In 1937, Depression times, my mother left my father and me. I was seven years old, and she ran away with the town lawyer, my father's friend J. B. Burton. My father was Scytheville's doctor. While my father was in his office one morning, my mother packed a suitcase, left a letter, and walked to J. B. Burton's house. When I came back from school, my mother was absent, and my father stood silent in the kitchen. "Your mother won't be with us," he said in a cracked voice. I didn't dare ask him why.
It was December; the kitchen range was hot as he fried eggs for our supper. I watched him burn a letter in the firebox. When we sat at the kitchen table, he broke his yolks and pushed his eggs around but did not eat them. "Your mother won't live with us anymore," he said. I wept, howled, and clung to him.
"Minerva is leaving town with Mr. Burton," he told me. I was bewildered as well as bereft. I had never heard of a mother who left her family. I asked him why, and he only held me tighter. Anguish and rage began that almost governed my life.
I don't know how or why the love affair happened. My parents did not quarrel in my presence, and I saw them kiss and hug. His office occupied the front room of our house, so he was home most of the time, but he kept busy. He remained in his office mornings, with appointments, and in the afternoons he drove his Model A to visit old people without automobiles. Weeknights he was exhausted, and often went to bed early while my mother read magazines: Collier's, Life, The Saturday Evening Post. My parents were together only on Sundays—if there were no medical emergencies. She must have been lonely, and J. B. Burton could have courted her in the afternoons, when I was in school and my father was making house calls.