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When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from…
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When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine

by Monica Wood

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1931186,372 (4.11)27
  1. 00
    The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (DetailMuse)
    DetailMuse: Both are beautiful explorations of magical thinking during grief -- Didion's in reaction to the death of her husband in older age; Wood's in reaction to the death of her father in childhood.
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Periodically, a book takes the breath away with its beauty. This is such a book! It is simply incredibly superb! The Wood family stays with you long after the last page is finished.

This is an ode to small town Maine, thus, small town America, when the life of the community and is livelihood was dependent upon a mill. The Oxford paper factory in Rumsford, Maine supplied good quality paper and, in 1963, the time frame this book begins, provided back-breaking, heart-stopping jobs as it gave a steady paycheck and benefits to hard-working, 3,000 people.

Before harsh, but needed, EPA rules, The Oxford paper factory was but one industry that spewed dangerous chemicals in the air, and water as every day, non stop workers unleashed vat upon vat of sulphur dioxide, calcium bisulphate, and methyl mercaptan into the Androscoggin river.

The Androscoggin river was one of the most hazardous places in the Untied States in mid 1960's. And, when the egg-like smell became unbearable, and fish died in the river, the government via former Maine Senator, Edmund Muskie, a former school class mate of the author's mother, was instrumental in bringing about the Clean Water Act.

The sudden death by heart attack of her fifty-nine year old father forever changed the lives of the author and her family. With crisp writing, the author shows a down ward spiral of depression, grief and tragic loss. Those who managed to assist were Father Bob, the Catholic brother of Mrs. Wood, and Ann, the oldest school-teacher sister.

When JFK is assassinated, Mrs. Wood identifies with Jackie Kennedy and her noble grief. Taking an unexpected trip to Washington, DC, the Woods grieve with a nation, shocked, traumatized, and in pain.

As the nation and the Wood family move through their grief, the mill town, filled with vibrancy of various diversity of ethnic backgrounds becomes less colorful and looses the sheen as the paper mill is bought up by another company, and after a succession of bad decisions, the workers must strike to avoid performing two jobs for one pay.

Faster modes of operation begin to impact on the ability to make a good profit. And, the workers throughout the United States and Rumson, Maine must return to work to support their families. Running on a faster and faster treadmill, the inevitability of entropy is on the horizon.

While the Wood family survive with the strong solid base of family and community love, the Oxford paper factory is not as fortunate. And, across America, time marches on and the industrial world is never the same.

Highly developed, wonderful characters combined with a historical snapshot of America, render this a must read.

Five Stars!
2 vote Whisper1 | Apr 16, 2016 |
Monica Wood's recollections of growing up in a Maine mill town capture the atmosphere perfectly, complete with predictions of the mill's and the town's future. The heart-wrenching description of her father's death and the enormous impact of his passing on the family can take your breath away, and the voice of the ten year old Monica sounds spot on. As a Mainer from a neighboring town, I felt like I knew this family--and I certainly wished I did. ( )
  sleahey | Sep 28, 2015 |
963, Mexico, Maine. The Wood family is much like its close, Catholic, immigrant neighbors, all dependent on a father’s wages from the Oxford Paper Company. Until the sudden death of Dad, when Mum and the four closely connected Wood girls are set adrift. Funny and to-the-bone moving, When We Were the Kennedys is the story of how this family saves itself, at first by depending on Father Bob, Mum’s youngest brother, a charismatic Catholic priest who feels his new responsibilities deeply. And then, as the nation is shocked by the loss of its handsome Catholic president, the televised grace of Jackie Kennedy—she too a Catholic widow with young children—galvanizes Mum to set off on an unprecedented family road trip to Washington, D.C., to do some rescuing of her own. An indelible story of how family and nation, each shocked by the unimaginable, exchange one identity for another.

