"Proverbially a man wants his first child to be a son.But with nine boys in his family . . . my father was overjoyed to have a girl. According to my brothers, he seemed to have regarded me as a miracle, an impression from which he never really recovered." Rose Kenedy in "Times to Remember."

They called it their "very own Rose Parade" and as advertised, the star was there -- Rose Kennedy, just two days shy of her 90th birthday.

Head high, chin thrust forward, Mrs. Kennedy yesterday rode in a circa-1940 Buick convertible with the top down to lend the way for a neighborly walk of the elderly, the handicapped and just plain townspeople celebrating her birthday. They followed a sun-baked route past classic grey-shingled Cape Cod saltbox houses to the famous beachside Kennedy compound she has called home for 40 years.

Everybody seemed to have so much fun as they walked along that there was talk of doing it again nexy year.

He was there too -- the one everybody knew as Teddy. Nobody could tell, of course, whether he waves from the back seat of the convertible were the gestures of a last hurrah, but many figured that he'd probably be free for another Rose Parade next year.

The route was along Scudder Avenue, a mile-and-a-half jaunt intended to honor the accomplishment of senior citizens as well as to benefit Rose Kennedy's favorite charity, the Special Olympics for the mentally retarded sponsored by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. The walk had been her idea, and then three weeks ago she was stricken by an attack of sciatica, and the doctor forbade her to walk.

"No question she'll recover," said her daughter, Eunice Shriver."But it's incredible because even when she was pregnant I can't remember when she didn't walk."

"I believe in keeping interested, growing and learning. Sedentary people are apt to have sluggish minds: A sluggish mind is apt to be reflected in flabbiness of body and in a dullness of expression that invites no interest and gets none."

Eunice Shriver said her mother always believed that "you should use what you have for someone else. If you think of senior citizens that way -- what they do well and how it can be used in the community, I think it carries over very well. It's the same tradition that she stands for."

Before the parade got under way, the crowd assembled at Dunfey's Motel to sing "Happy Birthday" and hear her son, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, pay a tribute to "a very special honor -- my mother."

He had driven up with her from the compound, he in a wilted blue suit just back from mass, and she impeccable in a white suit, pearls and red straw hat. In the front seat was daughter Pat Kennedy Lawford, and scattered among the crowd were several of her 29 grandchildren. Overhead a plane circled towing a sign that said, "Happy 90th, Rose Kennedy." Inside the motel were a small exhibition of early Kennedy family photos and a display of several dozen birthday cakes baked by the elderly and Special Olympians.

When the festivities got under way in the parking lot, Ted Kennedy shared the platform with Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Aging, an master of ceremonies Curt Gowdy.

Mrs. Kennedy never got out of the car and sat throughout the tributes to her looking straight ahead, her head high. When someone asked her if she had any special wish for her birthday, she thought for a second and murmured "So many things," but her voice trailed off and she kept the rest of her thoughts to herself. She appeared to be particularly touched when 15-year-old Tina, a Special Olympian who only learned to speak three years ago, serenaded her with "You Light Up My Life" complete with show-biz gestures. s

Ted Kennedy told the crowd that Rose Kennedy had been an inspiration to all in the family.

"Harriet Beecher Stowe said the heart of a mother is a schoolroom. It has been for all the members of the Kennedy family. President Kennedy described mother as the glue that held our family together," said the senator, adding that "We're full of love, full of respect, full gratitude for all the things she meant to her nine children, her 29 grandchildren and her two great-grandchildren."

"At the 'little table' as at 'the big table' everybody had the chance to learn and converse at his own level of understanding . . . If a child is encouraged to have ideas and speak up for them with no fear of ridicule . . . not only are wits sharpened but his confidence grows. So, with practice, does a child's ability to communicate. In my notebook, I have written a notation: 'The destiny of the world is sharpened by those persons who get their ideas across -- for better or for worse.'"

Yesterday, among the many tributes, was a proclamation from the Commonweath of Massachusetts saluting Rose Kennedy as "a moving force for the development of the family unit."

"We come from a large family," said Dorothy Cross White, 71, of Hyannis, there to take the walk with her three sisters. "I still think it's important for families to sit down together. Rose Kennedy always kept her family very close to her, and people don't do enough of that anymore."

Dorothy White, like her sisters, could hardly remember a time when there weren't young Kennedys running around Hyannis. She sold tickets at the local movie house and said she remembered the time when Jack Kennedy came up to ask if he could charge his ticket to his father.

