A Break in Family

Part of the difficulty was rooted in Lucile’s much more complex family relationship. She had worked for my father in his insurance office, fell in love with a man in the office, Clifford R. Cusson, dated him while his ill wife was dying, and then secretly married him. My parents could not forgive her behavior, and the family was broken. She and Cliff left my father’s agency, established their own competing insurance business, and my father claimed that they had “stolen” clients from him. Cliff was a local politician, was elected to the State House of Representatives and then to the Senate, a popular figure among many. I came to appreciate, and like Cliff; I now understand that in the process of coming to know his friends I was experiencing an early fracturing of the stereotype of the “many”, whom my parents greatly disliked. Memory tells me that Cliff was a registered Republican, but acted more like a Democrat, and that was probably enough to satisfy my Father’s dislike. Cliff also came from a “background” which was not appreciated at home. It was many years later that I would name that as a dawning consciousness about prejudice based on “class”.

There were years when I was growing up during which neither Beatrice or my parents had contact with Cliff and Lucile. There must have been some attempt, because I remember Cliff and Lucile being in our home for dinner sometime after their marriage. During the meal, at one point I was in the kitchen with mother, and for the only time ever, I heard her speak words of intense hatred. With a raging face, mother whispered to me that she hoped Cliff would strangle on every mouthful! I knew then that the break was complete! That incident may also have been an early encounter with the ways in which harbored anger can explode and distort a peaceful and beautiful person. If that could happen to my Mother, something deeply sinister could happen to anyone!

While the family was separated, my parents allowed me to continue in relationship to Lucile. They must have discussed that option, but I do not remember them speaking about it with me. I don’t remember even thinking about why they allowed that, or what that might have meant to them as parents. Uncertain, still today, reflection leads to a belief that I was living at some level an unstated hope and forgiveness never articulated by my parents. It may be that even they did not know the significance of letting me stay in relationship to Lucile; it was something they did because of who they were, and what they knew to be right about “family”.

I often visited in Cliff and Lucile’s office, on Merrimack Street, directly across the street from my father’s office. I had meals occasionally in their home, went to Boston with Cliff to observe the Senate in session, even one time sat in on the Senate Highways and Motor Vehicles Committee, which Cliff chaired. On at least one occasion, I traveled with Lucile and Cliff to visit New York City. Cliff was known for his swearing, which was a way he and his legislative chums conversed. I can remember hearing him cautioning his friends not to use that language in my presence.

I liked Cliff, even came to accept the swearing and “roughness” of his exterior behavior, patterns abhorrent to my parents. His manner of speaking conveyed strong emotion, unknown in my family. I came to accept the swearing as simply a way of expressing strong feeling, nothing more. It is probable that somewhere in my remote self my personality was being prepared for a much later time, when I too would express my emotion in strong voice and word! Those who know me in these later years will differ in opinion about the appropriateness of my sometimes flaming tongue. Opinions aside, the emotions of today may be an echo of Cliff’s depth of feeling.
Then came the time, I believe it was when I was in College, that Lucile quietly shared with me the news that Cliff was dying from cancer, and that life would be short for him. I wondered if I should tell my parents. I did tell them, and am grateful for that decision. My parents went to visit Lucile and Cliff before his death, and I am sure that it made a lot easier the reconciliation with Lucile which did come after Cliff’s death. Those years of family separation remained, lost opportunities.

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