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The Last Son
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy looked out the window of her suite in St. Margaret’s Hospital in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
Joseph Patrick Kennedy Sr. sat in a dark corner near the door.
In a cradle across the room, the new baby slept, a boy whom they had named Edward Moore Kennedy after Joe’s longtime confidante and private secretary. He was their ninth child, four boys and five girls: Joseph Jr., John, Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia, Robert, Jean, and now Teddy.
For a few minutes, Rose said nothing, preferring instead to watch the snow falling outside her window. It was February 22, 1932, the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of George Washington.
Then she let out a sigh. “It wasn’t easy, Joe,” she said. “I’m forty-one years old, and my friends all told me I was crazy to have another child, but . . .” She stopped and turned to face her husband.
“You’ll have all the help you need with the children,” Joe said, “and when you want to go to Europe, or wherever, then you’ll have the money for that, too.”
Rose turned away from her husband and back to the falling snow. A tear grew at the corner of one eye and fell down her cheek. She didn’t bother to wipe it away.
Although the United States was suffering from a serious economic depression that had started in 1929, Joseph Kennedy had gotten out of the stock market before its collapse, thereby saving the Kennedy fortune, which had been made from banks, movies, and stocks.
Joe stood up. “I have to go back to New York City, Rose,” he said. He looked at his pocket watch. “Will you be all right?”
“I’ll be all right,” she said. “Go on. Your driver is probably waiting for you.”
“Are you sure?” Joe asked. “If the weather gets really bad, then I can take the train back up this weekend.”
“I’m sure,” Rose managed to say. “On your way out, would you please ask the Sister to come back in? I need something to help me sleep.”
“Of course, dear,” Joe said.
He came over and kissed her lightly on the cheek. She didn’t respond.
Rose knew that Joe still couldn’t understand why she had wanted to come to Boston for the child’s birth. He had argued that there were excellent medical facilities in New York. But Rose just had more confidence in her own doctor. After all, he had delivered the other eight children. And she had always felt more comfortable being in Boston than in their house in the Bronxville section of New York.
From her window, Rose had a view of the front of the hospital, and she had seen Joe’s driver pull up to the entrance. He always had everything planned out, Joe did, down to the number of minutes he could stay with her. Still, he had given her everything she wanted and everything he had promised her father when he had asked him for his permission to marry his daughter. She watched Joe get into the automobile and the driver pull away from the curb. Slowly, she began to relax.
Rose knew that as the Depression had worsened, Joe had grown restless. Both her family and his had been active in politics in Massachusetts, and there were people who thought Joseph Kennedy should run for president of the United States, but he had instead concentrated on making money, something at which he had been very successful. Still, politics seemed to be in the blood of both their families, and that year Joe would support the presidential candidacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He would raise money, and he would eventually help win over the support of William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper baron who controlled the Democratic National Convention delegates in both California and Texas. In doing so, Joe thought he would be rewarded with a major government appointment in Washington, D.C.
Suddenly, Rose opened her eyes. She couldn’t understand why she was still in such pain.
Just then, the door opened. “Ah, you’re awake,” the nursing sister said. Rose adored this nun, Sister Genevieve. “When I came in to give you something to make you sleep,” she said, “you were already sound asleep. I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Thank you, Sister,” Rose said. “I think I need it now, though.”
Sister Genevieve came closer. “You have a letter,” she said. “Would you like to read it before I give you the medicine?”
“A letter?” Rose said.
Sister Genevieve nodded. “Shall I open it for you?” she asked.
“Please,” Rose said.
Sister Genevieve slit the cream-colored envelope seal, took out a folded piece of notepaper, and handed it to Rose.
Right away, Rose recognized the handwriting. It was from their second son, John, whom the family called “Jack.” He was away at the Choate School in Connecticut. “He wants to be Teddy’s godfather,” Rose whispered. She handed the note back to Sister Genevieve. “He’s only fourteen, but still he wants to do this. He is such a thoughtful boy.”
“You have a wonderful family, Mrs. Kennedy,” Sister Genevieve said. She helped Rose sit up just long enough to receive the injection, and then she gently let her down and made sure she was covered warmly before she left the room.
Over the next two years, 1933 and 1934, Teddy became the freckle-faced pet of the family. His sister Jean started calling him “Biscuits and Muffins” because he was chubby and cheerful.
“You’re the perfect little brother, Teddy,” Eunice told him one day.
“Why?” Teddy asked.
“You don’t argue as much as Joe,” Kathleen said, “and you’re more outgoing than Jack.”
“And you’re not as intense as Bobby,” Rosemary said.
Teddy gave them all a puzzled look. “I don’t understand what you mean,” he said.
“Good! Keep it that way!” Patricia said. “We’ll all be better off for it.”
Although Joe and Rose loved their children, they didn’t cuddle or coddle them. Instead, they held them to very high standards of behavior—all except Teddy. For some reason, from the beginning, they didn’t seem to expect as much from him, and, because of that, neither Joe nor Rose pushed him as hard as they did their other children. In fact, sometimes they didn’t push him at all.
© 2010 George E. Stanley