"They never had a lot of money in their pockets, you know," Dorothy White said, laughing. "And their father sent word they were not to charge anything with anybody. So I told Jack I couldn't do it, and he said, I'm going to picket.' He did, too, sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk in his white flannels and white bucks like an Indian in front of the ticket booth, and everybody who came up had to reach over him to give me their money."

There were other reminiscences by some in the crowd. One was former Massachusetts state trooper Jack Dempsey, the parade's grand marshal. When he retired in 1972, Ted Kennedy was the main speaker at a testimonial banquet in his honor. And on Jack Kennedy's inauguration day in 1961, Dempsey was detailed to the Metropolitan Police in Washington.

"Jack told Eisenhower as they were going to the inauguration that he didn't have anything to be afraid of --. 'I got two great fighters taking care of me, John L. Sullivan [a captain of detectives on the D.C. police] and Jack Dempsey.' But," Dempsey said laughing, "neither one of us was fighters."

"It may seem unusual, but I did not think it was vital for my husband to be on hand for the birth of the babies . . . This was another aspect of the 'synergistic quality of our marriage."

Eunice Shriver, whom Rose Kennedy once described as "the best little talker of all," was talking eagerly yesterday about her mother. She talked about her as she walked through the display of early family photographs, and again, later, as she tramped along the parade route.

"A modern woman? Very much so she talks to her grandchildren involved in this whole women's movement," Eunice said at one point. "She never felt she was unliberated. She was able to do everything she thought important. What is a feminist, really? You ask yourself what it is she hasn't done."

And Eunice went on to answer that question herself, pointing out that when Rose Kennedy graduated from high school, she was No. 2 in her class of 200, and when she couldn't get into a club in Boston because she was a Roman Catholic, she started a club of her own and held political discussions by inviting political figures to speak.

"She was very happily married and she felt her husband was the most important thing in her life and she worked very hard for his success," her daughter continued, "but she never felt subjugated in that sense because it was a complementary role."

Eunice Shriver described her mother as "an extremely grateful person who feels fortunate for all the things in her life. And it's a very unusual life." By way of example, her daughter mentioned the book that Rose Kennedy wrote at the age of 80, her campaigning for her sons after she was 55. "She handled that beautifully. Everything she does she does extremely well because she's forever growing, forever learning, forever trying to get the impression over to everybody that you're responsible for yourself."

Eunice Shriver said her mother wasn't at all disappointed that her son Ted's presidential campaign is running behind.

"He went to her originally last August and she said, 'Yes, if you feel you can make it different. If you want to make changes, go right ahead and I'll be happy to support you all the way.'"

"Someday, perhaps, Ted may decide to seek the presidency. When the time and circumstances are right, I would like to see him president because I know he would be a credit to that high office and do wonderful things for the country."

Eunice Shriver said Rose was never against Teddy's running -- "That's rather an interesting aspect because a lot of people think that when you have a great problem, lose your sons in political life, and she's lost three, you turn off. But quite the contrary," Eunice Shriver said. "It's still her main objective. And the fact that her grandchildren are very much interested in politics. You know, we don't turn out scientists, or, unfortunately, poets, but politicians, yes. I think it comes from my mother, who has been at it since she was 5."

The night before the parade, in fact, Rose Kennedy had dinner with Ted, Pat and Eunice and wanted to know everything about Ted's campaign schedule -- where he had been, what kind of speech he had made, whether it was well-received. "Advice? Well," Eunice Shriver continued with a little laugh, "she just reminds him that it's very difficult to run against an incumbent president."

But taking up as much of Mrs. Kennedy's time and thoughts as the campaign theses past few days has been her "walk," which went on yesterday in five other Massachusetts communities as a tribute to her and, indeed, to others who at the age of 90 continued to be productive. (Cases in point being the late Pablo Picasso and concert pianist Arthur Rubinstein, to name but two).

Everybody had pocket cameras in action along the parade route and though there was touristy look about the crowd, voices were all Cape Cod. Privet hedges added a wild scent to the hot morning air, and at places along the route, maples provided cool tunnels. Those who were not walking were sitting on lawn chairs and watching the passing parade.

Occasionally, as the shing black convertible moved slowly along the route, Rose Kennedy would lift her hand and wave. And once, she reached into her white handbag and drew out a gold compact and lipstick to retouch her makeup. But mostly she rode looking straight ahead in the manner of a queen while behind her the Highland Light Scottish pipeband played "Scotland and the Brave" and some Irish airs as well.

