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Still relevant after 35 years

Ms. magazine is 35 this year and is celebrating in the current issue. There's a lot of great stuff in here, but the most moving piece is an excerpt from Dr. Susan Wicklund's memoir. With permission, I'm excerpting the excerpt. I'm giving you a juicy part of the story, but I implore you, please go out and buy the current issue of Ms. to read the entire piece. This piece did not move me just because it is about abortion, reproductive justice, or feminist.

It moved me because it is a simple story of a granddaughter not wanting to disappoint her beloved Grandma. I think we all have moments like that, knowing we have to be honest, yet thinking it would break someone's heart. Fair warning...when you do pick up a copy, grab a tissue. When you're done with your copy, share it. Then buy someone a membership to Ms. for the holiday season. While you're there, do some other shopping for the men and women in your life.
I peeled myself out of the car, shed my coat and left it on the seat. It was unusually warm for February in Wisconsin. The hardwood forest was all bare sticks and hard lines. I knew it would soon be time to tap the maple trees and cook the wonderful syrup we all loved on Grandma’s Swedish pancakes.

I turned and deliberately moved up the steps to the trailer house. I was terrified of what Grandma would say, but there was no avoiding this moment. The big door was already open by the time I got to
the top step. Out peeked her welcoming smile. She was giggling.

“Hi, Grandma!”

“Oh my goodness! What a surprise! What a sweet, sweet surprise! Did I know you were coming today?”

I hugged her in the doorway, held her tight, stepped inside.

“Did you somehow know I was making ginger snaps?” she teased as she set a plate full on the kitchen table. She poured me a glass of milk and I sat down on the wooden chair next to hers. I tried to bury myself in the smell of her place, a mixture of ginger cookies, Estée Lauder perfume (the one in the blue, hourglass bottle always on her dresser), and home permanents. She and Mom always gave each other perms, trying to get just the right curl in their hair. The smell never left the place.

I think she sensed that I had come to talk about something important. I started talking a few times about other, inconsequential things, then, finally, I plunged in.

“Grandma, you know I work as a doctor.”

“Of course. And we are all so proud of you.”

“Yes, but I don’t think you know the whole story. I’m a doctor who works mostly for women, helping women with pregnancy problems.”

Flower Grandma hesitated just a second, pushed back her chair, stood and held out her hand for me to follow. She went to sit in her rocker, the same one sitting in my living room today. The rocker I have sat in so many hours since. The rocker I sit in right now, writing this down and trembling as I do.

She seemed distant. I moved to the old leather hassock beside her. She took my hand and placed it on top of one of hers, then covered it with her other one. Our hands made a stack on the arm of the rocker—old skin, young skin. We sat in silence a minute. She turned to look directly at me. Her eyes, framed by gentle wrinkles, were full of some deep trouble.

After a moment, she stared straight ahead and started to speak. Slowly. Deliberately. In a very quiet voice. At the same time she began stroking my hand. It was as if the
gentle stroking was pushing her to talk.

“When I was 16 years old my best friend got pregnant,”she said. A chill went through me.

Excerpted from This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor, by Susan Wicklund and Alan Kesselheim, to be published in January by Public Affairs; © 2008 by the authors.


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