Rita Papazian
Published: Feb 17, 2012

With her memoir “Once Upon A Secret,” 68-year old Mimi Alford has taken us
back to our own age of innocence. While our youthful experiences may not have
been as a White House intern bedded by the president of the United States, we
females can well relate to this “little” secret” that Alford, who like Jackie Kennedy
was a graduate of Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, surely have in the dark
caverns of memory. Here lie the experiences with older men who we did not
encourage, yet pulled us into the vortex of sex that have haunted us for years.

I was mesmerized by a poised Alford’s television interview with Meredith
Veira last week, but not terribly shocked by revelations that four days into
her internship at the White House in 1962, the president lured her into Mrs.
Kennedy’s bedroom where Alfors lost her virginity. The act led to an 18-month
affair with JFK that ended with his assassination during his trip to Dallas, a trip
that she had been scheduled to accompany the president, but instead was
replaced by Mrs. Kennedy, who decided to accompany her husband.

Alford’s account of her affair sweeps us women of a certain age back to a period
of time when this country had a veneer of idealism, pride and yes, very much
innocence. It is no surprise to learn that Alford was a virgin at age 19. Also, given
all that we have come to know about JFK since his death, it is no surprise to learn
of his sexcapades in the private quarters of the White House. JFK had trouble
keeping his private parts private when it came to attractive women.

However, it’s not just Alford’s affair with the president that pulls me into this
story; it’s the storyline itself: young innocent, trusting, inexperienced young
woman is lured into actions she never would have foreseen. The main point that
stands out for me here is Alford’s age: 19. I have long felt that the age of 19 is a
very difficult age to navigate. I say this from my own experience, the experience
raising two daughters, observing other friends’ daughters’ lives and reading about
the lives of celebrities who at age 19 took a psychological tumble of sorts.

Age 19 is indeed a difficult year to navigate. A young person feels a sense of
independence, a sense of freedom and an exuberance in thinking, yet foolishly

that she (or he) can navigate easily through unchartered waters. Well, guess
what? One can’t. There are too many changes – emotionally, intellectually, and
socially, going on in our lives all at once for us to keep ourselves grounded. There
are too many people ready to take advantage of the innocence and immaturity.

How many of us could have written our own “Once Upon A Secret.” It may not
have so attractive, prominent protagonist, but it sure as heck has an individual
lurking in the shadows ready to leap out that lead us to ponder – How did this
happen? Well, it did and it does and as Alford learned with her own experience
it has ramifications for years and years and it can affect future relationships,
especially with oneself.

It is amazing that Alford kept her secret private for so many years. She did tell her
fiancé who she subsequently married soon after the president’s assassination.
The couple divorced after 26 years of marriage. She is now remarried.

In an interview, Alford says young women are “so different today. ..they are
stronger and they have been brought up to say, “No, I don’t want to do this.’ They
make their own choices.”

I wonder if this is so. In fact, I think it is even more difficult for young women to
make their own choices with all the influences of society today, it is very difficult
to navigate the developmental stages from childhood, adolescence, and young
adulthood without a strong inner fiber. The talk shows and news reports are filled
with people who have lost their footing.

I have not read Alford’s book yet, but as one who followed the JFK administration
closely, I am mesmerized by anything “Kennedy.” Also, listening to Alford speak
and looking at the photos of her with her headband and pearls, I am harkened
back to my own youth and innocence. And yes, to that time when I, too, faced the
unsuspecting actions of married men in the workplace 

© Copyright 2012 Rita Papazian All rights reserved.