Confessions From An AffairbyLonelyMom©
Hello there. Come right on in. I hope you don't mind my nightgown and me talking to you here from my bed. No! Don't you go getting the wrong idea! My name is Mary Margaret Hawthorne and I'm eighty-six years old. This bed that you see me here in is my hospital bed. You see, I'm dying.
No, don't be sad for me. I've lived a long life and all of these people you see crowded around the room are my family and closest friends. The doctors say that I slipped into a coma late last night and there's very little that they can do.
It's funny, but I can see and hear everything that is going on all around me. Unfortunately for me, this old withered body can't seem to move one little bit. All day I've watched as one family member after another has filed in to pay a little visit. Some of them have talked to me and that's been really nice. Most, however, shuffle in and barely make an attempt to even look in my direction. I can't blame them, I suppose. Nobody wants to look at what is in store for each and every one of us one day.
A little earlier, Father Mullen from St. Joseph's Church was here; you might even have passed him in the hall. I'm sure Father Mullen is a good man, but he just doesn't seem as imposing as some of the priests that I remember from my childhood. That's neither here nor there, though. The reason I mentioned him was because he said a few words to everyone while he was here. He talked about how sorry he was to see me in such shape. He also said that I was one lucky woman to be surrounded by so many loved ones at a time like this.
I'm not sure that I would pick Father Mullen to be the one Man of the Cloth that I would want fighting the devil himself for my immortal soul, but in this one respect, he couldn't have been more right. I'll be a bit honest with you; I'm more than a little nervous about what's going to happen once this old body gives up the fight and I'm no more. It gives me courage to have so many who have loved me standing by my side.
There was one other thing that the Good Father said while he was here and that's what I wanted to talk to you about. You see, he talked about what a good woman I've been; always willing to offer a helping hand when needed and how I had never done anything to be ashamed about in life. A lovely sentiment, to be sure. But, one that unfortunately isn't true. You see, many years ago I had a moment of weakness that has haunted me ever since.
I'll come right out and tell you -- I had an affair. Please excuse me if I am blushing. Even though it's been over sixty years since it happened, I'm still quite embarrassed that I ever could have acted in such a way. That is the reason that I am having such doubts about what may happen when this heart of mine has beat its last. You never think about long term consequences when you're young. However, when you get to the point where you can almost feel the wind from the angel's wings against your face, you think about them more and more.
If I am going to tell you the entire story about my shameful episode, then I guess I should go back and give you as much detail as I can. I only hope that I have enough time left to get the whole story out before I'm silent forever.
I was born in 1921 near Loon Lake, Vermont. You've probably never heard of the place and I can't blame you one little bit. It's just a tiny speck of a town that nobody seems to notice unless you had the misfortune of being born there.
My parents named me Mary Margaret. It seems like every little girl was named Mary Something -- Mary Elizabeth, Mary Louise -- it was just the way things were done back then. I always went by my middle name of Margaret; to my friends I was always Peg. My parents were the only ones who insisted on calling me by my proper name and it usually meant that I was in big trouble when I would hear one of them bellowing, "Mary Margaret!"
I had a rather normal childhood. I attended the local Catholic School up through the ninth grade. After that it was thought to be a waste for a young lady to go any further and I took a job at a nearby textile plant. No, I wasn't permitted around any of that dirty and dangerous equipment. I worked in the front office filing papers and typing letters to our endless list of creditors.
I never had a proper boyfriend during my teenaged years. There were a number of circumstances that conspired against me on that front. Chief among them was that my parents were VERY strict and they didn't allow me, as the only girl in the family, any freedom whatsoever. I had four older bothers and they were given free reign to do pretty much as they pleased. I never found that very fair, but as the saying goes -- Who ever said life is fair?
The other obstacle on the boyfriend front was due to just how small Loon Lake was in those days. It's still not much to look at, but in those days there were only about two or three hundred people living there. The number of children my age could probably fit inside one of those fancy SUV's that you see nowadays. There was the same handful of us from first grade right on up through. When your head was filled with images of Cary Grant, it was awfully hard to settle for Richard Peters -- who cried at school when he spilled his milk all over his brand new pants in the third grade.
