It’s strange that I am unclear when I actually learned about this secret. I know it was after my parents’ 25th anniversary party, which I orchestrated nearly fifty years ago. It was a wonderful surprise gathering at the Surf in Magnolia, with a full dinner and a live band for dancing. I had invited my parents’ friends and relatives, plus associates and staff from the Boston business my dad had sold eight years earlier. I was pleased with myself for tracking down all the people I remembered so well, except for my father’s former secretary, Hazel.
Some time after the party, I heard the secret twice, first from one of my dad’s business pal, Julian, then from my mother. My dad had had an affair with Hazel; that’s why no one would give me her contact information when I asked for it.
Here’s what I remember about Hazel. Interestingly, I have this strong memory of my father, who I adored, telling me that I had beautiful eyes and that they were hazel, not blue. At the time, I made no association with Hazel, his secretary, who I really liked. Once in a while, he would take me into his office for the day and she would sometimes join us for lunch. It always felt special. I remember one day having lunch where my spectacular fruit salad was served in a cocktail glass on a doily on a large plate.
I also remember spending the night once at Hazel’s, too young to think anything of it, and returning home the next day to rave to my mother about how much fun it was and that Hazel used placemats, which I thought was quite elegant. Now, remembering this, I can only imagine how hurtful that was to my mother.
I don’t remember the circumstances under which my mom told me about Dad’s affair, but here’s what I do remember. My dad prided himself on his honesty, so one day, he told my mother that he was in love with someone else and that he was willing to get a divorce. And that she – Hazel – would take the children, the three of us under ten years old. My mother told me that there was no way she would let us go, though evidently she would have had no qualms about losing my dad. In my memory, my mother was much more horrified that Dad would take us away from her than that he was in love with another woman.
I don’t remember other details that she might have provided, but she told me Dad decided to end the affair, but was unable to do it without ending his business. So, when I was in high school, he sold his successful business, Acorn Films, and completely changed his profession, ultimately becoming a city assessor, first in Beverly, then in Burlington.
Having an affair is not an unusual story. I suspect that what may be unusual is ending an affair because the wife wouldn’t give up her children and, additionally, the husband wouldn’t leave them behind.
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