Thursday, February 17, 2022

Ed for president

THREE WISE GUYS: Me with my brothers Alex and Ed, 
in the front yard of the presidential palace. 
Two and a half weeks ago today I was goofing around on Facebook and a message popped up from a stranger named Howard Kennedy. 

He asked if I was a Sudbury Carter and if I grew up on Eyre Street. 


Howard told me his grandparents Annie and Hugh Kennedy lived next door to us. I asked if his father was Charles or David. 


I remember the late Charlie Kennedy vividly. A decade or so my senior, Charlie was Carter-tall (my four older brothers Pat, Tom Alex and Ed essentially forced me to grow to six feet tall; anything less would have been unacceptable) and he exuded friendliness. I remember Charlie having a great moustache and he was an avid player of the bag pipes. In fact my mom enlisted Charlie Kennedy to give my older sisters Norma and Charlene pipe lessons. (Which says something about how ahead of her time my mom was.)

I happily reported to Howard how fondly I recalled his pop, his grandparents and his great aunt Lila Brownley. Turn out Howard's twin brother's first name is Brownlee. 

I loved talking to this guy. You'll be thrilled to know Howard and Brownlee also play the pipes. Twin pipers. That's a lot of skirl, which is a bagpipe word we grew up with.  

And then Howard said this: "As a child I was alway in wonder at the fact that my grandparents were so privileged as to live next to Mr. Carter (I was about five years old). A child's wonder at the fact that the President of the United States lives in Sudbury, right next to my grandparents. Heck of a commute but he was right there in the big brick house on the street." 

I struck gold! When I hear a story like that, the get-the-word-out-gene I inherited from my late mom takes full control.

Moments later I was on the phone to my sister Norma recounting and she, too, remembered Charlie; she said Charlie struck her as a "homemade" kind of guy. Pretty sure Norma surprised even herself with that lovely description, which I later passed along to Howard.

Then, I texted my brother Ed, whose real first name is James as in Jimmy Carter. (We've had tons of fun with that.) 

"How're you?," I typed: "I just met a guy named Howard Kennedy on Facebook. His dad was Charlie Kennedy from 197 Eyre street. Howard said when he was five years old he was amazed to learn that the president of the United State lived next door to his grandparents on Eyre Street."

If Ed saw my text, I'll never know. 

GUITAR HERO: And you thought it was
a computer game?
 A day or two later it became clear that around the same time as I was chatting with Howard, Ed was taking his last breath (maybe inhaling a smoke even). He died January 31. I'm still a mess and prone to tears at any moment (like yesterday at about 4:30 p.m. when I heard, by mistake, Joan Baez singing I dreamed I saw Joe Hill Last Night) and I'm also mad at Ed for dying and I'll probaby write a lot more about him later, but I am pleased that I managed to tell Howard's story at Ed's funeral last week.

And a few things occured to me. 

First is, I'm sad about a lot of things right now, but grateful to report that my last text message to Ed was upbeat and not, like, an expression of annoyance that he hadn't shown for dinner or something along those lines. Cuz there've been times...

Put the following in the advice bank: "Write every text as if it could be the last. It just might be and that text'll still be on your phone after the person's gone."


When I think back on how much influence Ed had on me (I'm listening to Jethro Tull's Aqualung as I write this) and how fervently I loved and admired Ed for his braininess, wit and determination to fight for what he thought was right, I honestly feel that Howard was sorta right. 

Ed could have in fact been president. But he had funner things to do.