From the moment she began reading When We Were the Kennedys, my sister, Regan, could not stop talking about the book. Regan reads a lot, but we don’t usually share what we read. I think it’s because our literary tastes differ quite a bit. But that all changed when Regan read, When We Were the Kennedys. As she finished the book and handed it off to me, she said, “Hurry up now and finish it so we can talk all about it!” (Please keep reading to learn about your chance to win a copy for yourself!)
The Kennedy name surely caught Regan’s eye initially – the iconic Irish American family has always intrigued her – but the blurb on the back sold her. The story begins in 1963 with the close-knit Wood family living in Mexico, Maine. Mexico is a town physically, psychologically, and fiscally dominated by the Oxford Paper Company. The author’s father dies suddenly on his way to work at the Mill one day and life for the Wood family changes forever. We see how the family mourns (at one point with the entire country) and how they begin to make their way back.
Poignant, but never sappy, it is a truly a beautiful memoir. One reviewer said he had never pulled as hard for a family. That is exactly how I felt, and I wanted to learn more about its author, Monica Wood. She mentioned in an interview that both her parents’ families came from an Irish enclave on Prince Edward Island, Canada and that her father was a natural storyteller with a gift for language, but I wondered how else she felt her heritage as an Irish American.
Monica was gracious enough to chat a bit and answer a few questions. I began by asking Monica if growing up she was aware of her Irish roots. Monica said very much so and went on to describe the lilting accents of her grandparents and the “many, many Irish expressions that were built into our family lexicon. Lots of colorful expressions.”
I asked if she remembered any and Monica came up with: “Arriving with one arm as long as the other.” Meaning? “You brought nothing to the table.” That’s one I can definitely hear my Irish American relatives saying!
Monica also remembered songs such as “Whiskey You’re the Devil” and “Danny Boy” filling the air of her childhood.
I was interested if Monica ever felt she was treated differently as an American of Irish descent. Mexico, Maine was a town of immigrants and the children of immigrants, so she never felt out-of-place because of her heritage. Monica was proud of it: “…I remember as a child in my town, we still identified by our families’ roots. When a kid asked, ‘What are you?’, my answer was ‘Irish.'”
Monica recently visited Ireland for the first time, spending part of her visit on a houseboat on the Shannon. She was amazed at how, although many generations removed from Ireland, she felt at home in Ireland. The Irish embrace their history and their folklore in such a way that a common ground emerges when descendants of those who left, return. This is why it can feel like coming home for many Irish Americans.
I’d like to share what Monica told me about her visit to Ireland:
My sister Cathe had been there just last year and told me it would feel like coming home. I didn’t think that would be true. But it was. For one thing, so many people reminded me of aunts and uncles and cousins! And they are so very warm, and they LOVE to talk, and sing, and lift a glass to almost anything. The night before we left (I was there with my husband) we ended up singing for 100 people in a pub in Ennis. By the time I got to the final chorus, everyone had learned the song (“Hard Times” by Stephen Foster) and was singing with me. I got the chills, literally, and realized: This is my tribe.
I can imagine that Monica was a big hit with the people of Ennis that night – they do love when you bring a song!
I am so happy to have read When We Were the Kennedys, and if you don’t win the Author-Signed Copy in our little competition here at The Irish in America, you will just have to go out and buy one for yourself, but it probably won’t be signed. Monica even agreed to personalize the inscription (actually it was her idea!)
So, how do you win? It’s easy! Just “like” this post – either click the button below on the blog or like it on Facebook (click here) – and your name will be entered in a drawing to win. Only one entry per person, please. You only have until 11:59pm (EST) Sunday, January 26th. We will announce the winner here on the blog early next week. For more information on the contest, please visit our CONTEST page.
Take a look at this short video and hear Monica talk about When We Were the Kennedys:
Click here to read reviews of When We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood.