Charles Ikins lives in Clinton, Ohio.
I’ve read with concern news articles about divisions among the organizers of Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington, including questions about why men haven’t been more involved. One Post online headline speculated that participation might be “ considered unmasculine ” by some. Regardless, the march is important to me for a very personal reason.
It’s this: My beloved wife, Debbie, who worked hard as a volunteer for the candidate of her choice in this election, suffered an accident late on Election Day and died early the next morning. Nov. 8 was the worst day of my life.
All day, worried because of how high tempers were running out there, I escorted her on her canvassing rounds. Were you to see me in my Ford pickup with military decals, my Marines cap — I am a retired Marine — and my beard, you might have assumed that we were canvassing for Donald Trump. But you’d have been wrong. As I crept conspicuously along behind in the pickup, Debbie strode up and down driveways for Hillary Clinton. This was the eighth day of her canvassing “mission” (as she viewed it). She was angry about the steady stream of attitudes denigrating women so prominently on display during the campaign. She intended to do something about it.
She related to me the comments she received. Some were unpleasant, but she was unfailingly civil in response. Sometimes there were small victories. One woman she talked to the previous weekend had prayed for guidance, and then Debbie appeared. Result: an early vote for Clinton. As I drove, we talked, laughed and made plans for the future.
I’ve read that some activists have instructed those attending the march to “check your privilege.” I understand (I think), but this misses the point. This march is in part an answer to the indignities women experience — especially as they have been reflected in the private and public comments of our new president.
During our drive through African American neighborhoods that last day, the sight of this tall, red-haired, green-eyed white woman marching confidently along the sidewalk, clipboard in hand, was clearly welcomed. A woman visiting from California thanked and encouraged her; a group chatting on the sidewalk engaged her in conversation; a fellow Marine, a Vietnam veteran, came out of his house to greet me. Everyone understood the historic importance of this election. No one mentioned “privilege.”
Heading home, we responded to an invitation to an election party. Debbie was excited at the prospect of the first woman being elected president, and she dressed accordingly. She wanted to represent all the women in her life, past and present. She wore her grandmother’s earrings. She carried a small purse belonging to a departed friend. She wore boots from a joint shopping expedition with our 13-year-old niece. Her top was a gift from her sister. And, with a gesture, she indicated that she was carrying her mother in her heart.
Arriving, we joined small groups in different rooms watching election reports. I was in the living room, Debbie in the kitchen. She left the kitchen, and then a loud crash was heard. We found her at the bottom of the basement steps, unconscious. No one knows how it happened. She was rushed to a nearby hospital and then to a trauma center, but there was nothing to be done; her head injury was too severe. She would never regain consciousness. As she lay in intensive care, I avoided any mention of the election results. I held her hand and watched the love of my life, my soul mate, slip away.
Debbie was extraordinary. Underlying her giving and considerate nature was a core of steel that became unyielding when she saw wrong being done. She was unafraid of attempts to intimidate her into silence. Our Ohio county went for Hillary Clinton — one of only eight in the state; I know that Debbie had a direct impact upon that. I also know that Debbie would have wanted to attend the march. She can’t, so I will attend for her. Unmasculine? Hardly.