Monday, September 10, 2012

Keeping the Faith (or Not)

I think most families, especially large ones, have histories that are far more legend than factual.  Kernels of truth - sometimes as little as coincidence of surnames on the old family tree, or some ancestor having lived in the same locale as a celebrated figure - grow into luxurious vines of mythology: "We're related!"  "Great Grandfather knew him!"  Added to this tendency, I think, is the practice of parents or older relatives to sanitize or simplify complex situations into tales fit for young ears.  

It was an object of faith in my family - and still is among some of my cousins on the Warren side (my mother's family), especially the Protestant ones - that "Grandma was kicked out of her strict Catholic Irish family for marrying a Protestant."  This, too, was what I had believed - until in her later years, when I think she sensed she was sinking into the dementia which finally overcame her memory entirely, Mom told me what I assume is a more accurate version of events.  The Catholic/Protestant version of my mother's story paired nicely with a reverse story from my father's side whereby my Uncle Henry's wife was disowned by her strict Lutheran family when she married my Catholic Irish uncle (I wouldn't be surprised if the Irish aspect was worse than the Catholic one) and, when this Aunt Laura died giving birth to her second child, "they didn't even come to her funeral."  This second story seems, also to be less than accurate.  For instance, it turns out that that child and Laura are buried in her (Laura's) family plot.  Incidentally, the child of this birth was named Hedwig and died eleven days after her mother, no doubt having realized what a handicap growing up with the name 'Hedwig' would prove to be.  

The story of my grandmother being disowned was true, and it apparently was also true that her picture was cut from her family's photographs, since we learned the latter detail from cousins who discovered our kinship when a cousin of mine and her employer noticed that they had similar names in their ancestry.  "We always wondered what she had done," they told my mother, when they finally met.  However, as my mother later explained, my grandmother Elsie met my Protestant grandfather Ephraim after she had already left home.  The new story has some suspicious details, which I will point out but, I think, it is substantially accurate.  

Elsie had graduated high school and had taken a job at a local hospital, which she evidently enjoyed very much.  She still lived at home and, I gather, was either the eldest daughter of the family or else she was the oldest girl still living at home when her mother died.  Not too long after she began working, her mother passed away.  Since the family was a strict Catholic Irish family, there was, of course, a passel of kids younger than Elsie who were still in school and in need of a parent substitute devoted to the domestic chores involved in raising children around in the first decade of the 1900's.  My great grandfather, who by all accounts was a son of a bitch, was not about to take over these duties, nor to pay someone else to do it (I gather the family was comfortably off, though not wealthy).  The suspicious details (because they sound a tad melodramatic) of what followed are these:  it was just before Christmas, gifts were already wrapped and the names of the recipients were attached.  Great-grandfather removed Elsie's name from her gifts and readdressed them to her younger sisters.  He then led her to her late mother's closet and told her she was to quit her job and that henceforth these would be her clothes, and that she was to stay home taking over the duties of keeping house for the family and of raising her younger siblings.  

By all accounts, Elsie was a girl who, though an extremely strict parent later to her own daughters, loved a joke and loved a good time.  By this I don't mean to imply she was in any way loose, but just that she was not ready to give up her independence and probable future happiness to become a domestic slave.  She had vacationed the previous summer with a cousin in Geneva, NY and had had a marvelous time there.  Upon being faced with a dreary future at home, she packed her bag and as soon as she got the chance, left home and fled to the cousin, who took her in.  With a single exception, she never saw any of her family again; her siblings were forbidden to mention her name and her face was cut from all the family photos.  The one sister she did see again was Great-Aunt Daisy who, after she grew to adulthood, tracked Elsie down and re-established a relationship with her.  My mother remembers Aunt Daisy's visits as great treats; Daisy always came to visit laden with gifts for the children.  By leaving home and later marrying my grandfather, Elsie Warren left the middle class and became firmly embedded in the working class, in which every one of her daughters remained and among which which they chose their spouses.  

