Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spy story

My old friend Eileen, when I met her almost 30 years ago, was a spy. Eileen had just gotten a job as an elementary school secretary at a school I serviced, brand new in the system. When she started she was called in by an assistant superintendent, Dr. Riley, and given a secret mission. She was to report back on the activities of her boss, Mr. Kent, who was principal, and any phone calls or other hanky-panky regarding his former secretary, Mrs. Shannon.

Mr. Kent, who had been principal at another school, was transferred when the PTA complained he was always in his office with Mrs. Shannon, with the door closed. There was a scandal. He was transferred to his new school, and Mrs. Shannon was sent to be secretary at a school still under construction. Because it was still being built, the students and staff "double-bunked" with another elementary school, one school doing a morning session, the other doing the afternoon. Since Mrs. Shannon didn't have to be at work until afternoon, often she would pull up in front of Mr. Kent's new school, he'd run out the door, jump in her car and off they'd go. That was the sort of thing Dr. Riley wanted Eileen to report on.

What a situation! Here was Eileen, just moved to the state, new to the school system, hired by Mr. Kent, with no inkling there was more to the job than the normal duties of a school secretary. Eileen, being a Christian woman with scruples to spare, was deeply offended by the order to inform on her boss. Even though she had just met me, she confided in me. I'd known Mr. Kent and Mrs. Shannon at their old school, but didn't know they were having an affair. It was an a ha moment for me.

So that was then, nearly three decades ago. After a few months of Eileen's investiture as a school secret agent--and whether Eileen did any reporting on the lovers I don't know, but seriously doubt--Mr. Kent was called into the Superintendent's office and demoted to a teaching position. Mrs. Shannon kept her job, Mr. Kent and she divorced their spouses and married each other. I'm not sure there is a happily-ever-after to this story. Both people were middle-aged adults, probably in their late forties, older than me, then in my mid-thirties. They both had families with grown children. I heard through the grapevine that Mrs. Shannon's family shunned her, turned her out as a sinner. They were all religious. Perhaps Mr. Kent's family did the same. His ex-wife was a teacher in our school district and told everyone within earshot that Mrs. Shannon was a husband-stealer and her husband a cad and bounder. I think she used other words, but that was the essence.

Kent and Shannon have been gone from the school system for many years, both long since retired. I wonder how they're getting along?

Eileen started her job in 1983, and today was her retirement party. My wife, who works in the same building as Eileen, and I, attended a nice afternoon get-together, a little party for the staff to say goodbye to Eileen. She was there with her husband, two sons, and one grandchild. Eileen and her husband are active; she's on the ski patrol and they travel around to various races and speed events in neighboring states. I'm sure she'll enjoy her retirement very much, and both Sally and I wished her the best.

Eileen told everyone within earshot that I was one of the first people she met when she started her job. She didn't tell anyone of her job as a spy in the school of love, but we have talked about it a few times over the years. I've worked with Eileen at four different schools, and at each she was very well liked because she's great with the kids, and has patience with the staff. She is a sharp person, very good at her job. In my 32 years with the school district I had a chance to observe a lot of secretaries, and elementary school secretaries have it the hardest of anyone, yet get paid less than others. There's never been any justice, but the ones who are good at it stay with it because there is absolutely no other job that is quite like it. Eileen did it superbly, except maybe her job as spy, because what undercover work she was ordered to do wasn't really unnecessary. People having an affair don't realize how much other people know what they're doing. They think they're being cool, but they're not. Mr. Kent and Mrs. Shannon paid the price. Eileen handled her professional responsibilities with humor and professionalism, and I really enjoyed working with her.

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