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My Grandmother's Abortion

My Grandmother's Abortion

Getting an abortion changed my grandmother's life. And by extension, my Dad's. And mine.

My grandmother was born in Peterborough, Ontario, in the 1930's. Both of her parents were Slovak immigrants to Canada. She met her first husband, my biological grandfather, in her early twenties.

I don't know my biological grandfather's first name. I have his last name, but I don't know his first (So will be calling him Mr. Aitken). Because according to my Dad, and grandmother, who I consider authorities on the dude - he doesn't deserve to be known by name. I know he sold vacuums door to door for a while, and used an awful lot of bad credit.

They had three children together; two boys and a girl. And Mr. Aitken was a gambler, partier, and alcoholic. The story is way too familiar to all of us, so I don't think I need to colour in the lines too much. Repo'd possessions, kids working too young, and physical and emotional abuse. And relevant to this story, she got pregnant again in the 60's. And she knew she couldn't make ends meet literally or figuratively with an other mouth to feed.

In order to obtain an abortion, she made a deal with Mr. Aitken. If he would sign the medical release for her to get it, she would fund him opening a store. But he would move away, and divorce her.

She got the abortion. And the divorce. It was a turning point for her, and for the entire family.

Her next step was to establish financial security. She worked days to go to night school and became a home economics teacher. When my Dad was in the tenth grade, a fellow teacher told her that if he didn’t channel his energy positively; he would end up “a criminal.” (It was the 70’s). So she had him write exams and found him a scholarship for a very prestigious boarding school, which never would have happened around Mr. Aitken. He worked in nickel mines for summers to pay for his uniforms and books. Having seen my Grandma denounce it, he completely rejected Mr. Aitken's behaviour, and moved forward decidedly differently. He became an engineer, and eventually, a General in the Canadian Armed Forces. 

When she made a Santa suit for a school play, her costumes took off. So she boldly became a business owner. She died (this is relevant because this was her goal) a millionaire a couple of years after selling her penthouse condo. She paid for her own care until the advent of her death; which was incredibly important to her. Not a burden. Never a burden.

Her business was a costume shop. It was downtown Peterborough, called Costume King. She was affectionately known as the "dragon lady," because she took zero bullshit from anyone. She would tell me to wash my face with jewelry every New Years to wish for wealth and drove around in a Porsche.

She was who she was. She didn't move in with her long-time partner until she needed extra help. Instead, she delighted in her penthouse condo and Moulin Rouge themed bedroom. "Dark red is sexy," I remember her saying with a dreamy grin.

As soon as I could, I would take the bus or train and visit her alone. She coached me on enjoying life. She loved laughing, and would let tears stream down her face while she roared. While my nuclear family was obsessed with weight, she would buy me bulk chocolate for visits. She'd encourage me to explore and raise her eyebrows when she saw me not push back in moments where I might have.

Her life after Mr. Aitken was full of love. My Dad succeeded in the way he wanted to, and she was proud of him. I have the supreme luxury of having the opportunity to found and run a business like Bonjibon. Which I might not have, if she hadn't gotten that abortion.

What about romance, you may ask? She had many good relationships after her first bad one. She remarried, had a long-time partner, and many shorter dalliances. In fact, one of the last things she said to my Dad while she was in care was "Larry, you can have sex until you die," with a twinkle in her eye.

When she passed away last year, she had lived with dementia for some time. But I hear that she was as playful as ever, and maybe even a bit flirtier. I miss her deeply and try carry on her bold legacy. I will certainly not forget the choices she made between a rock and a hard place that made space for me to breathe. Call me the Dragonlady, lite.

 

Have you read? Visiting My(former)self

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