Our local book club chose to read this one for our monthly discussion this week. Set in Maine, it tells the author's family story of growing to adulthood in the same time frame as the majority of our members.  As such, it was a memoir for us too.  World events were the same ones we lived through. For several of us, the flashbacks to a pre-Vatican II catholic school education are almost chilling.  For all of us, the struggles of the family due to the father's death, and then the impending and always threatened closure of the paper mill (the town's major employer) are producing some dejà vu moments as several towns here in Maine are wrestling with exactly these problems of mill closures, bankruptcies, high unemployment and the despair that goes along with those events.

It's a beautiful and poignant story that, in spite of the hardships portrayed for the children, is full of hope and promise. Wood writes from the heart, evidencing the close and loving structure of her family, and the solidarity of small town life.  Definitely a memoir worth reading. ( )
  tututhefirst | Oct 11, 2014 |
This was a book I picked up in a great little bookstore in Rangeley Maine, the book is set in the nearby town of Mexico Maine. It was a memoir of a family who lost their father the same year that our nation lost our President. So great a read, I hate to give any details in reviews, just to say it was poignant and written so you could see where the two tales mirrored each other. ( )
  mchwest | Aug 25, 2014 |
I expected to enjoy this book. I enjoyed Ernie's Ark and I thought Secret Language was touching and amazing. I knew that it would probably be a bit surreal to read a memoir about a town I know better than I know any other place in the world. The place I lived for a third of my life. I didn't know that it would change the way I feel about that town.

Like Wood, I knew Mexico as a town in Maine before I ever knew it as a country. My cousin Kate always said that the smell of the paper mill meant we were almost to our grandparent's house. The mill is not a pleasant smell. It permeates everything and makes newcomers gag. But for me that smell means family. It is the smell of my grandparents home and where I graduated high school. That mill employed my grandfather, fed my mother and my uncles, paid for my Christmas gifts and filled the gas tank in my first car.

Monica Wood has developed an incredible memoir around that town. She has taken one tragic, poignant and life-changing year and turned it into a piece of art that delves into questions of mortality, spirituality, community and culture through the eyes of a very young child.

Wood develops the mill into a character of its own in a way that seems to me perfectly obvious and yet I had never realized it before. This is the reality of a town built around a mill. In such a town the mill IS a character, a being all its own. It is what feeds the town while the town, in turn, feeds it. The town gives it their fathers, husbands, wives, daughters, sons. Feeds it time, energy and souls.

For me this book is obviously personal. Mexico is a town I have very mixed feelings about, but no matter what it is the place where I find a large portion of my family and most of my known ancestral history. With both my grandparent's gone I now go to Mexico to visit my nieces and nephews, my parents and my siblings. Even though I left the town over a decade ago, it's the kind of place that never truly leaves you.

If you've ever lived in a Maine mill town read this book. And if you haven't, read it because Monica Wood can give you a beautiful idea of what it is like to live in a riverside mill town. All the good, the bad, the mill town uglies and the games children play in a town like Mexico. ( )
  KRaySaulis | Aug 13, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 054763014X, Hardcover)

1963, Mexico, Maine. The Wood family is much like its close, Catholic, immigrant neighbors, all dependent on a father’s wages from the Oxford Paper Company. Until the sudden death of Dad, when Mum and the four closely connected Wood girls are set adrift. Funny and to-the-bone moving, When We Were the Kennedys is the story of how this family saves itself, at first by depending on Father Bob, Mum’s youngest brother, a charismatic Catholic priest who feels his new responsibilities deeply. And then, as the nation is shocked by the loss of its handsome Catholic president, the televised grace of Jackie Kennedy—she too a Catholic widow with young children—galvanizes Mum to set off on an unprecedented family road trip to Washington, D.C., to do some rescuing of her own. An indelible story of how family and nation, each shocked by the unimaginable, exchange one identity for another.
   “Monica Wood has written a gorgeous, gripping memoir. I don’t know that I’ve ever pulled so hard for a family.”—Michael Paterniti, author of Driving Mr. Albert

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:03 -0400)

An account of the 1963 death of the author's father describes how her mother, three sisters, and she were financially dependent on her father's wages and how their loss and Catholic faith resonated the experiences of the nation.

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