The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy

The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy by Jean Kennedy Smith is a memoir by the last surviving child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. While a memoir by Smith could easily run for hundreds upon hundreds of pages, The Nine of Us focussed mainly on the time when the Kennedy family had all nine children. Oldest brother Joseph, Jr. would die in action in WWII, in August 1944. The book however did continue past 1944, with short chapters on brother John’s presidential bid and sister Kathleen (“Kick”)’s controversial marriage and death. At only 253 pages, this was not a substantial book in regards to learning any new important Kennedy family history. Smith’s personal anecdotes and reminiscences as a family insider made the story a rapid read, as well as a delightful page-turner where I could picture Smith telling me her childhood memories by the Hyannis Port fireplace. The read was so rapid because Smith’s writing style was based on oral transcriptions, and it was edited well, so she probably was coached along in her miked memories.

Each chapter began with a quotation from either Rose or Joseph Kennedy, and it imparted a valuable life lesson that Smith learned and follows to this day. This could have turned into a rather trite and sappy read, but learning about the importance of her Catholic faith, perseverance in life endeavours, “no whining” philosophy, charity, sister Rosemary’s mental disability and bonding with family were treated as new discoveries and were full of respect, charm and warmth.

I laughed at some of the tales, such as the regular habit of matriarch Rose who cut out and literally pinned newspaper stories to her dress, in order to refer to them during family mealtimes. Smith also told about her maternal grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald, and how as mayor of Boston was the first mayor in the US to erect a Christmas tree in a public park. Mayor Fitzgerald also threw the first pitch at the inaugural game of the Boston Red Sox. Another Kennedy tidbit I didn’t know was that Ethel Skakel, later to be Mrs. Robert Kennedy, was Smith’s roommate at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart.

Smith started the epilogue by admitting “It is sometimes difficult to comprehend that I am the only member of our original family still living.” I wonder if Smith has a more definitive Kennedy memoir in the works, as she is, poignantly, the last one.

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