Driving into the dark of night through the small town of Gays Mills, Wis., one neon light draws in students. Three bright red apples with a yellow heart inside the middle apple lights up the almost hidden Sharon’s Red Apple Inn.
Offering their Saturday night prime rib special, Elinor, 73, is the only customer at the inn to accompany her daughter, Carolyn, 50, who is busy working at the inn. So eager to please her new customers, Carolyn directed the eight strangers towards the dining room. She had no idea that she was about to tell these strangers about her life.
Both Elinor and Carolyn weren’t eager to talk to the students when the topic of the election was brought up. They continued to reply to answers by saying, “I don’t know,” and shaking their heads (and wouldn’t give their last names, although they allowed their pictures to be taken).
Getting nowhere with the conversation, the students felt a sense of awkwardness and the questions began to dwindle off. After ordering a cup of warm coffee, Elinor and Carolyn began to open up to the students.
Elinor didn’t vote in the 2016 election because she said she wasn’t excited about either candidate. She labels herself as a Republican who voted for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and liked Republican candidate for the state Legislature, Dan Kapanke.
“I can’t complain about either one,” said Elinor.
Although she considers herself a Republican, Elinor said she would have voted for Clinton, as did the majority of Crawford County. She said she regrets not voting because she didn’t think the race would be so close.
In a town that prides itself on its apples and has an Annual Apple Festival in September, it’s no surprise to find a glowing red apple light plugged into the wall inside the inn.
Elinor said that people from all over, especially Iowa, come to pick the apples. Unlike the many other isolated Trump towns, this Clinton town has a lot of visitors coming in and out. Having the diverse outside visitors could have some influence on the town’s people. It’s a Hillary Clinton hold out town in the middle of areas that flipped for Trump. It’s anomalous in other ways; for one it has a natural foods store in town and rumors of a commune nearby.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Gays Mills is a town of 530 people that are getting younger. The median age decreased from 47.5 to 37.3 from 2010 to 2014. This is also different from the county around it, where the county as a whole aged.
The town has continued to have a more female population throughout the years, with females making up 51.6% of the total population in 2014. This, too, is different from the county it’s in, as Crawford County as a whole tilts male.
Gays Mills is also losing racial diversity. Only two non-white citizens identified themselves as American Indian and Alaska Native in 2014 compared to six Black or African American and six American Indian and Alaska Native in 2010. Still, that’s a bit more than other towns nearby.
Students hoped to find more excitement when they heard about a myth that hippies reside near Gays Mills in a community perfectly named, Star Valley. Unfortunately, this story of a couch in the middle of the woods where these hippies would drink oils seemed to be false. The quiet town of Gays Mills made the students feel like they were Ren McCormack in Footloose. No cars were zooming by on the dimly lit streets, no music was playing at the apple inn and no one was outside, strolling through the town.
With her red apron on to match the red apples and her sandy blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail for work, Carolyn brings over a fresh apple pie. She made it in the back.
Unlike her mother, Carolyn has never voted. She said her reason for not voting is because she never has the time. She’s always working. Either at the inn or busy raising her three grandkids.
“My life is pretty much work, go home, take care of kids,” said Carolyn of her constant life cycle.
Carolyn is used to hard work. She grew up on a dairy farm and her family has lived in the area for a long time. She has been working at the inn, baking pies for seven years. Before that, she was working at another restaurant for 10 years.
Starting at seven dollars an hour and working her way up to nine dollars an hour, Carolyn makes $550 every two weeks.
Carolyn and her boyfriend were on FoodShare until her boyfriend got a job, making them ineligible.
“Everything that Obama did with Obamacare, Trump is going to take away,” said Carolyn. “Every time you try to better yourself, they [the government] takes it away.”
For Carolyn, losing her FoodShare eligibility made her question, why work when she can live off the government instead?
Few comments were mentioned about Clinton, but Carolyn did share that she didn’t appreciate Trump’s “locker room talk.”
“For me, Trump was a womanizer,” said Carolyn.
As the students were finishing up eating Carolyn’s apple pie, an older gentleman came inside the inn. The customer was willing to share a quick thought on his feelings about Trump’s win.
Unlike his fellow county members, he voted Obama in 2012 and switched to Trump for the 2016 election. He votes for Republicans because in his words, “Republicans get things done.”
“Might as well live with it and see what he does,” said the man before he disappeared into the other room for his meal
Having hungry customers sitting in the dining room to attend to, Carolyn got straight back to work to please her new guests.
-With reporting from Christina Luick