Not too long after she left home, Elsie met Grandpa Ephraim at some social affair - a village dance or festival of some sort - and in short order the two wed.  Grandfather was from an Appalachain mountain family that was spread along the New York Southern Tier and the Pennsylvania Northern Tier and, believe me, even today that is country.  At some point in his youth, Ephraim lived in Elmira, NY and family legend has it that he was "friends with Sam Clemens", who is, of course, better known as Mark Twain.  I doubt they were friends, (there would have been quite an age difference) but he may have known Clemens, in passing, as a fellow Elmiran.  Perhaps more likely, he just knew Clemens by reputation as his city's most famed inhabitant at the time.  Or possibly they weren't even there at exactly the same time, merely about the same time.  However, I do recall that I once mentioned "Mark Twain" and Grandpa (who didn't like me a whole lot anyway), frowned and thundered, "His name is Sam Clemens!"

I suspect the basic truth about Elsie is that she was a rebel from an early age.  She was probably a bit of a 'handful', and I wouldn't be at all surprised if her father disliked her a bit.   These legends of people being cast off for marrying outside the faith may be technically true as to the specific timing of the family decree that they be removed from the family, but my guess is that more often than not, if the religion is not one of those few cults that practice shunning, the marriage is the only last in a long line of small rebellions against the parental strictures.  The child who is thus cast off naturally feels that he or she is on the right side of the equation and is likely to pass on to the following generations a tale told from her point of view.  The parent depicted as overly strict probably would, in turn, describe the child as overly wild or naughty or willful.

I knew Grandpa Ephraim Warren (my only grandparent who had not died before I was born), and as I say, he didn't care for me too much.  As a man who had brought up eight daughters, the younger ones of whom he had to raise without Elsie's help, Grandpa wasn't terribly fond of boys in general.  Elsie died at 49 from complications from epilepsy, just months after Mom's high school graduation; Mom's two youngest sisters either did not recall their mother at all, or had only one or two vague memories.  My mother was raised very strictly, and she herself was not at all a rebel, although a couple of her sisters were somewhat more rebellious against the family norms than she.  Mom and her sisters grew up in a series of small country towns; Grandpa worked in the lumber trade, which required him to move occasionally.  In addition to those requisite moves, Elsie had some variety of wanderlust which caused her to change houses every couple of years even if Grandpa's work did not require a move.  Elsie never returned to the Catholic church, but she made sure her daughters attended whichever Protestant church was nearby.  

My mother so hated moving about that she made owning their own home from the start a condition of marriage to my father, and he and she chose and purchased a house in the city before they married.   Mom always wanted to be a "city girl" and she absolutely hated being a stand-out in any way.  She was the farthest thing from a rebel, yet fate conspired against her.   She became a Catholic, the only one of her sisters to do so, although no less than four of the others married Catholics.  She grew up thinking boys were somehow nasty, and those of her sisters who had children before she did dutifully had only daughters.  Mom broke the family tradition by having me, and then compounded her apostasy by having seven more boys.  And the whole City Girl thing went by the wayside when my Dad's brother Bernard developed a heart condition that rendered him unable to continue working on the family farm which he had inherited.  When I was three, Dad swapped the house in the city, which contained a rental flat upstairs, for the family farm and thus Mom became a farmer's wife as well as mother of eight boys (and of my only sister, Lucy), for neither of which activities she'd had any practical preparation.  "No one will ever know how often I was faking it," she confessed to me a few years ago.   It was strange to hear, since I always remember her as a serene presence, and as calmly expert in any matter that arose.  And you better believe, with nine children and a bipolar, alcoholic husband, plenty of unusual matters did arise.  

I have been thinking about the unreliability of so much of what I "know" lately, as I find out more and more things I was sure were true are actually highly doubtful.  There is so little we actually know about the past; we often find that even the events we witnessed are remembered differently by others who were also present.  Although I really try to be truthful when telling about my past or my family's history, the fact is that much of the nuance, at least, could be better labelled, "my story" than "my history".   It really is true that the older one gets, the less one knows.  Or at least there is so much less about which one can be certain.  It gives me quite a different perspective on history, which, besides being written by the winners, is even more likely written in service of mythologizing and bowdlerizing the past to fit the tellers' prejudices.    

Put another way, there is so little of what actually happened that matters to any individual life.  What one believes is true is the sole determinant of the impact of the past upon one's life.  

Yikes! we are even more rudderless than I thought!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


At the time that my Father's bipolarity was just beginning to drive him completely off the rails, he started going about helping various townsfolk with yard work and the like.  At the time I thought it was a benign - even laudable - activity, although current interactions with my brother Rob, who is victim of the same dysfunction, has caused me to begin wondering how welcome - and how helpful - Dad's activities actually were.  The downside to this new initiative, as indeed was the downside to every new program which he undertook, was that he nearly always tended to involve his offspring, notably me.  

