The cattle guard still kept cattle out, dogs and children in; the sign near the front door still warned that "Trespassers Will Be Eaten." The azaleas looked fuller, the trees taller, the lawn greener than that June morning 13 years ago when a small band of reporters on the road out front watched for signs of a family waking up in sorrow. Otherwise, very little seemed different about Hickory Hill.
"The difference is that life is no longer at the hectic pace it was in the '60s," said Ethel Kennedy, settled on the persimmon, floral chintz sofa in the little sitting room off the front hall. "Except at occasional times of the year."
It was one of those "occasional times" when people, mostly Kennedys (together this time for a tennis tournament, a book awards luncheon and the annual pet show), wandered in and out.
Tomorrow the family will gather again, this time at the White House. President Reagan is scheduled to present the congressionally mandated Robert F. Kennedy Medal to Ethel Kennedy, which she will accept on behalf of the family.
But for the time being, everybody was at Hickory Hill. You must have some iced tea, Ethel insisted, explaining that this was the recipe she and Bobby had brought back from their honeymoon in Hawaii.
A nosy black and white spaniel, completing a moistly vigorous sniff, decided the latest intruder was a pushover and jumped up beside his mistress to collapse among the cushions. Two smaller spaniels, keeping their distance, eyed the scene from under the coffee table.
"An enormous change," said Ethel Kennedy of rearing children today compared with rearing them 15 years ago when she and Robert F. Kennedy had done it together. "Bobby was beyond belief. He really did expend a superhuman effort. I can remember that before going to work he would be out there just tossing the football from 7 to 7:30 every morning. There's a wonderful photograph of it."
Though that particular one did not leap immediately into view, there were photographs everywhere of Kennedys frozen in moments of dynamic activity -- photographs on end tables, on book shelves, on the grand piano in the drawing room visible through the open doorway.
"He never missed a footbalal game," she continued. "When he was with the children, he was so involved with them. He made a terrific point of being home with them at dinner."
They're a tight gang, these Kennedys, and one old friend, thinking back over the good and bad times of the past 13 years, said it's a Kennedy trait to needle each other, but let an outsider try it and they close ranks. Ethel Kennedy's really a tigress mother, the friend continued, who might criticize her own kids but won't desert them if somebody else does.
At 53, Ethel Kennedy still appears youthful and vigorous. Her bare legs are brown and muscular from endless hours on tennis courts, ski slopes, rafts and sailboats. Her face is etched with the sun of too many summers, and it emphasizes her silvery-blond hair.
She and her brood have had their ups and downs, with drugs, generational alienation and problems other contemporary families have experienced. But the kids are all back; the Kennedy clannishness has again surfaced. She stood by her brother-in-law, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), through his failed presidential bid and broken marriage with the same steadfastness with which he stood by her as a surrogate father to her children.
When asked if the senator was happier since his domestic problems had been resolved, there was a long pause. "It's very difficult for somebody raised as strictly as he was to have to face the fact that there had to be another alternative, so in a way yes, it's got to be better. But, gee, you hate to turn your back on something you believed in all your life."
Hickory Hill had been as much a playing field of ideas as it had been of competitive sports, and Robert Kennedy was a magnet who drew into their home some of the best intellects of the times. There is nothing quite like that today, though his children approximate it, she said, with their friends and the new ideas and thoughts they bring.
"I think it's a much more normal existence today than it was then. Now the younger children very freely give their opinions at the dinner table. I think it was much more difficult in the old days when there was so much going on . . . Bobby being at the center had so much to offer, to give -- although he had a terrific byplay with the children, saying, 'Do you understand this?' Now I find the children are saying to me, 'Do you understand this?' It's wonderful because they keep me au courant ."
A young woman, her features distinctly those of a Kennedy, stood listening near the door, then moved into the room as Ethel Kennedy talked about her -- her firstborn, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, 29.
