My Life with the Kennedys

May 21, 2008

By Karen

After growing up in Massachusetts where the Kennedys are ubiquitous, I was stunned to read of Ted Kennedy’s cancer diagnosis.

One of my earIiest memories is of driving by this huge hedge and being told, “The Kennedys live behind those bushes.”

It must have been the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, and I understood, because I futilely strained from the back seat to glimpse a real Kennedy.

I still have the framed picture of President Kennedy that hung on our wall, and bookends of his bust. When my mother bought a black wig, she said, “It’s just like Jackie Kennedy’s hairdo!”

When JFK was assassinated, I was in second grade. The principal announced only that, “President Kennedy has been shot.” After school, a boy chanted, “Kennedy’s dead! Kennedy’s dead!”

We little girls screamed back, “No he’s not!”

But when I got home, I instantly knew the truth. My father wasn’t at work and my mother was crying – even though it was her birthday.

Later, when the funeral coverage dominated TV, I complained about missing my cartoons and got slapped.

When Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, we were living in Ohio. I have no special memories except thinking that someone was out to kill all the Kennedys.

I was 14 in 1969 when Teddy had his fateful car accident with Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquiddick. I remember watching Teddy’s explanation to the voters. I wanted to believe him, but his story just didn’t add up.

Several years later, a friend and I ferried bicycles from Martha’s Vineyard to Chappaquiddick to check Teddy’s story. The island had a single paved, deserted road. The turn-off to the Dike Bridge was beach sand so deep and soft, we couldn’t push the bikes through it. We never made it to the bridge, but concluded Teddy must have known, even drunk, that he’d taken a wrong turn driving back to the ferry.

I think Ted has spent the rest of his life atoning for that one night of fatal stupidity. He’s become the beloved father figure for his late brothers’ children and the rock of his sprawling family through a virtual soap opera of dysfunction and tragedy.

In the Senate, he has always advocated common sense and decency in the treatment of all people, even though preserving his wealth and privileges might dictate otherwise.

No one knows how much time Teddy has, or what he may yet accomplish. He deserves to rest and enjoy his family and friends now. But he may opt to fight to the end, as a flawed human being who tries to do the right thing – much more often than not.

Love him or hate him, Ted Kennedy is a profile in courage.


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