One of the first of the people Dad undertook to assist in her gardening and so forth was Miss Anna Hargreave, a lovely elderly lady who had been his teacher from first through fourth grade in a cobblestone one-room schoolhouse a couple of miles to the southeast of our farm.  That is, the schoolhouse was a couple of miles southeast; Miss Hargreave's home, which she shared with an unmarried sister named Emma, was across the creek which bounded our farm on the north - a short distance if one were in the mood to swim, but two or three miles by road, since in each direction from the Farm the nearest bridges were at least a mile distant.  

The Misses Hargreave were quite elderly; this was in the 1950's and my father's early schooling with Miss Hargreave, who had also taught several of his older siblings, had begun in 1905.  Anna was a rather beautiful white-haired lady who looked like a Norman Rockwell version of everyone's Grandma.  She was sweet-natured, gentle and generous.  She loved her garden and grounds, though she was too old to do much gardening by herself, and in this case I think my father's assistance was welcome - especially since the entire job rapidly became solely the concern of my brother Gary and me, thence handed on to my sister Lucy, and on down through my catalog of brothers until, long after I was off to college and seeing the world, it became the job of my sibling number six, Liam.  

Despite the fact that I was (as Mom used to tell me with a certain note of asperity in her voice) the Little Prince, a fact that arose solely from my position as the first boy in two generations among my mother and her seven sisters, and the first grandchild  in almost thirty years on my Dad's side where there were no less than five sisters and four other brothers, all of whom had either no children or fully grown children and found much of their time free to dote on me - despite all this positive adult interaction- I remained very wary of adults and never really saw them as completely human in the way I saw myself.  They were too powerful, too all-knowing and their reactions were usually utterly inexplicable to me.  People were far more formal in those days, and I never addressed any adult other than as Mr. or Mrs. or Miss or Aunt or Uncle.  There was no mistaking these folks for my contemporaries or buddies, no matter how warmly they treated me nor how much they played or joked with me.   Adult women dressed soberly and wore hats with veils and white gloves when they ventured forth from their homes for anything other than a quick trip to the grocery - and sometimes even then.  Men wore fedoras any time they set forth from home.  Few women drove; one would see married couples when two such drove about together, almost invariably with the fedora-ed men sitting upright in the front seat of the car, and the gloved and hatted wives seated behind.  

I liked Miss Hargreave, despite the fact that she was an adult and the boss, the latter category being another that, until my day of retirement, I never felt entirely easy with even though I was quite good friends with several of them.  I always felt, with either my elders or my bosses, that I was subject to unfathomable whims, that I was never sure that a humiliating reprimand was not forthcoming, although such reprimands were quite rare in my experience - far rarer than I deserved.  Miss Hargreave would tell me little stories about Dad as a small child.  One I recall was that on his first day of school he showed up with a big red bow tied under his chin.  I was a good deal less fond of Miss Anna's sister Emma.  Emma was thin and boney, and severe in appearance, and although she had a good heart as far as I could see, any conversation with her soon swerved toward the biblical and religious.   She hadn't a clue how to speak to children, and I in turn hadn't a clue how to speak with her comfortably.   Even worse were days when a third sister, a married sister named Almeda, was present.  Miss Almeda - or Mrs. Law, I suppose I should say - was personally pleasant and kind, but age had brought on a speech impediment that rendered her completely impossible to understand.  Her lower jaw did more than tremble - especially when she was speaking - it shook vigorously resulting in speech that was a disjointed series of syllables.  I did not dread her because of any unkindness, but because of my embarrassment that she would speak to me and I hadn't a clue what she'd said.  When I found myself in a position where i was unable to understand an adult I felt a deep shame.   I have always felt I should understand people, a trait I may have gotten from my Mom who went into full panic mode when confronted with even a hint of an accent.  Mom's fear that she wouldn't understand such a person inevitably overwhelmed her to the point that she didn't  understand them, even when she otherwise might have.  