That's not to say that I was uninterested in the opposite sex. I was like any other normal girl my age. I had my fair share of crushes and even fantasies. However, the fantasies that I entertained were probably a lot different than what you might expect. Nowadays, when you hear someone mention fantasies you tend to think of sexual peccadilloes. My dreams revolved more around romance and marriage.
I used to spend hours imagining being married to some dashing young man and living in some fabulous mansion. Foolish, I know -- but such were the thoughts of many silly young girls back then. You see, sex education was something that was still thirty years away. The simple truth was that I had very little idea of what sex really was. Sure, I knew what kissing was and I knew where babies came from. But, as for the specifics, it was all a mystery to me.
The extent of my sexual experimentation consisted of an afternoon when I was fifteen years old. That was the day when my closest friend, Laura Wilson, said to me that we needed to practice our kissing skills. She called a boy over from her neighborhood and told him that we both wanted to kiss him.
Oh god! Jonathon Perkins! I can still picture him with his red hair and freckles. I just wanted to melt into the ground when Laura told him why she had called him. Before I could so much as bolt and run, Jonathon said that it would be alright with him. The next thing I knew, Laura had grabbed my hand and led the three of us into her garage. The three of us sort of stood there looking anywhere but at each other for what seemed like an hour or two.
Finally, Laura stood in front of Jonathon and leaned in with her eyes closed and Jonathon kissed her. I stood there with my heart pounding. I was so sure that we were going to be caught and severely punished for what we were doing. The kiss was little more than a quick peck and it certainly didn't look like any of the romantic scenes that I had seen in the movies. Poor Jonathon! I don't know if his face or his hair was more red at that moment!
As quickly as it started, Laura was stepping aside, grabbed my hand, and pulled me face to face with this boy that was two years younger than me. I thought for sure that my two companions could quite clearly hear my heart pounding in my chest. I stood there like an idiot for a moment or two until I felt Laura's hand on my back -- urging me forward. "Go ahead, Peg. Your turn."
I tried to do just like Laura had done -- I closed my eyes really tight and pointed my face towards Jonathon's. I almost jumped when I felt a boy's lips against mine for the first time. Somewhere there must be a list of the world's most awkward kisses and I am sure that this one is way up there on that list! Jonathon must have closed his eyes too because our lips clearly missed each others by quite a bit. However, we quickly corrected our mistake, pressed our tightly closed mouths together, and I was getting my very first kiss!
I have no idea how long we stood there with out mouths glued to each other's. I remember thinking that this wasn't so bad after all! When I finally stepped back it was all I could do to even make myself breathe. My heart was thudding in my chest and I felt a little dizzy.
At last I could hear Laura's voice coming as if out of a fog, "You need to pucker your lips more - like this." She then made an exaggerated pucker with her lips. I had to fight back a giggle because I thought she looked like she was making a fish face!
She turned Jonathon back towards her by the shoulders and this time kissed him deeper than the last one had been. I remember feeling a little bit jealous that she was kissing Jonathon at that moment, but I watched intently and noticed it looked much more like the real thing than her first kiss had. She clutched his shoulders tightly as the kiss went on and on. I shuffled my feet and felt very uncomfortable standing there watching, but mostly I wanted it to be my turn again!
At last they broke their kiss and I found myself stepping up before Jonathon without the need of any encouragement this time. I put the thoughts about fish lips out of my mind, did my best imitation of the actresses that I had seen in the movies, and puckered up for my next attempt.
I followed Laura's lead and placed my hands on Jonathon's shoulders and this time the kiss was much, MUCH nicer! I just blotted out the rest of the world and it seemed as if we were the only two people in all of existence. As we kissed I gave a small jump when I felt Jon place his hands around my waist, but I didn't pull away. There I was -- getting my first real kiss and I was loving every second of it.
