Fond memories from the last surviving child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy.
Smith, the eighth of her parents’ nine children, offers a warm portrait of her happy childhood, when she reveled in the company of her brothers and sisters, guided by her inspiring, supportive parents. Born in 1928, she grew up in their Bronxville home, where the family moved from Brookline, Massachusetts, to be closer to Joseph Kennedy’s work in Manhattan, and in their beloved summer house in Hyannis Port, on Cape Cod. “Saltwater was in our blood,” she writes, “in our genes.” Smith portrays Joe as a devoted father and husband who “flooded us with affection” and enjoyed nothing more than dinner—promptly served at 7:15—surrounded by his adoring clan. Dinner conversation veered toward politics, with “a lighthearted game” that consisted of quizzes about what each child would do if confronted with one political problem or another. Both parents instilled in the children a sense of service and responsibility; Rose was a stickler for lessons, which she felt “strengthened our knowledge and resolve.” These included music, sports, art, languages, and whatever “subject and hobby that interested us, and even some that did not.” Managing nine children involved discipline and organization. Anyone who disobeyed was sent to Rose’ clothes closet for punishment. She guided the children’s mealtime and bedtime prayers, and she kept track of their “vital statistics” on index cards, which she updated each week. Smith idolized her older brothers Joe (who was her godfather) and Jack (godfather to Teddy); her closest playmate was Teddy, the last born; and she adored her elegant sisters Kick and Pat. Smith defends her parents’ decision to treat Rosemary’s “anxieties” and “agitation” with a lobotomy, which went “tragically wrong.” As with other losses and crises, the family “could do only one thing in the aftermath: move forward.” The author’s idealized view of her family counters many biographical portraits of the Kennedys.
As the family photos illustrating this memoir attest, for Smith, all was sunshine, smiles, and elegance.