Lucy, genuinely liked Miss Hargreave; I think any kindly haven that got her away from the increasingly chaotic conditions at home would have earned her heartfelt gratitude.  Miss Hargreave, in return, doted on Lucy.  When Lucy was accepted at college and was seeing Miss Hargreave for the last time before she left, Anna gave her the gift of a small leather change purse.  Lucy thought it the odd gift of an out-of-touch elderly lady, until she got home and discovered $100 rolled up inside it.  This was a substantial gift from anyone in 1962, and from a lady in such straitened circumstances as a retired schoolteacher must have been, it was extremely generous.  

Mowing Anna Hargreave's lawn, planting her gladioli each spring, and digging up the spent bulbs each fall and pruning her beauty bush (I am not sure what this bush was actually called, but it was completely pink in spring with thousands of little pink tubular flowers) were more or less Shaughnessy traditions for years.  Miss Hargreave insisted on paying us a couple of dollars each time - which were extremely welcome - but it was almost like a chore at home; that is, something expected, taken for granted and performed with reasonably good grace every summer for years.  

When the task was handed on to Liam, sixth in the sequence of siblings that began with me, he developed a very close relationship with Miss Anna.  Liam has the happy quality of whole-hearted enthusiasms.  He has always loved baseball passionately, he loved cowboy films and the whole 1950's concept of what the West had been - the good guys and bad guys - and he has to this day, tons of friends who return his affection fully, both those newly met and those who are childhood friends because he shows his feelings of affection openly; not with hugs or physical display (we are far too Irish for that) but with unfeigned pleasure displayed when he meets them.  Liam is a singer and a songwriter with the eye of a lover.  (My sister-in-law who has herself been inducted into a Hall of Fame for music in a large city in the West says, "I have written songs, but Liam is a poet."  He has the gift of poking fun in a way that affection shines through.  Chief of all his targets for mockery is himself.  People love to talk to Liam, because he is very funny - not in the sense of knowing a million jokes, but simply in having a gift for coining phrases and descriptions which are both acute and very funny and memorable.  Liam's nicknames for various friends have become family standards when speaking of those friends.

By the time Liam was mowing Miss Hargreave's lawn, Dad had found another protégée just up the road from the Farm - Miss Bessie Hadlock, the last of a family that had more or less been local gentry for generations here in Reedville.  Originally the Hadlocks had lived in a great square house with a cupola on top, which stands on a hill at a point where three roads meet, formerly known as Hadlocks' Corners.  There is today an historic marker in front of "Hadlock House".  However, the generation that produced Bessie, a woman who was as old, or nearly so, as Miss Hargreave, had in some way lost nearly everything.  The Hadlock farm with the great house was lost and at the time everything came apart for them, there appeared to be little hope of saving anything.  However, my dad's oldest brother who was a gifted lawyer and prominent in county politics, undertook to save something from the wreckage for Bessie Hadlock.  Ultimately he managed to save for her a small wedge of land with the small tenant house across the road from the big house.   Nearly every farm in this area - certainly all the older ones - included a tenant house for a family which was hired to help work the farm.   This was usually a rather plain house, much smaller than the big farm house.  Usually the tenant house would be occupied by the same hired man and his family for many years.  In many cases after the nineteen fifties, if farms were sold, the big house was retained by the selling family and the new owners would move themselves or one of their married children into the tenant house.  

At any rate, Liam, with his gifts for throwing himself into whatever he does and for being liked by those he deals with, became as close to Bessie Hadlock as he was with Anna Hargreave.  Both Miss Hargreave and Miss Hadlock would, in any case, have been within our orbit of awareness; Reedville was a very small town and few families moved in or out - everyone had been there forever, it seemed, as had their parents and grandparents.  But because of the lawn-mowing, these ladies became more than just someone one knew of or met occasionally at the store or library.   They were part of that ring of people with whom our entire family had a certain feeling of kinship.

I had long since hitch-hiked to California to become a surfer, and Lucy had completed college by the time Liam inherited the Hargreave lawn and taken on the Hadlock job.  One day he was working in Bessie Hadlock's garden when she came out with a paper in her hand.

"Liam," she said, "we have lost Miss Hargreave."

And she and Liam stood in Miss Hadlock's garden and wept together.     

Friday, March 23, 2012

What a gas!

Never having been a Shi'ite (I'm not even a Baptist!), I had never hitherto enjoyed the experience of being tear-gassed - until last night, that is.  

