Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Meeting Ted Kennedy

{{w|Ted Kennedy}}, Senator from Massachusetts.Image via Wikipedia

It had snowed fairly heavily the night before but it was a spring snow, full of water, and the downtown streets were soon more awash with slush than ice. I drove through neighborhoods that smelled of old money, where hundred-plus-year old brownstone mansions reminded me I was a newcomer to New England. I found a parking place a block from the site where the Obama rally, if it can even be called that, was to take place. It was an assisted living facility and the speaker was going to be Senator Ted Kennedy.

I'd gotten there early, anticipating a crowd, but I needn't have worried. There were plenty of seats in the living area where a piano stood in the corner. Older adults gathered, a few at a time, filling the chairs. I took my seat, quite happily, on the floor as close to the podium as I could get. I'd never seen him before, in person, and I knew this was my chance -- if I wanted to meet the man who'd played football with Jack and Bobby, it was now or never.

Eventually the media arrived and anticipation grew as noise and bustling was heard down the hallway. Ted, his wife Vicki, and their two Portuguese Water Dogs walked in as though visiting family and made their way to within ten feet of me. It was all so casual I nearly laughed out loud. No police, no secret service, no relocating of ordinary people like me to the periphery.

He spoke entirely off the cuff, introducing his wife, his dogs, and then talking about the issues as though the entire election depended on this small gathering. I felt like I was witnessing a much younger man running for Congress at a time when "the press" meant a reporter with a pad and pencil. I can't tell you much of what he said, partly because I was so caught up in watching him and his wife. I remember how he looked at her, how she looked back, and there was no question I was in the presence of two people in love.

Before I knew it, he was finishing and asking us all to stand and join him in singing, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. I didn't know the words but I couldn't have sung them anyway, so choked up I was becoming. So, I stood there, blinking back tears and waiting for my moment.

As the crowd thinned and he started to make his way from the podium, I seized it. I laid my hand on his shoulder, he turned, shook my other hand, and looked me in the eyes. Not the, "is there someone more important I should be talking with" sideways glance that politicians polish, but eye to eye and person to person. It was brief and that was what I expected. What really mattered, was simply meeting him -- anything else would have been like pie a la mode. For me, it's always the pie that counts.

And, yes, I did meet his dogs, they were delightful, and I passed along greetings from mine to them both.

(Image via Wikipedia)

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