Ted Kennedy in Glimpses

If I mention I am from Cape Cod sooner or later someone asks if I know the Kennedy’s. Not really, I say. My family was a bunch of crabby Cape Cod Protestant Lincoln Republicans who viewed anyone with a summer house as an intruder. Anti-Kennedy sentiment fell on tender toddler ears. But interestingly enough, over time the orbits crossed and for me they crossed because of a simple wooden sailboat called a Wianno Senior. So yes, I met Ted Kennedy, a couple times in fact. I thought he was a good guy. With the flag in the Cotuit park at half-mast, here at random is where Ted and I collided over time:

1969, Edgartown Yacht Club Regatta: I am eleven years old and sent over to Martha’s Vineyard with the yachtsman Marvin Green, a childhood friend of my father’s, to keep his son Sandy Terry company. Terry and I bring bicycles over on the Green’s yawl and ride around Edgartown and Chappaquiddick in the midst of the regatta chaos. Then there is the morning of July 18th and we see lots of police and ambulances crossing the channel on the On Time, the Chappaquiddick ferry. We ride our bikes out to the eastern side of the island in time to see a car pulled out of the water by a tow truck. We aren’t told who the car belongs to, but we are told that a woman is dead. I am frightened by this and steal a long splinter of wood from the Dyke Bridge as a souvenir. I lost the splinter before returning home two days later.

Mid-1970s, Edgartown Yacht Club Regatta: A leeward start on a very windy day. I am sailing our Wianno Senior, the yellow Snafu III, and manage a good start with a smart spinnaker set right at the gun. It’s a very crowded starting line, with a fleet of forty sloops careening just feet apart from each other as they race towards a mark downwind to the north. To leeward of us, being incredibly aggressive and announcing his intention to exercise his right of way, is Teddy Kennedy, Jr. in the Kennedy’s boat the Victura. Maintaining control is nearly impossible as the boats start to death roll in the building swells. As I get ready to douse our spinnaker and avoid the crazed Kennedy boat their spinnaker explodes with a satisfying pop!, and for one magical second the tatters fly forward like a hundred pennants, held out in perfect outline by the tapes along the parachute sail’s leeches and foot. We sail on as they fall behind.

Early 1980s, Andover, Massachusetts: as the resident geek in the newsroom of the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune I am told to cover the opening of a new high tech company called Symbolics (makers of a LISP processing workstation). I get to the scene and see in the lobby the office developer, Wianno Senior sailor and Ted Kennedy friend Jack Fallon (also developer of the Prudential Center) and Senator Ted Kennedy. Both make remarks, and afterwards, not sure of what in the world to ask them directly, I start talking Wianno Seniors with them (Wianno Seniors are the totems of the Cape Cod sailing class. JFK’s boat sits, in silent homage, outside of the Kennedy Library in Dorchester and can be seen from the air as one lands to the north at Logan) and the discussion gets very animated, to the exclusion of the other reporters and Symbolics staff, none of whom have the faintest idea of what we are talking about when we get into a discussion about that year’s new jib from the Hood sail loft.

The front porch, Cotuit, Massachusetts: the old Cotuit Inn, now demolished and turned into a plastic hive of condominiums, had a wonderful little bar run by Hack Daniels. It was a nice quiet place to have a drink or two, and usually closed when Hack ran out of ice. One night some associates left the bar and saw on the porch of the inn a small igloo cooler with the words “Rose Kennedy Cottage” written on the lid. Inside were the makings for additional cocktails. The cooler was pilfered and brought to the Churbuck porch where the party continued. An hour later the senior senator stood on the steps demanding his cooler be returned for his boat ride back to Hyannisport. He chided us not by name but by our boat’s sail number, “140.”

He was meekly obliged and Hack banned us from the bar for a while.

1984, Lawrence EagleTribune: The democratic primary was in full force in New Hampshire and Ted Kennedy dropped by the newsroom. As political editor (at the sage age of 26) I am called in to record the Senator’s remarks. Massachusetts politics are chaotic. The junior senator, Paul Tsongas is retiring due to cancer (opening the seat to John F. Kerry). Walter Mondale and Gary Hart are battling it out in the Granite State. The Carter legacy has opened the door for the Reagan Revolution. And the Grand Lion of the Democratic Party is in the conference room holding forth. I can’t stop staring at his face. Ted looks terribly tired. Painfully so. It was, in retrospect, a low point for him. Little did I know.

And that’s it. Booze and boats. I’ll miss the guy. Now for my prediction. Remember Opening Day at Fenway? Ted was there to throw the first pitch with his niece, Caroline. The same Caroline once thought to be a contender to assume Hillary Clinton’s senate seat in New York. My theory? Caroline gets Ted’s seat – this state can’t exist without a Kennedy in office and I imagine Caroline can claim residence in Chilmark. Update: I blew that prediction. Say hello to Scott Brown.

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