Holiday Monday: the Kennedys go to the beach

The Importance of Being Kennedy by Laurie Graham

published 2007 chapter 7

[Narrator Nora is nanny to the Kennedy children during the 1920s and 30s]

I had all the girls in matching outfits. They looked a picture, lined up ready to go to Mass on Sunday morning. Wool coats with bonnets and muffs for the cold weather and cotton print dresses in the summer, with white ankle socks and Mary Janes. But when we went to the seashore they wore any old rags, just shorts and vests, first up, best dressed, and they ran around barefoot, brown as tinkers.

When I first worked for the Kennedys we'd go to a different place every year, but once we'd tried Hyannis we took the same cottage there every year.

Mrs K's driver said, ‘Know why we're going to Hyannis again? Because Your Man was turned down for the Country Club at Cohasset.’

I said, ‘And how would you know a thing like that?’

‘Because Herself told me,’ he said, ‘when I was driving her into town. She said it was because the Cohasset doesn't take Catholics but if you ask me it's more likely they'd heard about him running whiskey. And do you know why he got in at Hyannis? Because they're not so toffee-nosed down there. They saw the colour of his money and didn't bother to enquire where he got it.’

observations: Laurie Graham is considered a comfortably middle-brow author, writing the kind of books women love to read. She has produced a fair number of novels – all highly enjoyable – she writes and researches very well, and her books looking at historical figures from the viewpoint of a minor player are particularly good. Nora tells the well-known story of the Kennedys in the first half of the 20th century in a refreshing, entertaining and very funny way, and she does the same with the abdication of Edward VIII in Gone with the Windsors. (His own version here and here.)

Her touch with history is absolutely sure, she makes her characters very real, and the reader can get completely carried along in her stories. She’s unlikely to win the Booker Prize, but I feel that if she were a man she’d be considered a lot more seriously.

Links on the blog: This book has featured before, with a lovely picture of debutantes. JFK’s wedding was here. The Boston family here summered in Maine. History (in this case Alexander the Great) related by a minor player. The important issue of beach clothes in this entry.

Today is a Bank Holiday in the UK, and Memorial Day in the USA. One would be hoping for sunshine, and the real start of the summer. I hope it’s like that somewhere.

The picture of the Kennedys (minus Edward, who hadn’t yet been born) was taken in Hyannis Port in 1931. It is from the John F Kennedy Presidential Library. JFK is top left.


  1. I love this picture. I am thinking I should read this book. Don't usually read non-fiction but the Kennedy's are very interesting.

  2. I know, you just want to stare at them all in the photo, don't you? The book is fictionalized reality, if that's the right word - she takes the facts of the Kennedys' lives and turns them into a novel - I'm sure the narrator is invented, even if there must have been someone in that role in the family. And Nora does have a life of her own in the book. It's one I would really recommend to anyone interested in the Kennedys: one of those cases where the fiction makes you feel you understand the facts better.

    1. I missed that.. that it was fiction. But that makes it sound even better. Another to go on my book sale list.

  3. Moira - There is just something about the Kennedy mystique isn't there? Stories about them can really capture the imagination. And this one's an interesting innovation, told from that view point. Thanks for sharing.

  4. This picture is famous isn't it? And the Kennedy story is fascinating, right down to this generation.

  5. Yes Sarah - in fact the p/b version of the book uses part of the photo as its cover. I hadn't realized that when I chose it! And yes Margot, I think it'll be a long time before the world gets tired of the Kennedys and their stories.


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