“I like that photo,” says Geri, 90, sitting in an armchair that dwarfs her dwindling frame. She stares up at the top shelf of a china cabinet that has become an intimate museum display. “Oh I’d never seen a love like that.” She's looking at a photo of her, husband Floyd and their two-year-old daughter — a.k.a me — circa 1962. She smiles.
Let me introduce you to Geraldine Kennedy née Broussard. She already makes it into the occasional tweet (@bylisakennedy, for what it’s worth). She’s sure to make her way into these posts. A lot. I like her reactions to things. I like her. Loving your parents is a duty. But liking them, well, that’s when things get interesting.
By the by, she’ll be unhappy if you call her Geraldine. And although I call her "Geri" here, she’s 99 44/100% of the time Mom or when I slip on some patch of vulnerability “Mommy.”
In May of 1961, my parents met me. The introduction was made by the New England Home for Little Wanderers. I was six months old. I was scaly with eczema, though it’s not apparent in the b&w photos. I was pretty much bald. (What hair I had fell out on a switch from formula to whole milk.) I was a mess. Didn’t matter. I stretched out my arms toward Floyd. Then and there “he just fell in love with you,” Geri says, then repeats, “I never saw a love like that.”
When mom recounts this origin story, it wounds a tad. I feel the urge to apologize. I would be this woman’s only infant. We adopted Kevin — another Little Wanderers match — when he was a toddler.
There are other photos. There’s one of those stiff portraits of Kevin and me, one pose in a chain photo studio's family package. There’s a framed newspaper pic of a group of men in uniform (ill-fitting pants every last one of them) accompanied by a clipping with the headline, “Seven Here Among 326 in AF Tapped for Regular AF Berths.” A yellowing photo from the same article shows the lone black man and carries this caption: “Capt. Floyd C. Kennedy.”
There are other keepsakes: six blown-glass swans, each tinier than the last, that mom’s boss gave her in the late ‘50s, when she and Floyd were stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base northwest of Boston. A few weeks back, I migrated that herd out of her assisted-living apartment to my office to make sure they survive her recent purges.
I’ve spent time over the years pondering notions of non-attachment. Practicing them, well, not so much. I am beyond sentimental.
There’s even china in that china cabinet: tea cups that belonged to her mother, Te Etta Broussard; four scarlet wine glasses — as rough-hewn as those swans are elegant — brought back from Mexico, where I’d gone on a six-week walkabout half a year after Kevin’s death. (The one complete sentence I spoke in Spanish that whole trip — rehearsed as the bus made its way from Playa del Carmen to Merida — “May I have the potato chips in the yellow bag, please?”
I got my chips.