It seems there are certain social niceties one learns when traveling - the small local customs which make life go smoothly in distant parts.  For instance when one travels to Hawaii, one might be greeted by having a lei placed around one's neck while being welcomed with a hearty "aloha".  The proper response for the tourist is to smile much more brightly than any sane creature would do, raise one's voice that quarter octave so necessary when communicating with toddlers, the elderly, the terminally ill or any native anywhere whose skin is any shade of brown and to babble incoherent phrases amongst which the word 'aloha' should appear no less than three times, while asking the lei donor if he or she will pose for a group photo with said tourst.  It is particularly kind not to force upon the native person any of the many witticisms invoking this being the being the best lei one has ever had which will have crowded one's mind.  

In Nepal, I am told, one may be welcomed with a nice dish of yak tea, a beverage my cousin Warren informs me, although one wonders exactly how he researched this particular datum, which tastes exactly like licking a yak's ass.  The proper response involves the same bright smile and the quarter octave vocal rise, but instead of witticisms about getting lei'd, the preferred thing to suppress is the overwhelming urge to vomit.  

In Bahrain and various other areas in the Middle East, a Shi'ite native may greet one with a firm "Death to America" or ditto to the government or to Obama or, indeed, to any of the many persons or entities which have caught his or her attention during the previous few days.  It is unnecessary to respond in this case at all, since normally the local government forces will make the obligatory response which is to douse the man or woman or the mob which has spoken thus in generous quantities of tear gas.  

It is an unfortunate characteristic of tear gas that it tends not to remain in the locale in which it has been released, nor does it seem to be able to distinguish between local Shi'a and the odd foreigner who might be in the vicinity.  

Khalid and I had enjoyed a leisurely meal last night at a restaurant called Nando's which is a member of a chain which I believe is based in Southern Africa and which features some mighty fine Portuguese-influenced methods of preparing chicken.   Nando's is situated on a very westernized street in a very westernized area which is lined with western chain restaurants.  Khalid tells me this is called Restaurant Street, although I personally incline to calling it "Where are we - a mall in Tampa? Street".   I am influenced here by its very non-unique charm, reminscent of any place one has ever thrown up one's hands and said, "We might as well eat here."  Khalid, being a Saudi, had eschewed any lit or legal parking spot near this restaurant in favor of parking illegally amongst a series of similar looking concrete buildings on a dimly lit side street that ran perpendicular to Restaurant (or Tampa) Street.  As we were returning to the car, a stray breeze wafted a soupçon of something that seemed, when it hit the eyes to be some kind of smoke.  It felt like that stinging sensation one get when one sits too close to the campfire and the wind shifts in one's direction.  At least that is how it felt at first.  With every step we took, it seemed to grow in force, and at the same time my throat and lungs began to feel suspiciously like someone had poured a tablespoon or so of sulfuric acid into them.  

Apparently the local Shi'ite majority had been in the process of its weekly celebration of the coming of the Muslim version of a Sabbath, by gathering and informing the interested as to what this week's quiet reflection had led them to wish death upon.  In response to this kerfuffle, the government lavished upon them tear gas in quantities greater than one could wish.  It was into billows of this that Khalid and I were venturing.  It is remarkable how difficult it is to find a car one has carelessly parked any old place amongst a clutch of similar-looking buildings on a dark back street when one's eyes are rapidly swelling shut and one has broken into the fastest run one can manage while semi-blind and somewhat touched in the wind.  When we finally got ourselves inside the car, it was the work of but a second for Khalid to light up a Marlboro Red.  This would not have been my first move, but who am I to cavil?

Upon our return to our hotel, we were merrily chaffed by the Syrian desk man and several others who were gathered there, all of whom found much to amuse them in our tear-streaked faces.  This morning, the man on desk duty suggested I stay close to home for the day.  

So I have crossed off another item on my bucket list.  I don't think anyone who was out and about during the Sixties would want to leave this Vale of Tears without having experienced tear gas, although I can  think of one such who is more than willing to forego experiencing it twice.  

And now, on to that yak…

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Learning Curve

Oh dear; it has been a long time since I wrote anything and there really is no good reason.  I have had an uncharacteristic burst of energy and optimism since I got back from my trip to India last Fall and I have no idea why.  It seems I have finally gotten adjusted to retirement.  I disliked working so much that I just assumed I'd slide into retirement with a glad cry and a list of great things I wanted to do.  What was I thinking; do I not know myself after all these years?  

