“I fill pages and pages . . . . Certain words become little obsessions, containing not only meaning and sound but an irresistible physical loveliness. I like shapely words . . . . I ravage my word collection, sifting through dozens of beauties to construct sentences, paragraphs, and I hope, a whole happy story . . . .” So Monica Wood recalls her childhood passion for words. In her memoir When We Were the Kennedys, still passionate about words, Wood crafts descriptions of irresistible physical loveliness to construct a whole (mostly) happy story that is a joy to read.
The book focuses on Wood’s childhood in the small paper-mill town of Mexico, Maine. In prose of almost tactile richness, Wood takes us to her Catholic grade school, where kind, affectionate nuns nurture her love of words and her eagerness to write. She also takes us inside her close and loving family; into the home of her best friend; into the tender embrace of her uncle Bob, a Catholic priest; into the realm of her grumpy-cuddly immigrant landlords; and into the neighborhood she shares with other children of millworkers. Most importantly, she guides us through the turbulence following the sudden death of her beloved father, describing the grief that unmoored her and slammed her beautiful mother. She finds herself surrounded by gentle solace, and her best friend’s dad quietly provides a father figure. While still mourning her father’s death, Wood joins the rest of the country in mourning the death of another young Catholic man, President Kennedy, and her family finds strength in the Kennedys’ response to their own tragedy. “We are, it turns out, bracingly closer to a family that seems equal parts real and make-believe: stoic and storied and rich, admired the whole world over. Image my surprise.”
Monica Wood shared with her father “a mutual inkling that miracles lay dormant everywhere, that one could navigate the world as an optimist and be rewarded for it.” She shares that optimism with us, as she navigates anew the life she lived so fully as a child, and we are greatly rewarded for it.