1963, Mexico, Maine. The Wood family is much like its close, Catholic, immigrant neighbors, all dependent on a father’s wages from the Oxford Paper Company. Until the sudden death of Dad, when Mum and the four closely connected Wood girls are set adrift. Funny and to-the-bone moving, When We Were the Kennedys is the story of how this family saves itself, at first by depending on Father Bob, Mum’s youngest brother, a charismatic Catholic priest who feels his new responsibilities deeply. And then, as the nation is shocked by the loss of its handsome Catholic president, the televised grace of Jackie Kennedy—she too a Catholic widow with young children—galvanizes Mum to set off on an unprecedented family road trip to Washington, D.C., to do some rescuing of her own. An indelible story of how family and nation, each shocked by the unimaginable, exchange one identity for another.
Our local book club chose to read this one for our monthly discussion this week. Set in Maine, it tells the author's family story of growing to adulthood in the same time frame as the majority of our members. As such, it was a memoir for us too. World events were the same ones we lived through. For several of us, the flashbacks to a pre-Vatican II catholic school education are almost chilling. For all of us, the struggles of the family due to the father's death, and then the impending and always threatened closure of the paper mill (the town's major employer) are producing some dejà vu moments as several towns here in Maine are wrestling with exactly these problems of mill closures, bankruptcies, high unemployment and the despair that goes along with those events.
It's a beautiful and poignant story that, in spite of the hardships portrayed for the children, is full of hope and promise. Wood writes from the heart, evidencing the close and loving structure of her family, and the solidarity of small town life. Definitely a memoir worth reading.
Title: When we Were the Kennedys
Author: Monica Wood
Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (July 10, 2012), Amazon digital edition
Subject:growing up after a parent's death
Setting: Mexico Maine
Source: my own digital shelf