For no reason I can identify my father's affair with the mother of a grammar school classmate popped into my head today. More than sixty years ago now, the memory bought a smile to my face and a silent chuckle to my mind.
My dad was a decent and honorable man of high character and scrupulous honesty who loved my mom and was committed to her, forever faithful. Yet there it was, for all to see and completely in the open. There was no attempt to hide what was going on. Rather, many were invited to watch.
It was only my mom who was bothered by it all. Unreasonably so I, an eleven- or twelve-year-old at the time, thought. What was the big deal? Our family remained intact, things at home seemed as normal as ever. I was looking forward to the public exhibition of Ben and Mimi (or was it Mim?).
It was actually my mom who had brought them together.
My mom was an energetic woman who liked to keep busy and who enjoyed involvement in various community activities. When the parent organization for Midland Street School, my grammar school, planned to present a play -- a sort of dinner theater -- as a fund raising effort, she enthusiastically meant to participate. I think the parents even had recruited somebody with some experience as a stage director.
One evening my folks left after dinner to attend the audition for the production. My mom was excited and confident, my dad reluctant. He was an affable and self-assured fellow and I think just had no particular interest in performing, yet as a dutiful husband went along to support his wife who perhaps imagined herself in a starring role.
A couple of hours later they returned home, my dad quiet, my mom agitated.
"They picked your father for the leading man role! He didn't even want to go and now he's going to be the star."
"How about you, Mom?" "Ehh! I got a small part. I think I have one line. Big deal. Dad has a whole bunch of lines he's going to have to learn. He's got the leading role!"
My poor mom. Even as a child I could see she was disappointed. She had left home with hopes, expectations really, that had not been fulfilled. On the other hand, she was proud of her husband even if a bit envious.
Her pride in my dad, though, while it might have mitigated her disappointment in not getting a larger role for herself was no match for her distress over the fact that my dad, now a star actor, would kiss the leading lady, my classmate's mom. It was only right, according to my mom, that if a kiss were involved that she, my mom, ought to be the recipient. But instead my dad, her husband, up to that point her unquestionably faithful husband, would be kissing somebody else. And in public!
I think that my classmate's mom was considered attractive. At least that was the clear impression I received from my mom's lamentations. And the idea of my dad kissing Mimi set my mom to expressions of emotion I could not understand.
Of course rehearsals were necessary and once or twice a week my folks went off after dinner, my dad increasingly enthusiastic, my mom dolefully following.
"Did you have to kiss her?" I asked after they returned home and each time was told that there would be no kissing until the actual performance. My dad made little of the kiss to come, my mom still clearly suffering angst over the fact her husband would be kissing another woman.
Meanwhile my dad practiced his lines at home. My mom helped him and encouraged him and complimented him on his talent. She told him he seemed to be a natural. I would sometimes watch, sort of awestruck by my dad, the star. I clearly remember one line which it seemed he practiced over and over, spoken in a dramatic, stentorian, and carefully articulated manner. "Beneath this flannel shirt there beats an honest heart."
Finally. It was the evening of the play. Though it was intended only for parents I had been able to whine, nag, plead, and otherwise wear down my folks so that I could at least watch the play if not participate in the dinner. A couple of other classmates had similarly used their childhood talents to get permission to watch.
I have no recollection at all of the play except for the moment upon which my mom's remonstrations had focused. The kiss.
My dad was on the left, the leading lady on the right. They each bent forward slightly at the waist, not touching at all. Then, the slightest peck. Something like a kiss I might give to my grandmother. Completely without drama or passion. Fleeting. Over.
So ended my dad's affair.
Many years later I recalled to my folks the entire episode, repeating my dad's line regarding his honest heart in a similarly dramatic fashion and describing my mom's torment regarding the kiss. My dad had the vaguest of recollections of the time decades earlier, my mom claimed she had no memory of it at all.
Except she did. The look in her eye, the dismissive denial that was betrayed by her tone of voice, the immediate attempt to change the subject gave her away. It was clear to me she did indeed. I asked again.
"Oh, maybe I remember it a little bit."
I smiled then as I smile now at the memory, recalling my dad's statement years ago in a different context.
"They never forget!"
Originally appeared in Good Old Days Magazine.