Editor's Note

Kennedy.

By Tim Whitaker
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted May. 28, 2008

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Word of Edward Kennedy's brain tumor rolled in like dark and ominous clouds on a sun-drenched day.

Okay, maybe not for all.

But when you're Irish, Catholic and the oldest of seven, there's a good chance you grew up with the Kennedy name packing an emotional wallop.

You get older, but you stand by what you knew to be true as a kid, no matter how dusty the memories.

True was the optimism. The energy. The sense of hope.

Flawed, damaged, far too rotund, Ted Kennedy wasn't the most romantic of the brothers.

But he was the one they could pick on.

He was the one who lived.


My father, a salesman in his younger years, would tell of the anti-Catholic, anti-Kennedy attitudes he experienced traveling the rural parts of the state.

There was the big sale he lost when a client spotted a JFK placard in his backseat. There were his trips to Pennsylvania towns near the Maryland border, where he would sit and do a slow burn as customers stirred their whiskey and water, and laughed at how Catholics, just like blacks, reproduced like rabbits.

He'd come home angry and edgy, but ever hopeful about what would ultimately be. The settling of the scores came when Kennedy was elected president. It didn't silence the haters, but it rendered them impotent and confirmed the conviction that decency bests intolerance.

When Kennedy was shot less than three years later, the silence in our home lasted for weeks.

When his brother Robert was killed half a decade later, I woke up to my father staring at the television in tears.


So long ago, all that.

Before Nixon and Ford and Carter and Reagan and Bush and Clinton and the second Bush and the dispiriting cynicism that ground its way through generations X and Y.

When the gunshots grew silent, what was left of the Irish-Catholic political idealism was Ted, self- destructive, self-indulgent, hedonistic, a shadow of his older brothers, a hollow reminder of the passion that had burned so bright.

There was the drowned girl, and his cowardice in the moment. And the well-chronicled drinking bouts, where he became a caricature of the Irish instead of a reason to stand proud.

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1. timmymcginn said... on May 28, 2008 at 07:48AM

“Some of the Irish in Gen X and Y feel the same way as you Tim. I've only heard of the heartbreak my family felt after the assassinations but saw it first hand when Jr. passed and now this. Who is left to carry the torch? I believe in Obama the same way my Mother and Nana believed in the Kennedys...now they're both voting for him too. Slainte!”

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