Sunday, April 08, 2007

Kerry And My Sister

Most readers know me only as a conservative and are surprised to learn that I haven’t always been one. Seeing and hearing John Kerry several times a day is an almost-constant reminder that I used to think quite differently when I worked for him back in 1972. I was more liberal then and Kerry was staging an unsuccessful run for congress in the fifth district of Massachusetts. Prior to that, he had been involved with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and I had been fighting city hall in Lowell, the district’s biggest city. His campaign people contacted me and I went to work for them. Some friends and relatives came into the campaign as well, including two of my sisters, Jane and Elaine. When my daughter, Annie, got married last August, they came up for the wedding and we reminisced about those days.

After Kerry lost the election, I had no more contact with him. I had sensed a lack of passion in him and had come to see him as an empty suit. But Elaine and Jane had become friendly with Kerry’s first wife, Julia, and their association with Kerry went on for a few years. Both got to know his family fairly well when they baby-sat his daughters. Elaine watched them sometimes at the three-unit apartment house we had purchased together and they played with my daughters there. Jane was younger and still lived with our parents in nearby Tewksbury. In the summer, she would sometimes accompany the Kerrys to Naushon Island, the private, seven-mile-long summer retreat of the Forbes family and help with the children.

My family has always been politically active. We were born Boston-Irish-Catholic-Democrats and politics is innate. During the 1960s and ‘70s, though, the Democrat Party veered left while the McLaughlin family veered right. Not one of the nine of us still living belongs to the party any more, and I’m sure even my father would have resigned if he had lived to see what’s happened to that once-venerable party.

The day after the wedding last August, we were all sipping wine and talking politics on the porch of my mother’s house in Lovell when Jane told a Kerry story I hadn’t heard before. We had been taking turns relating just when it was that each of us had come to dislike the man the Democrats have since nominated for president. Jane described how she was spending a week on Naushon. Unaware that she was on a nearby porch and within earshot, Kerry was telling Julia that he didn’t want Jane to eat dinner with the family that evening. When Julia asked why, Kerry explained that some dinner guests he had invited didn’t approve of the help eating with the family.

As Jane was telling the story thirty years later, she was still angry and it showed clearly on her face. She’s fully as much of a spitfire now as she was at fifteen when the incident occurred, and it had been years since I’d seen that I angry look only she can display. She has a way of pursing her lips and knitting her brow when she’s mad that is unique to her and I had to laugh. “It wasn’t funny,” she said - again with the angry expression. “I was mortified.”

“So what happened?” I asked, trying to be serious. Jane went on to explain that Julia had put her foot down and told her husband she refused to explain that Kerry wanted her to eat in another room. With that, our would-be president backed off and Jane ate with the family as she usually did. I could picture her sitting at the dinner table, looking at Kerry and doing the slow burn as only Jane can.

“John Kerry - courageous man of the people,” I said.

“That’s when I came to hate him,” said Jane.

“Understandable,” I answered.

Eventually, the Kerrys sold their house in Lowell when he went to law school at Boston College. Then he served as Assistant District Attorney in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. I finished school and moved north to the mountains to teach. Elaine and Jane married and moved to the suburbs. Kerry then ran for Lieutenant Governor under Michael Dukakis, then US Senator. Reading snippets of what he was up to in the Boston papers, I was gradually moving from left to right on the political spectrum. Kerry, obviously, remains on the left - the most liberal member of the Senate. Seeing and hearing him every day is a continuous affirmation that I moved in the right direction.

Published October, 2004

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