I am going to the doctor to see about an abortion,” she said.
So I said, “I don’t care what other people do. I don’t want any of my nephews and nieces ending up in a garbage pail in a clinic. If you want, you can move in with me, and I will take care of everything until the baby is born.”
And it seemed to me then, as it does now, that regardless of my beliefs, I had to make the offer. Simply protesting abortion does not make one pro-life. On the other hand, if abortion is the only option one offers, then how can one be pro-choice?
So my sister agreed to come live with me, and I sent her a bus ticket and she came to stay in my second-floor flat in a simple early 20th century workingman’s house, with only its turret to keep it from being completely nondescript, on a nondescript two-block street in Amsterdam. And we managed to survive on my minimum-wage-plus-25-cents-an-hour job, until my wife moved in after we got married in 1979 and we had two minimum-wage-plus-25-cents-an-hour jobs for a while.
Long hot summer
If I remember 1979 correctly, it was a hot summer. We had no air conditioning. We didn’t have a car to get away from the heat. The houses were so close that when someone sneezed in our house, someone in the house next door said, “God bless you.” And it was on one of those very hot August days in 1979, while I was at work, that my niece was born. I did not get to see her. My sister saw her once, and then the couple who were to adopt her took custody of her.
Thirty-one years later, in October of 2010, my wife and I went on the longest trip we had gone on since we were married, to my sister’s funeral in North Carolina, where she had succumbed to the side effects of obesity. It was only during the last few years of her life that she found happiness, when she married.
The husband, a skinny little black guy, and my sister, a big fat white woman, loved each other very much until she died at age 50 weighing 10 times her age. There was one other thing that made her happy during the last few years of her life — her daughter, whom she had reconnected with some years before.
I met my niece for the first time at my sister’s funeral. She was already a mother herself. She and her adoptive mother sang at the memorial service and I was very moved by it. And I was wondering if I should say something during the time when family and friends are permitted to speak, and I was wondering what should I say if I did. I don’t like to speak in public, and I despise the lies that are often written in obituaries and told at funeral services.
My sister’s life was tough, tough on her and sometimes tough on those who helped her. She and her husband were both disabled and lived on SSI [Supplemental Security Income]. But when I saw my niece, I saw my sister’s legacy. So I got up and said, “I am thankful that our sister gave us the gift of our niece. She could have done otherwise but didn’t,” and I thanked my niece’s adoptive mother for giving her the opportunities that my sister could not have given her. After the service, in the church fellowship hall, my niece and her mother hugged me and both said, “I have been waiting a long time to do that.”
And it had been a long time — more than three decades since I called home to Vermont to see how my parents were doing. But they were not home. And the phone rang just as my sister was going out the door of my parent’s house, and she stopped to answer it, and that phone call changed her life and my life and my niece’s life and the lives of her husband and children and grandchildren yet to be born and the lives of her adoptive parents.
I have made a number of wrong decisions in my life. I have made other decisions that I still question whether they were right or wrong.
But now that it has been 40 years this month since the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, and 34 years since I decided to have my sister come live with me, I have never experienced a single doubt or regret about the decision I made.
And whenever I see photos of my niece and her beautiful family on facebook, I think here is the real face of abortion, not some picture of a fetus. And I think how ironic it is that in the name of women’s rights, this woman almost never had a chance at life.
And I tremble at how close what is almost wasn’t.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.