We may have gone on kissing there for the rest of the day except I heard Laura clearing her throat. She pried me away by the shoulder and took my place before Jonathon once again. "This time we are going to try it using out tongues," she said.
However, just as she was closing her eyes and lifting up on her tip-toes, we heard Laura's bother outside the garage with some his little friends. Laura and I covered our faces with our hands -- sure that we had been caught doing something that would get us into the biggest trouble of all time! Laura turned to poor, sweet Jonathon and told him, "If you ever say one word about this I am going to beat you up in front of the whole school. Do you understand?"
That poor, dear Jonathon just nodded his head and promised that he wouldn't ever say anything. Just as he was about to leave, he turned to us and said, "If you ever want to practice again, I'll be glad to help." If I hadn't been so scared that we were going to get in trouble, I would have laughed my foolish head off!
So, there you have it -- the great extent of my sexual education! I think that is something that has certainly changed for the better. Nowadays, young men and women have a lot more information about what goes on between boys and girls than we ever did. Back in the mid-thirties, all I had was poor, sweet Jonathon Perkins.
That was my life as the calendar changed to 1940. I had an honest job at Loon Lake Textiles that would never make me rich, but it was at least a steady job. I lived at home with my parents and my income helped to keep the family afloat. Life might have gone on like that for the next twenty years until that awful day in December of 1941 when we all learned that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.
That was a day unlike anything that any of us had ever witnessed. I swore that I would never see anything like that again in my lifetime! Of course, that was before I lived through it all a second time after 9/11. That winter morning in 1941 people were crying openly in the streets. There wasn't a single Loon Lake resident that had been anywhere even remotely close to Pearl Harbor and I think you would have been hard pressed to find more that a handful of folks that had even heard of the place. Even so, people wept as if their own sons had been attacked.
Even before our tears had begun to dry, young men were rushing out to join the army or the navy. Poor, sweet Jonathon Perkins was among the first to enlist that day. He would loose his life to malaria on a small island in the Pacific that the local newspaper couldn't even spell correctly in 1943. I still say a small prayer for that dear boy to this day.
Another young man that joined the service in those first days was Jackson Hawthorne. Yes, you may have noticed that the last name is the same as mine. And yes, he was my future husband. But, don't rush things. I'm an old woman and I think I've earned the right to tell things in my own time.
Jack worked at the same textile mill where I was working. He worked down in the factory itself, so our paths did not cross all too frequently. We would occasionally bump into each other in the cafeteria or the parking lot and had talked with each other many times during the four years that he had worked there.
Jack wasn't from Loon Lake, itself. He was from Brewster, about fifteen miles to the north -- so I hadn't known him my whole life like just about everyone else who worked there. Jack was really something to look at. He had big square shoulders and blue eyes that could just make your knees weak. We hadn't exactly flirted, but I was keenly aware that his big rugged frame was the first thing that I always looked for when I went to the cafeteria at lunch time.
Jack was a really quiet sort of person. I don't remember hearing him say more than two or three words in my presence during his first two years working there. I would always try to smile when I saw him looking in my direction, but it still took him quite a while before he built up the nerve to give me so much as a nod in reply.
Once, we had both been left standing in the parking lot waiting for our rides to appear and we had the chance to have a real conversation. It was sweet, really -- the way he looked so uncomfortable trying to talk with me. As we waited, I could see him loosening up just a bit. Just when I thought he might ask me out on a date, my father appeared with the old trusty Dodge to give me a ride home. Ever since that day, Jack would almost always take a moment to talk with me. Again, it was nothing flirty -- and he never did get around to asking for that date.
That's where things stood until one morning about three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. That morning I was surprised to see Jack waiting out side Mr. Charles' office. Mr. Charles was in charge of the entire textile mill and, knowing how painfully shy Jack was, I thought it odd that he would be there waiting to speak with the boss. Furthermore, Jack looked like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He hadn't shaved and it looked like he hadn't slept in days.
