My Mom’s parents, Alice Murphy Kennedy and Robert Kennedy (yeah, I know) were a very big part of my rearing. We drove to their house in Harrison, New Jersey, every Sunday after mass to have dinner. Dinner, watch Disney, Ed Sullivan, drive back to Midland Park. Every single Sunday.
I adored my Nana Kennedy. She taught third grade in the Kearney School District, and I can remember being pretty little when she brought me into her class and I sat up on her desk like I was “show and tell.” Her kids fawned all over me, and I recall feeling pretty special.
Nana and Pop-pop had a special playroom right off of the kitchen – it was really tiny and I loved it – it had a toy chest and a little desk with crayons and construction paper. My brother Michael and I would spend hours in there while my Mom and Nana, and sometimes their next-door neighbor, Ta Baker, were gabbing in the kitchen, drinking cups of percolated coffee and smoking. Well, Ta didn’t smoke, but Mom smoked Tarringtons (I’d rather fight than switch,) and Nana smoked Salem menthols (Take a puff…it’s springtime.) Sometimes they’d have some coffeecake, or crumb-bums, as Nana used to call them. Mmmm, New Jersey, bakeries, crumb-bums. Heaven.
I think my sister Christine, who was about 9 months old, was crawling around in the playroom sometimes – she probably wasn’t being watched very well. We were busy coloring; I don’t think we were responsible for her…. And in the kitchen there was so much gossip to get caught up on, you know? Christine grew into one of the strongest, most self-reliant, independent women I’ve ever known, so maybe this baby neglect was useful in the long-run.
Pop-pop was a rather curmudgeonly character with coke-bottle glasses. He was an avid reader of history books, loved to golf, and was constantly puffing on a big, fat stogy. In his youth, he sang in a barbershop quartet. He was a terrible driver and cussed like a sailor. Despite his gruff exterior, he was a total creampuff and oh boy, when Christine was born, was he ever enamored with her! I’m sure he loved all of us, but was very taken with Christine – I think all grandparents have their special grandkids – not all of them show it like Pop-pop did. Like I said, total creampuff.
Fast forward to 1990-something. Nana and Pop-pop long gone. I was visiting my Mom and came across my Nana’s grey curly Llama coat that she wore for years – oh, it was so her. I took it out of the closet and put it on – it smelled like cigars – man, the floodgates opened. My Mom said go ahead and take it. I’ve had some work done on it – it was sort of falling apart. I’ve had it dry-cleaned I don’t know how many times, but I can’t get the cigar smell out. I’m not sure I want to.