1957. I was 11, helping my sixth-grade teacher host an open house to celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary. The house was crowded with many upstanding people from our small-town area of Vermont. I wore a blue print dress with a gathered skirt that my mother had sewn and felt shy but very grown up as I circulated among the guests, carrying a silver platter of fancy 1950s finger foods.

My father had recently become interested in family genealogy and had discovered that my teacher’s husband was a distant cousin. Thus, my invitation to assist in the festivities. Everything was new to me: the babble of voices, the women in nylons and heels and freshly ironed shirtwaist dresses, the heady mix of perfumes, the open bar at the back of the house where the men all gravitated. So this was what being an adult was like.

When the party started winding down, the guests grew more relaxed. I began picking up used glassware and emptying ashtrays. My teacher’s husband was sitting nearby and motioned me over.

“You’ve been working hard,” he said, patting his lap. “Come sit.” I hesitated, looked around; my parents were in another room. “It’s fine,” he said, “we’re cousins.”

Daunted, I perched lightly on his knees. He placed his hands around my skinny waist. I stood up as quickly as I felt was polite and walked away, chagrined and embarrassed. As I passed a doorway, I heard a woman’s clear voice: “She was sitting on his lap. Really, she’s old enough to know better.”

1957. I was 11, raised to trust, respect my elders and do as I was told. Shouldn’t the adults have been the ones old enough to know better?

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