"A poverty lawyer" interested in "well, service, I would say" rather than "just the narrow thing of politics," said Ethel, adding that this summer Kathleen, who lives during the school year in New Haven, Conn., where her husband is getting his law degree at Yale University, will clerk for a federal judge in Boston.
"That's what I meant by 'service,'" she said, turning to introduce another daughter, Courtney Kennedy Ruhe, 25, recently married to Jeff Ruhe, special assistant to ABC-TV president of news and sports Roone Arledge.
There was an old lady who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn't know what to do, she'd marry ANYBODY -- even you. -- Ethel Kennedy's 1972 valentine to all the men with whom she was linked romantically
Once, friends decided it was time to find Ethel a husband. There were certain requirements.
"He had to be Catholic, rich and had never to have been married," one of them recalled. "The only one we could come up with was Cardinal Cooke."
Kathleen Kennedy has somewhat different reasons for doubting her mother will ever marry.
"She's committed to carry out the ideals that inspired my father to raking care of the family and to creating a warm and loving place."
Did you ever think you would see a time when Frank Sinatra would be ashamed to be seen with a president of the United States ? -- Ethel Kennedy to TV correspondent Roger Mudd, May 1, 1973
I think the family is obviously very relieved, but like everybody else we have mixed emotions. I think he could have done more for the country than anybody else . -- Ethel Kennedy on Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's decision not to run for president, Sept. 26, 1974
"I'd love it," she said at the prespect of her own children running for office. "I think it's time outstanding people got back into politics and brought the profession back to a more noble one."
No names were volunteered, though with 11 children in varying stages of school and careers there are plenty of potential candidates. She also has taught them that there are many ways to make a contribution to this country besides serving in an elective office.
"She brought us into the world to make a contribution," says Kathleen. "She was the greatest inspiration to my father, providing him with love . . . It was a valuable and crucial role for her to have played. And by raising us children to feel that, she has inspired us to do the same thing. It's not just living your life every day but being conscious of how your life affects the lives of others."
Ethel Kennedy's eyes grew remote as she thought about the dangers of public life and the particular sadness she felt over recent assassination attempts. Did that make it more difficult for young people to serve and what did she think was happening to the world?
"I don't know," she said, her voice grown husky. "I guess I can't answer that."
Later, Kathleen answers it slowly.
"I wish young people would feel they can do something for their country. We're on earth such a short time and we should do the best we can. If you talk about violence, there's always the possibility of death wherever you turn -- by accident, from toxic substances. What makes life exciting is that it's an adventure."
Members of his family, tourist and the military commemorated the 12th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination with flowers and silent prayers yesterday at his Arlington National Cemetery gravesite. When Sen. Edward M. Kennedy arrived with his sister-in-law, Ethel, and some of her children, a silence fell across the crowd. -- The Washington Post, Nov, 23, 1975
A mass was offered in Arlington National Cemetery last night in memory of Robert F. Kennery. It marked the 10th anniversary of the senator's assassination and it was said near his grave and that of his brother, assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Ethel Kennedy was present. Several of her and the late Sen. Kennedy's children, including Rory, who was not yet born when her father was killed, read parts of the service. -- The Washington Post, June 7, 1978
A new arrival breathless and in tennis whites, was Vicky Gifford Kennedy, recent bride of Michael Kennedy. "We couldn't get a fourth down there, so Michael played," she said, her small voice barely audible over a chorus of barking spaniels.
"Listen, you know who you can get? You can get Doris, or Peter," said Ethel, her mind inventorying available players.
"Christine'll play," Courtney suggested.
"Look," said her mother, "just tell them to relax by the pool and and we'll be back in an hour or so."
Kathleen says her mother "makes people feel they've made a difference to her, and that's a talent many people don't have. It's a sense of believing that whatever you do you should do with grace."
But to her children, her "best" qaulity, according to Kathleen, is her ability to encourage. "She want to encourage the sense of adventure in us to try something new or different. For two years, for instance, everybody was telling Joe 'don't do it' on the oil thing [selling oil at lower-than-average rates to those who cannot otherwise afford it], but Mummy supported it,"
The widow and brother of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) yesterday announced the start of a new "action" fellowship program in his memory . . . the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. -- The Washington Post, June 24, 1969.
