From the fictitious diary of the equally fictitious Kennedy nanny comes an inside look into the early years of the dynasty—with all the juicy bits intact.
Newly arrived from Ireland, Nora Brennan finds a position as nursery maid to the Kennedys of Brookline, Massachusetts—and lands at the heart of American history. In charge of nine children practically from the minute they're born—including Joe Jr., Jack, Bobby, Teddy, vivacious "Kick," and tragic Rosemary—she sees the boys coached at their father's knee to believe everything they'll ever want in life can be bought. She sees the girls trained by mother Rose to be good Catholic wives. With her sharp eye and her quiet common sense, Nora is the perfect candidate to report on an empire in the making. Then World War II changes everything.
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About the Author
Laurie Graham's nine novels include The Future Homemakers of America and Gone with the Windsors. She lives in Venice, Italy.
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The Importance of Being Kennedy
Accidentally, Through the Keyhole
Herself came to the house at Smith Square. It was April 1948. She was meant to be going directly to Paris for gown fittings but then she announced she was coming to London first, to visit with Kick. Landed on us with all her bags and baggage as if it was the Ritz we were running. Now, I've seen Mrs. Kennedy walk away when her own child lay sick in bed, turn her back on him sooner than delay a shopping trip, so we knew she wasn't coming for the pleasure of it. There was trouble on the agenda.
Walter had to have the car at the aerodrome by eight in the morning. Too early for Kick to get herself out of bed and go with him.
I said, "I'd have thought you'd make the effort. Go and meet her, get off on the right foot."
"No fear," she said. "Talk about being trapped in a confined space. It could feel like a very long drive."
I was worried Mrs. K would start quizzing Walter about what had been going on, if she had him to herself. I said, "Just act dumb."
"Nay, Nora," he said. "I don't need to act. When you've been driving gentry for thirty-five years dumb comes natural."
It was about eleven when they arrived. Mrs. K looked as smart as a brass button, as usual. You'd never have guessed she'd been on an airplane all night. She walked right past me in the hallway, unsnapped the fox head on her stole, handed it to Delia and made straight for the drawing room, still wearing her little hat, one of those round wee chocolate box affairs with a bit of net veiling that came down over her brow.
"Kaaaaathleeen,"she started. "We are going to have a very serious talk."
I don't care how many elocution lessons she's taken, she still has a voice on her that would clip a thorn bush. And it was something to see how that girl crumbled the minute she saw her Mammy. She was like a naughty child who knew she'd be getting the strap. It was all about her carrying on with Blood Fitzwilliam. It had finally dawned on Mrs. K that Kick wasn't as worried as she might have been about her money being cut off if she didn't stop seeing him, so she'd come in person to threaten her with the everlasting fires of hell. The lovebirds were in the country when the cablegram came, seeing his horses put through their paces on Newmarket Heath, but Kick came hurrying back to town as soon as she heard her Mammy was coming. She knew she was in hot water.
She said, "Mother can have my room. The guest room's too small for her. Give my room an extra spit and polish. I want everything to be perfect."
I said, "Then you'd better get yourself round to Farm Street and see Father D'Arcy, because the first thing she'll want to know is, have you been to confession? What bedroom we put her in will be the least of it."
She gave me one of her monkey faces. And that room of hers needed more than spit and polish. I've done my best with those children over the years but there's not a one of them ever learned to hang up a jacket.
I said, "What will we do about dinners? Will you have company in while she's here?"
She said, "If you mean Blood, no. He's going to make himself scarce. Maybe I'll invite Sissy though. Mother thinks Sissy sets the perfect example. Or maybe we should have tray suppers and I'll read aloud from Lives of the Saints. I just want to stop her ranting- till Daddy's met Blood. He'll talk her round. I think Blood and Daddy'll really get on."
I didn't. No more than a pair of turkey cocks could be left in the same pen. Mr. K liked -people he could order around and so did Lord Fitzwilliam. And as for anybody talking Herself round, the very idea was nonsense. There was only ever going to be one thing that would satisfy her, and that was for Kick to go home and marry a nice Catholic boy, if one could be found who'd overlook her history. I knew Kick would put up a fight but I was sure her Mammy would win the day and that'd be the end of that. Blood Fitzwilliam would be given his marching orders, Smith Square would be let go and so would we.
Well, then it started. All you could hear was Mrs. K's voice.
"Look at me when I'm talking to you, Kathleen."
"Perfect purity and self-control, that's what you were taught at Sacred Heart."
"After everything that's been done for you, Kathleen Kennedy. Every advantage in life you've been given."
The few bits I didn't manage to hear accidentally through the keyhole I could guess. Promises of hellfire and damnation. The threat of being cut off, not just from her Daddy's deep pockets. From the holy sacraments as well. As long as her Mammy was calling her "Kathleen" I knew she was holding out. They'd had no lunch, not even a glass of soda taken in, and it got well past the time when Mrs. K usually takes her afternoon rest. Then things fell quiet. Herself came out from the drawing room and told Delia she was going upstairs to nap and wasn't to be disturbed till five o'clock. Kick was asleep in an armchair when I went in, curled up in her stocking feet with a little sodden hanky balled up on her lap. Round one had gone to Mother.
Then it was my turn.
Delia said, "She's rung for a glass of milk, Nora, to be taken up by you, most particular. Thank God. She frightens the bejaysus out of me."The Importance of Being Kennedy
A Novel. Copyright © by Laurie Graham. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Nora Brennan, hired by Rose Kennedy as a nanny for her quickly growing family, gives a nuanced view of growing up Kennedy. Joe's single-minded pursuit of the American Presidency for Joe, Jr., Joe and Jack's fierce competition, Rosemary's disability, Kathleen's death in pursuit of her second Protestant marriage, Rose's strident religiosity and emotional distance from her 9 children are creatively chronicled through Nora's loving eyes. Spanning from JFK's birth in 1917, through the dark days in England in WWII and up until JFK's death, Nora gives a touching account of the beginnings of the Kennedy dynasty, ending in unforeseen tragedy for 5 of the 9 children. Touching, creative and extremely funny.
Using the device of a fictional nanny, Graham takes an inside look at the Kennedy family, from shortly before the birth of JFK in 1917 to the death of daughter Kathleen in 1948. Nora Brennan, an Irish immigrant, is the main caretaker of the young children during these years. Graham's research seems evident, as she portrays the members of the large family. Father Joe is a philanderer. Mother Rose leaves much of the day-to-day care of the children to the nannies and often leaves on extended vacations. JFK (always called Jack by his family) was sickly throughout much of his life. Daughter Rose Marie was a sweet child, but became more difficult to manage as an adult and underwent a lobotomy which ruined her life. Daughter Kathleen was more or less cut off from the family (especially Rose) after she married a Protestant. When Kathleen dies in a plane crash, only her father attends her funeral in France. There is also much interesting material about daily life in London during the air raids of World War II.
If you like historical drama, then you will enjoy this book. Very well written and one of the better reads I've had in a long time.