped with people wanting to take selfies of themselves and him (or in my case, a photo of Bernie and my husband). He obliged, then said he had to go; he was late for his next date.

Another day with Bernie

Since we were on his mailing list, we could track Bernie’s events across the state, and when we heard of his Jan. 4 gig at the Weirs Community Center in Laconia, we decided to go.

In contrast to the gig at the Governor’s Inn at the end of June, this one was billed more specifically for seniors, so the hall was mostly filled with us grizzled folk, pulled in from area lakeside towns and from other towns such as Barnstead, New Durham, Alton, Strafford and, in our case, Farmington.

But there were also young people there: babes in arms, volunteers of all ages, from the grayhairs down to a slew of high-energy college kids – a true rainbow coalition of well-informed Bernie fans – the whole enthusiastic mix making for a slightly chaotic time, while people grabbed – for free or for a donation – stickers, yard signs, T-shirts and other Bernie paraphernalia.

Bernie breezed in, delivered his spiel, starting off with the problems that concern the elderly, for whom he will fight if/when he’s elected. When he was decrying one of the many things he considers “outrageous” in our society today, a baby squealed and fussed, and without missing a beat, his sense of humor in top form, Bernie said, “See? Even that beautiful baby agrees with me.”

When a mother with four kids in tow told Bernie that she is caring not only for them but also for an aging mother with Alzheimer’s, and her husband makes a weekly trip to help take care of his ailing mother, and asked what could be done by way of helping families like hers, Bernie said it was complicated, did his best to give her a brief answer, and then asked the crowd if they all would prefer to be kept at home rather than to be put in The Home.

“Yes!!!” shouted the Old Ones.

After answering a few more questions, autographing a few things and allowing a few selfies, Sanders said he was running late, and vanished.

After, four of us grayhairs and a young girl, the student-granddaughter of one of the four, were crammed in the two-stall ladies’ restroom, still talking (while we went about our business) about Bernie. The student said every classmate she knew at her California college was for Bernie. I told her I hoped all those Bernie fans are registered, but I didn’t hear her answer, because just then her grandmother came out of the stall, washed and dried her hands, and said, “Oh! I don’t have my purse!”

We all looked around: “Where did you last see it?” Then she remembered, looked in the stall, and said, “Oh, I left it in there.”

Lots of laughs over “senior moments.” The grandmother cracked, “At least with Bernie, if we lose our marbles, and the kids move to the Gobi Desert, we stand a better chance of not being put in The Home.”

(Jane Wingate lives in Strafford County. Her website is janewingate.com.)