I remember my Aunt Peg. I hated her. She was loud and scary (to a child), demanding, uncompromising and she wore things that confused me. My family often talked behind her back, calling her all sorts of names that, even as a child, I realized were not nice. To her face, though, they were smiles and handshakes. For me, I avoided her as best as I could. She was loud and loud scared the shit out of me.

She remained in my bad books well into my adult life. I didn’t like her and justified my dislike with a number of excuses. She wasn’t ladylike, she wasn’t likeable, she wasn’t what I thought an aunt should be. Luckily, she lived in Vancouver and I lived in Edmonton. It wasn’t until my late 30s when I took my mother to see her sister who was in ICU in the hospital that I began to see Aunt Peg in another light.

Margaret was one of the first feminists around. Born in the early 1920s, she survived the Depression as a teenager alone. My paternal grandfather, her father, came back from WWI a changed man. He’d been at Passenchale, one of the bloodiest battles of WWI, and returned with a severe alcohol problem. After he hit his wife and caused brain damage, he let his children get adopted into various homes, put his wife in a hospital so she could be cared for (it later turned out she had schizophrenia) and left. He later died in post-WWII London where he was helping to rebuild after the war.

So it was that Margaret found herself alone as a teenager in the middle of the Depression at the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. Not a good place to be as it was hit hard by the economic hardships and droughts that plagued that era. Not many remember how it was then but there were so many that had little or nothing to eat. There was no Income Support or Unemployment Insurance and who wanted to adopt a teenager?

She took what few skills she had and did what she could to survive. Not all of it was nice or legal though she did make sure to tell me that she never became a prostitute. Margaret had to grow up fast and hard and she did which led to some interesting lessons that had a big impact on her personality.

To those who didn’t know her, she was loud and scary. This was the tough girl persona that she cultivated in order to make it in a man’s world. She had no options at that time so she had to be bigger, badder and louder than any man in the room. When times changed, she refused to give up her ways in order to be more pleasing to the world around her.

Margaret saw what she wanted and she worked for it until she got it. At a time when women and children were seen and not heard, this was beyond comprehension. People didn’t like her for it and she burned a lot of bridges but she survived and thrived in the end.

As for the things she wore, she learned early to dress more masculine. Many of the jobs she had were physically demanding and doing them in a skirt or dress simply wasn’t possible. As a result, she often wore what was comfortable or what was pleasing to her. Hell be damned to style and she gave the finger to fashion gurus of the moment. Looking back, I can see that much of what she wore was fashionable in a timeless sense. This was a woman who didn’t need to clean out her closet every year or two just to keep up with the times. She was the only woman I knew that could wear a Hawaiian shirt with class.

Margaret passed away some years ago and I knew far too little about her. It wasn’t until I broke ties with my family that I realized why they were so contemptuous of her. It wasn’t her loud, demanding nature that bothered them, it was her sense of freedom. She moved beyond the confines of “normal” society and danced to music only she could hear. She was never mean or rude but neither did she apologize or beg forgiveness.

After gaining my own freedom and seeing so many other women caged in conventions, I realize now that my Aunt Peg wore the face of feminism.

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