I did give the glad cry, but I found I didn't really want to do any of the things on my list.  Or anything else I could think of.  What I hadn't fully considered is that I was cutting off 95% of my human interactions.  There is almost nothing, except reading and writing, that I enjoy doing alone.  I have nearly always liked my co-workers on every job I had, and I even occasionally enjoyed the actual work.  What I hated was the element of "have to": I have to get up at six, I have to get my sleep, I have to turn down opportunities to travel or visit; I have to end vacations before I want to.  It turns out that I am hopeless at making myself do anything; these restrictions were actually what motivated me to do everything I ever did.  Like get up in the morning.  Like get something done before work on Monday, or at all.  

It is funny how we dislike what we need, or what once attracted us.  I expect that any of you who had a failed relationship know that odd circumstance that the very quirks that you found endearing and intriguing are the ones that end up driving you up the wall.  The teachers that had you trembling in September are so often the ones whom you will miss most in June.  "If only I didn't…" we cry, only to find that when it is over, the thing we bemoaned the most was the thing that kept us going.  A life which is all dessert and no main course is neither nourishing nor even sweet.  

I think that somewhere around the second anniversary of my last day of work I finally begin to figure out how to be retired.  I still can't shake the feeling that time is short, that the hard stuff (cleaning, doing taxes, weeding my garden) is "wasting" my time.  But I have found that if I start something with permission to stop when I feel like it - to avoid setting goals for the percentage of a task I will complete today or this week, or this winter, I get quite a bit done and enjoy doing it.  I can't account for it, but I have always done best in the most restricted circumstances - my Catholic college which had curfews at 7:30 p.m. in my Freshman year, Sa'udi Arabia where everyone else felt constrained and frustrated and I felt completely free and safe and life felt full of possibility.  I always have been, by nature, rebellious; what was the surprise is that I need something to rebel against.  Who knew?  

Of course the other thing I have always needed is people to talk to, to do things with, to make anything seem real.  I am totally a "people person", and not in a good way.  I truly don't feel like anything has happened until I talk about it with someone.  So another explanation for my improved state of mind may be the fact that Khalid, the Sa'udi guy I met in Bahrain last October, has been on the telephone or Skype to me almost every day.  He continues to vow that he was hopelessly smitten at first sight of me (ME!  Sad, saggy, wrinkly, pasty me!).  The more we talk, the more this seems to be true.  He says he loves to have someone he can speak with frankly.  He slowly reveals more and more of the type of thing one doesn't tell just anyone.  He has none of the usual flaws: need for money, desire for help with a visa, possessiveness, refusal to accommodate others' wishes, that tend to mar relationships with Sa'udis.  So, to make a long story short, I am off next week to Bahrain where I will be able to better test how a couple of weeks of constant companionship go.  There is nothing like a vacation with someone to reveal all the downsides.  I have a couple of dear friends with whom I never again wish to travel.  One of them is such an oppressive co-traveler that his first two wives each asked for a divorce on vacations - one in Mexico, the other in Holland.  My one long trip with this guy had me wishing there was a divorce for friends.  We are still good friends (it was years ago we traveled together) but I will never travel with him again.  

So that is my immediate future.

We are having the same winter here that has come to most of the nation.  Last Wednesday I took Papa, who was visiting for a few days, to the airport and on the way home I drove with my top down (on the car, not on my body) and wearing a T-shirt.  Next day it snowed.  

During the burst of energy I have been talking about, I completed the four-year project of painting my dining room and went from start to finish on painting my living room and wallpapering the ceiling thereof.  I am pretty chuffed with myself.  

It doesn't yet feel like Spring, despite several warm days.  I must be the only one not feeling it, though - tulips and daffodils are in bud, robins are on the lawn, redwing blackbirds have arrived at my feeder and the lovely wild goose couple that nests each year on my back pond is billing and cooing (or honking) with thoughts of eggs to come.  Spring is a funny thing; each year I will go outside one day - it may be snowing even, but I will feel like Spring has come.  And from that point on, no amount of snow or cold or wind will convince me otherwise.  

Have you noticed that one of the candidates for the GOP nomination is running against John Kennedy?  I would never try to present myself as one who is up to date on all the news, but I am pretty sure Kennedy is dead.  I could be wrong, I suppose.