When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine
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“Every few years, a memoir comes along that revitalizes the form…With generous, precise, and unsentimental prose, Monica Wood brilliantly achieves this . . . When We Were the Kennedys is a deeply moving gem!”—Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog and Townie
Mexico, Maine, 1963: The Wood family is much like its close, Catholic, immigrant neighbors, all dependent on the fathers’ wages from the Oxford Paper Company. But when Dad suddenly dies on his way to work, Mum and the four deeply connected Wood girls are set adrift. When We Were the Kennedys is the story of how a family, a town, and then a nation mourns and finds the strength to move on.
“On her own terms, wry and empathetic, Wood locates the melodies in the aftershock of sudden loss.”—Boston Globe
“[A] marvel of storytelling, layered and rich. It is, by turns, a chronicle of the renowned paper mill that was both pride and poison to several generations of a town; a tribute to the ethnic stew of immigrant families that grew and prospered there; and an account of one family’s grief, love, and resilience.”—Maine Sunday Telegram
Clean Water Act. Rumford-Mexico in 1926 is an enviable axis of industry, the Oxford the largest book-paper mill in the world under one roof, a thriving moneymaker that can turn the most ordinary man into a breadwinner, a marriage prospect, a safe bet. That was Dad, in the healthy bloom of his young manhood, sweating out his shift in the blow pits, where men young and old cooked pulp in a foul and dangerous liquor of sulphurous acid. Dad and his crewmates pressurized toxins and then released
entirely inside the mill gates, spanned years, decades. They were real. “Oh, goddammit. Goddammit. Red gone.” “I can’t believe it. I gotta sit down.” “And Jack, too. Somebody tell Jack Mooney. They came here together from the Island.” “I’m gonna tell you, I can’t believe it. I gotta sit down.” “Jesus Christ, don’t it just make you—? Goddamn, ain’t it a thing?” “It’s a thing. A fearsome goddamn thing.” But they have work to do. The trucks are lining up, the boxcar tracks hum like a summons.
as something close to music. Emotion, sensation, intuition. I see the day—or chips and bits, as if looking through a kaleidoscope—but I also hear it, a faraway composition in the melodious language of grief, a harmonized affair punctuated now and again by an odd, crystalline note fluting up on its own. A knock on a door. A throaty cry. Not long after the boy pounds on the Venskuses’ windows, Mr. Cray, our town constable, comes plodding up the driveway of the Norkus block like a horse in mud. Mr.
thinking: Hang on, Jackie dear. I’ll be there before you know it. The downy flakes that meet us at the New Hampshire border thicken and stick and offer Aunt Rose’s Chevy a woozy rapport with the road. My aunt inches along the interstate south of Boston as dusk comes upon us in the afternoon, Mum leading a rosary, Anne watching motel signs for a spot to duck from danger. no vacancy, they all say. no vacancy. Life feels mighty perilous in this week after assassination, and our world pulls a white
pats my knee: Stop staring, sweetie. The puffy-coat man stands back after giving his big-smile directions: “Ya can’t miss it!” Mum will chuckle over this the whole day, repeating “‘Ya can’t miss it!’” as if to say, Mother of Mary, they talk just like us! She’ll shake her head. “That man was so nice. Wasn’t that man nice, girls? ‘Ya can’t miss it!’” And we don’t. Down this street, turn here, up that street, turn there, and look-girls-look: the White House, just where that nice man said. Except