Spilled secret

Ask just about anyone where they were on 9/11, the day of the 2001 terrorist attack on the United States, and you are certain to get a quick, detailed response. Ask Americans alive on November 22, 1962, the day President John F. Kennedy was shot, where they were on that day and though it was fifty years ago you get just as quick and detailed responses.

Silent please. ©iStockphoto.com/oscarcalero

Silent please. ©iStockphoto.com/oscarcalero

After watching As It Happened: JFK 50 Years on November 16, 2013, I asked Facebook friends a question: “Were you alive? If so, do you remember where you were when you heard?”

What followed was a flood of interestingly insightful responses. Many were by friends who were with me in Mrs. Whittington’s 6th grade class at Oaklawn Elementary in Hot Springs, Arkansas, that day. The most personally interesting was from the friend reminding me I had attended her birthday bunking party that night.

As interesting as my friends’ “day Kennedy was shot” memories were, they pale in comparison to those by former Kennedy White House Press Office intern Mimi Alford’s. Alford, then Mimi Beardsley, followed the nationally traumatic event with her fiancé Tony that night on television at the Connecticut home of his staunch Republican parents. As Mimi and Tony watched constant repeats of footage of President’s and Mrs. Kennedy arriving in Dallas, then leaving in the motorcade, Mimi broke down and told her fiancé why she was so devastated. This was the first time Mimi shared her “secret” affair with President John F. Kennedy with anyone. Tony made her promise not to tell another soul, a promise she kept over the years for the most part.

According to her 2012 book, Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath, Marion “Mimi” Beardsley, was a nineteen-year-old virgin when she arrived at the White House in 1962. Days later she was introduced to the president at a White House pool swimming party. The consensual affair started later that day in the President’s quarters. Though she returned to college that fall, Alford continued to live the double life of Wheaton College coed in Massachusetts and JFK paramour even after she met and became engaged to her future husband.

While Mimi shared her secret with her fiancé that fateful day, only a few others would know until just before the story broke in 2003. With media revelation impending, Mimi called to spill her secret to her grown daughters. The next day Mimi drafted a statement for the media stating her involvement with Kennedy and her 41 years of silence about it.

“What did it do to you to hide the truth for so long?” Mimi’s daughter Jenny asked.

It’s a key question in light of Alcoholics Anonymous thought that, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” Mimi’s secret, she says, caused her to shut down emotionally for much of her life.

While told long after most other participants are dead and viewed by some as short-sided (one writer sought more information about first husband Tony), Mimi Alford’s account prompts key inspirational questions for the teller of life stories. Do I have a secret? Should I tell it? If so, to whom and when?

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One thought on “Spilled secret

  1. Wow! I never knew about Mimi. What secrets to tell really is a huge challenge in Life Story writing. Some wait until relevant people have died, others go for the gusto and tell all. What I tell folks is, you can write anything you want. Its healing. But then you have to choose what you make public. At least there is some relief I find just putting pen to paper even if my words never see the light of day. I think in the end you have to weigh the value and importance of your words being heard against the probable damage in relationships. Sometimes the story has to be told at all costs. Other times the relationships are more valuable. The writer will have to decide. Once the words go forth they cannot be recalled. Its one of the most difficult decisions in Life Story writing.