My great grandmother’s name was Violet. My father’s father was her only child. She homesteaded in the house I eventually grew up in. My earliest and only memories of her are in a nursing home. She was part of our weekly trip to town: groceries, banking, doctor’s appointments, great-grandma.
I am 4 years old in my first memory of her. We would walk into the large common area of the nursing home. I would find her immediately. We didn’t hug. She was little and frail. Even at 4, I had the sense that I would overwhelm her. Her hair was always pinned neatly in a white bun. (One day, it wasn’t. She let it fall in a glorious white curtain, all the way down to her bum. I went over to talk to her. My father pulled me away, and told me not to bother the stranger. No one had recognized her but me.) Her glasses sat halfway down her nose, always managing to catch just enough glare that her eyes were never completely visible. I don’t remember anything we talked about, but I know we talked. My little sister would say Hi, then run off to see which old person would be amused by her that day, and hope they would be amused enough to give her candy. (Someone always did. My sister was the cute one.) I stayed and talked. Being with her was the first time I got the sense that someone found me special.
She passed away when I was 5. We stayed home from a wedding that day. My dad thought it was the right thing to do. I really wanted to go to that wedding. My parents, and us 3 kids all sat in the front pew at the funeral. I remember staring at my silver winter boots, and wished I had pretty shoes on instead. I felt a little ripple of pleasure when they read my name in the eulogy. People knew who I was. My grandpa gave me a brooch that had belonged to great grandma. It had an amethyst in it – our mutual birthstone.
I took a writing course many years later. I wrote about her for one of the exercises. It was a piece about how she had come to Canada, was never happy there, but had stuck it out. About all the differences between us and our lives, but how essentially alike we were. I told my mom I had written about great grandma. My mom was quiet.
“You know, when I was pregnant with you, she told me we could have it ‘taken care of’.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Your grandpa was an only child for a reason. She thought childbirth was the worst thing that could ever happen to a woman. She never, ever stopped resenting your grandpa for doing that to her.”
“You’re telling me she wanted me aborted?”
“Well, not you per se…. she just wanted to help…. it doesn’t sound very good, does it?’
“No. It doesn’t.”
I tried to reconcile the fact that the first person to ever make me feel good about myself had tried to prevent me. She went from being my almost-hero, to being a real live mortal. She went from being Grandma, to being a person.