Last week, I stumbled on a book by accident at a Dollar Tree store in Kentwood, Michigan. After picking up my kids from school, I was expecting to go home and relax with the family in an unfriendly winter season punctuated with freezing temperatures. But that was never the case. Kids being who they are: always demanding and adamant on what their heart desire. “Daddy, each of us needs to bring a book for a present tomorrow,” said my 8-year-old 2nd grade girl. I asked why I wasn’t told in advance. “Daddy, it’s my fault but have a look at the note from my teacher,” she said. What more choice do I have other than driving all three of them to the store where my time would be eaten up.
My eldest son is a book worm by nature; he cannot pass anything written without peeping through it, a culture he has inherited from me. He did not need a book for present but was quick to visit the book aisle and soon grabbed three novels. I followed him and also got my share of the books. One of the books turns out to be Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy. Authored by a former White House intern in February 2012, Once Upon a Secret catalogued Mimi Alford’s 18 months secret affair with the 34th President of the United States.
My hunger to understand how the affair began was soon in motion: who did what, why it was not leaked by the media and how Mimi kept the story for nearly 50 years until basic details were published in the 2003 Kennedy biography An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963 by Robert Dallek.
It is one of those books that is hard to put down once you start flipping its pages. In essence, every chapter gives an interesting piece of evidence and rich lifestyle. How Mimi was able to give such a moving story and how she came to terms with her past and moved out of the shadows to reclaim the truth is quite interesting.
Another puzzle of the book was how the virgin Alford was completely swept away by Kennedy. The duo went to bed just four days into her White House Press Office intern service, and continued the relations even after the internship ended. Mimi said President Kennedy’s ability to build walls, compartmentalise them, making sure that no one ever knows him completely kept her affair secret from even the Criminal Investigation Agents.
Where was Jacqueline Kenndy in the midst of President Kenndy’s affairs is one’s guest? Mimi answered all that in Once Upon a Secret where she revealed her struggles to overcome the occasional disingenuous nature of her treatment by the president whose assassination left an unhealed wound on her soul. But the biggest take on her is the guilt she later felt about the inescapable part she and Kennedy played in each other’s life.
Mimi Alford, who currently lives in Massachusetts with her second husband, depicts her unhappy first marriage and what she called the “emptiness of it.” She regretted why she allowed “silence to enter her marriage and grew and never left.” Her biggest challenge had been how to peel off the biggest layer of her secret affair with President Kennedy.
But the greatest surprise of all is Mimi Alford’s willingness to do again what she had done, given the same circumstances. Once Upon a Secret, a must-read book, is worth more than a dollar. It will widen your horizon and answer so many whys you might be struggling with. If you want to know how power – absolute power – corrupts, read Once Upon a Secret.