Richard Hutchin, a presser at the Puritan Clothing Co. in Hyannis, said he was walking with the several hundred others because, "I have healthy children and healthy grandchildren and this is a wonderful cause."

Hutchin said he and his wife have named their youngest son after John Kennedy.

Along the sidelines were hastlly printed home-made banners that read "Do it Ted," and, "We Love you Ted." Also on the sidelines was ABC's David Hartman of "Good Morning America" in shorts and with his family.

He said he had taken a house at Hyannis for the summer and had just gotten back from the Republican convention. "I'm going to go to their convention," he said, gesturing after Ted Kennedy, and explained that he wasn't walking in the parade because "I gotta stay on both sides."

"As for politics, I daresay I long since have acquired a conditioned reflex . . . I respond to politics, to the demand and opportunities of public life. Evidently I have acquired a certain status . . . and there is no use in having that advantage unless one uses it for good causes."

Eunice Shriver called her mother "shrewd" and by way of example told about a slide show of old pictures being organized to show guests at a reception last night in Boston at the John F. Kennedy Library. There was a picture of Rose and her sister Agnes as young women, when they visited the Panama Canal. When Eunice asked her mother if she remembered that, she replied that she did, because she remembered that the canal had been empty.

Then Eunice said that there was a picture of her mother with England's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at the American Embassy in London. k

"They say it was the first time the king and queen came to the Embassy. I said, 'Is that true?'" Eunice Shriver continues, "And she said, 'Well, I do not know the schedule of the king an queen so I don't know the answer to that.'"

The word to Barnstable County Sheriff John J. Bowes was to expect 5,000 marchers yesterday. If only 2,000 showed up -- they nevertheless stepped out solidly for Rose Kennedy. Politically, it's been another story in these parts, since the Kennedys moved in in 1941, followed over the years by their children and their children's families.

If the world knew Hyannis Port as the home of the Kennedys, to Barnstable County residents, it was merely a Democratic outpost in a predominantly Republican stronghold.

"It's very easy to be a Republican here," said Sheriff Bowes, who as a youngster used to caddy for Rose Kennedy. ("She was a good tipper.")

A Republican up for re-election this fall, Bowes estimated that 25 percent of the Cape's people are 55 years of age and older. "If you're running for office, and they tell you to be in one of these parades, you're in the parade." o

He had no comment on Ted Kennedy's prospects for the presidency, other than that they weren't backing each other.

"I think it's mostly all over now, don't you?" asked the sheriff.

Last night, the Rose Parade volunteers and sponsors from around the state got together in Boston at the JFK Library. According to Eunice Shriver, there was plenty of reason to celebrate, since about $50,000 had been raised through individual two-dollar contributions and corporate gifts during the day. "That's a lot of money these days."

Her brother led the contingent of Kennedys, which included his wife, Joan, who had marched in the Boston walk with him and the younger Kennedys. She was just back from a 10-day vacation in Mexico, where she said she got up at 5 o'clock every morning and climbed mountains. "I'm fit, more fit than I've ever been in my life," she said, her suntanned, trim figure testifying to that claim.

House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill turned up, also sunburned, but considerably less trim, and according to Ted Kennedy, "was ready to give my mother a birthday present. Well, we asked what it is and he said 'an open convention.'" A little later O'neill claimed he hadn't heard the senator's remark to the crowd, but "I tell you, I've got a lot of things I want to talk to him about on that convention."

Kennedy was in high spirits as he and Joan worked their way through the throng who included Congressman Pepper, a longtime Kennedy friend who now supports Jimmy Carter for the presidency. On Ted Kennedy's own prospects for the presidency, Pepper said: "There's plenty of time."

When he introduced his sister Eunice, after explaining the work of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, he referred to her as its president.

"I choke up when I hear 'president,'" he said. To which Eunice Shriver, standing in the crowd, could hardly contain her laughter. "He's funny, isn't he?"

Nor had the day back in Hyannis Port been without its uncertainties for Rose Kennedy.

"She's so funny," said Eunice Shriver of her mother's reaction to the day's events. One of these was an unexpected interview with ABC television, gained with no little assistance from Sen. Kennedy. When the walk ended at the compound, he simply grabbed the TV crew and took them into the house. Later, Mrs. Kennedy asked her son-in-law Sargent Shriver to critique her televised remarks.

"If he didn't think they were quite right, said Eunice Shriver, "then she wanted to know, so she could do it differently next time."