Just not many.
Not for lack of trying on their part. It’s us. We Jones for the Kennedy fix, and even though Patrick Kennedy and his school teacher bride deserved their quiet ceremony, it’s reflexive to want in for a look/see. And when we can’t find? Oh well then, we can hearken.
I grew up on the other side of the Kennedy boys. The irreconcilable void, the aching question of what might have been, all of that escaped my boyhood understanding.
The Kennedy’s were perpetually relevant in my eyes. They lived inside the complicated peace songs. And in the countless family biographies which made publishing houses fat. They were a constant in the magazine articles which sat prominently on my mother’s coffee table. And in the cocktail party conversations my parents would host.
Jackie had become a mysterious figure by the early ’70s, but even on the fringes of western gossip, she was a graceful ambassador. Teddy had lost his best chance with Chappaquiddick, but he would never lose his voice or his home field advantage.
As a nation, we borrowed the Kennedy brothers. But we bought their cultural gravitas for good. The ripple of their defining moments is a tide which sustains and prospers to this day.
Dad never much cared for the Kennedy’s. His was a conservative bent forged out of the experience of losing his native land to communism. My father wanted freedom for Cuba, war at all costs and a job with upward mobility. His die was cast.
Mom was different. Having grown up in the ramshackle Peninsula town of Rockaway, New York, she dreamed of the world beyond her doors. As a young child, she lived with rumors that the Nazis might attack her town from the Atlantic on their way to New York City. She chased away the specter with thoughts of the inspired fight of our British allies, and then she would dream herself onto the steps of Buckingham Palace. She fell asleep to royalty, and eventually she fell in love with it.
1960 was a momentous national decision. And Kennedy, for all the talk of his royal lineage and movie star looks and captivating oratory, was a complex and different leader. Looks alone didn’t win him that election, and neither did the cemeteries of Chicago. What won him the Presidency was a popular sentiment that the status quo wasn’t going to get us home.
But the royal part of his story will always keep.
Our national identity is cheeseburgers and football, so the Kennedy family is our much needed civility. They did not die in the Ambassador Hotel with Bobby that horrible June night in ’68. And they did not perish with John Jr’s impossibly short life.
The Kennedy’s are American Shakespeare. They’re an adhesive staple, and a cohesive tribe of big dream merchants who paid the costliest of prices in their purchase of the moon and the stars.
Camelot is a hardscrabble fairy tale, and a reminder to us all that hard times have another side. The truth is, we’ve needed them more than they’ve ever needed us.