When the Kennedy’s came to stay..
Most of our childhood was spent in relative peace within the confines of 11 Meadowcroft Lane or Stowe, Vermont once my Dad made a little more money! There were so many of us it seemed to me it was impossible to be alone and I am sure that is why I am always searching for places to hide no matter where I live. Finding a place where no one can find me is a hard habit to break even as an adult. My parents had a few parties and we went to our cousins a lot but for the most part we stayed pretty much to ourselves: a tribe branded with our own traditions and indoctrinations.
My Dad had this habit of taking all of us on trips to various parts of this country and other places in the world where there would usually be some type of crisis forcing him to find a loyal friend or employee to leave most of us with while he went back to work. Once we were left in Denmark with a family for two weeks as we all had food poisoning and couldn’t continue the trip. I will never forget the lady of the house trying desperately to cope with six visiting children as well as four of her own all vomiting in unison all over the house.
My parents seemed to have friends who could act as caretakers at a moment’s notice all over the world but not a lot of friends in their neighborhood. This made life a little more stressful than it might have otherwise been as there was no one to deflect the attention from us kids.
We had a lot of small, mechanized vehicles and were given permission to drive some of them about age 7. My Dad loved cars of any kind be they miniature , gasoline powered, lawn motor type cars or old model T’s and he loved to go for rides in these vehicles with all of us following in our own. He actually had a sidewalk made on the outer rim of our property bordering the street so we wouldn’t drive into the street. Of course we never used it except when our parents were home.
These small cars went quite fast so my Dad put on what he called a “governor” so we couldn’t exceed the speed limit of safety I guess it never occurred to him that it was easy to remove a rubber band around the gas lever preventing it from being raised to go faster. We were the fastest kids in the neighborhood and there was no radar in those days.
So by now I bet you are wondering about when the Kennedy’s came to stay and what I am going to write about them. My mother was at fault here as she was Jack Kennedy’s girlfriend when he was at Choate and stayed in touch with him for years afterwards. She was described with frequency in the book, “Reckless Youth” about JFK and his exploits. I think my mother had a whole other life we never knew about as in those days one had to pretend to be chaste until marriage. My parents had a lot of famous friends but the Kennedy’s were their most famous. Well, maybe Bob Hope played a close second but we never met him. We did meet the Kennedy’s however and their visits created many memories for all of us.
Our first Kennedy was the President and we were invited to the White House to meet him one spring day. My mother dressed us all up in old clothes of hers as we didn’t seem to have appropriate outfits to meet the President in. I wore a violet wool suit with two snaps on the front and for some reason I decided to add white elbow length gloves I had found in my mother’s drawer. She didn’t see the gloves until we were already inside the white House doors and couldn’t tell me to remove them. How funny we must have looked: this family of women all dressed in clothes too old for them walking down the hall to the President’s office. My mother, of course, looked elegant and serene in her Chanel suit, stockings and alligator pumps.
We were introduced to the President who seemed very nice but boring and finally he asked if we wanted to go outside and meet “Macaroni”, his daughter’s pony. We ran like the wild children we were out on the lawn and down to where Macaroni was grazing on the lawn. It seemed infinitely more interesting to be down there messing about with the pony and we missed our mother’s call’s a few minutes later to return to the Oval office. Finally some men with suits on came running out to where we were asking us to return to our mother who was furious. She later exclaimed “I can’t believe when the President of the United States calls you don’t respond!”
My next Kennedy memory came when we went to walk by Robert Kennedy’s casket after he was shot. I recall a very dark and somber space in the White House and a slow and shuffling processional past a coffin. I knew I should remember what was happening but I couldn’t stay in my body as it seemed so completely terrifying. Things had changed by then and the sadness of the family was very apparent even to an adolescent. That summer Ethel and a large entourage came to Maine to visit us for a night or two. It was incredibly annoying when fancy people came to visit as we had to behave as if we always dressed in clothing belonging to our mother and walk around the house greeting all the guests and asking what we could do for them. The Kennedy’s were more entertaining than most guests, however, as at night they drank a lot and always played games. One of their favorites was Sardines.
It was almost impossible to sleep when they were playing these games as the players went wherever they wanted in the house no matter who was sleeping in the bedrooms. One night I woke up to find several people coming in and out of my closet. They used our vehicles even if they were way too big for them and never sat in cars, preferring to drape themselves over the car for the trip to town. Once I remember seeing four of them on the roof of an old Land Rover laughing and sliding from side to side. It never seemed to occur to them they might get hurt but of course it wouldn’t or couldn’t.
I found them entertaining but sad in that way grownups can feel sad to a child. Being around the Kennedy’s felt like the world was going too fast and there was no way to slow it down. The women seemed to laugh a lot in a high and choking way and the men looked like wolves hunting for another piece of prey. Everybody smoked. They tried to engage some of us kids but it made one feel on the spot and not genuine. Everything seemed a little too bright and too loud and I was always happy when they left. While they were there it was a question of avoiding them as they seemed to feel comfortable appearing anywhere in the house with a total disregard to privacy. I remember watching Ethel, pregnant with Rory, her last child, and feeling so sad for her. It seemed to me she was trying to keep a way of life going that had died some months ago with her husband, and had no idea how to do it. The planes of her face often fell into a deep sorrow and anguish that she would never lose.
I think most kids become annoyed if they feel their parents are paying more attention to their guests than to their kids. We liked the guests as they were a distraction and seemed to make my parents happy for a time. The dressing up became a real role and the laughter was a reflection they liked to see in their lives. It was fun to them and they liked the glamour of it all. Sometimes I think that living a glamorous life is not all bad. It’s like watching a continuous play with many costume changes and occasionally having a walk on role. There is a finale but then one begins to rehearse for the next show. There is no opportunity for analysis or reflection only for movement ahead.