"Jack, are you ok?", I asked.
He looked startled at my simple question. Sure, Jack was shy, but we had been conversing regularly now for quite some time and I knew he was more at ease with me than he was showing that morning. He looked everywhere except at me as he mumbled "I have something important to discuss with Mr. Charles."
I went over and sat down in the seat next to him. He still wouldn't look me in the eye and I became very concerned for him. "You look horrible, Jack", I said "What is it that is bothering you?"
Jack just shook his head, but didn't reply right away. Finally, he said "I have to tell Mr. Charles that will no longer be working here."
"What?", I gasped. I thought that maybe I hadn't heard him right.
"I'm enlisting in the army, so I won't be coming to work here anymore."
Without even thinking about it, I placed my hand on Jack's arm and told him, "Come with me. You look a mess and we can't have you meeting with Mr. Charles like that."
Looking back, I realize that it was a completely inane thing to say. However, at the time so many thoughts were flashing through my brain that I'm surprised my mind could even form an entire sentence -- let alone make any kind of sense. Jack rose, as if in a daze and followed me. I led him outside and then turned to face him. I waited -- not knowing what to say until he finally cleared his throat and said, "I -- I have to do it, Peg. Don't you see? Everyone is joining up. It's my duty."
In the weeks to follow, I would hear this same line of reasoning repeated over and over as each of my brothers and nearly every male in that age group enlisted in one branch of the service or another. But, at that moment, Jack was the first person that I was remotely close to that was in that situation.
America hadn't been in the war up until then, but we still read about it and heard about it on the radio. Every day there were reports of the latest casualty figures. Since we weren't involved, it was easy to almost pretend that it wasn't real. Besides, when you live in a town of only a couple hundred people, how do you even comprehend what it meant when they reported that men were being killed by the tens of thousands. It was a horror that your mind refused to even put into perspective.
I wished with all of my heart that I could think of some magical thing to say that would somehow solve all of his problems. Unfortunately, I was only a twenty year old girl with a ninth grade education who had never experienced anything outside this small town. All I could think of to do at the time was to look into his eyes with as much compassion as I could muster and weakly say, "Jack, we're all going to miss you." After a rather longish pause I added, "I'll miss you."
This was as close as either of us had ever come to expressing our true emotions to the other. Jack looked at me with those beautiful blue eyes and finally croaked out, "And I am going to miss you too, Peg."
My heart was beating hard in my chest. This was as close as any man had ever come to telling me that I was special to him. I had a fleeting thought that this must be what those actresses in the movies felt when the dashing hero took them in their arms and told them how much they loved them. I remember wishing that he would put his arms around me and hug me to him at that moment.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen. We stayed outside for another fifteen minutes or so while Jack explained that he had already talked to his draft board and had told them that he was ready to join the army. The Board told him that he would be reporting to Fort Riley in Kansas for his training.
Pearl Harbor! Kansas! Going half way around the world to fight in a war! It was all too much for my mind to handle. It seemed as if the whole world had been turned upside down. All of that, however, was nothing compared to what came next.
Just as we were turning to go back inside the building, Jack touched my shoulder to stop me. "Wait, Peg. I have one more thing that I want to say to you."
I turned back to face him, but he didn't say anything right away. He looked even more uncomfortable than usual. My heart couldn't take any more big news, so I waited with quite a bit of trepidation. Finally, he began, "Peg, we've been friends for quite some time now, haven't we?"
I nodded, wondering where this might be going. "I hope this doesn't bother you, but for quite some time now I've thought about you as much more than just a friend."
It took all of my willpower to keep my mouth from falling open in surprise! I didn't say anything -- I couldn't say anything! Jack continued, "When a man is about to go off to fight in a war, he doesn't want to go off all alone. Do you know what I mean?"
Again, I just stood there like a mute statue -- my mouth too dry to even attempt to speak. "Peg, I know this very sudden, but I'd like it a lot if you would become my wife."