The foundation, says David L. Hackett, who directs it, has been a consuming interest of Ethel Kennedy's ever since she, the other Kennedys and their friends set it up. The basic program gave financial support to "fellow" with creative solutions to some of America's problems concerning poverty and political disenfranchisement.
Later, the memorial was expanded to include a Youth Policy Institute, a book awards program and a journalism awards program for stories about the disadvantaged, whose winner were announced last night.
"Without Ethel none of it would be here," said Hackett, who has known her since she and Bobby, his old college roommate, were married in 1951.
To help fund the memorial, Ethel Kennedy travels to cities such as Houston, Chicago and San Francisco to promote the RFK Memorial Tennis Tournaments, in which private corporations pay $2,500 to field a team. While the winners make it to the summer playoffs at Hyannis Port, the money itself never leaves town, becoming seed money for RFK projects.
"It boggles the mind really to see how much there is to be done in this country," said Ethel Kennedy.
She talked admiringly of Robert F. Kennedy fellows -- in much the same way people once talked of the Peace Corps -- working in migrant labor camps, in Indian camps, in Appalachia, where a study provided evidence to launch a tax and land reform campaign.
Two months ago Kathleen and Joe, 28, went on the RFK Memorial board because they thought it was time some of the younger people in the family got involved.
Joe brings oil from Venezuela for something called Citizens Energy Corp., has it refined in Puerto Rico, then sells it to the poor and elderly in Massachusetts at half the price that oil companies do. Michael, 23, waiting to get into law school, is up there, too, running something called HOT (Home Oil Transfer), in which people who convert furnaces to natural gas and have fuel oil left over in their tanks donate it to the nonprofit RFK Memorial. Proceeds from its resale are used in the memorial's work.
"It's sort of like Robin Hood," said their mother, "except the rich don't mind giving the oil because they get a big tax deduction.
Her eyes shifted to a tousle-haired young man in a blue blazer hovering behind his sister Courtney's chair.
"Where are you going, darling?" she asked Christopher, 17. "You've got eight minutes to get you hair cut and get to Teddy's."
I know Bobby enjoys great company up there and, as I look around the room, I'm so grateful for the hands he left me in. -- Ethel Kennedy at a New York State Democratic Party fund-raiser, May 19, 1970
Friends say she is more Kennedy than some who were born with the name, the way she relishes politics. Last year she shelved the RFK Pro Celebrity Tennis Tournament so she would be free to campaign for Edward Kennedy in bid for the presidency.
"When she traveled with [Robert Kennedy], he made the speeches and she listened. Last year she made the speeches, talking about [Edward Kennedy's] work," said Kathleen, in a separate telephone interview. "She feels a responsibility to do the best she can with her life, with the memorial and with things Daddy started -- like Bedford Stuyvesant in New York."
Sitting there on the sofa at Hickory Hill, Ethel Kennedy talked about social programs being disbanded or reduced under the Reagan administration and she frowned.
"To me it seems wrong in a democracy, which I think all Americans like to think of as a feeling, compassionate, caring, generous way of government. Instead of that now, it seems to me that this administration has made the 'in' thing to do to neglect the poor." Her words echo the idealism of Kennedy family speeches. "To me, government should be meting out justice and not [leaving] it up to citizens like us to go and appeal to the business community to ask for charity."
She thinks that "the jury is still out about business, though business has been very good to us. But I think you have to give them another four years during an administration that's turning its back on the poor and neglected and on those who really need help. We'll just have to see if business will take care of them without the laws."
Naturally I was distressed to learn last night that my son has been charged with having been in possession of marijuana on the 10th of last month. This is of course a matter for the authorities to decide. But Bobby is a fine boy. We have always been proud of him and I will stand by him. -- Ethel Kennedy, Aug. 6, 1970
NEW YORK -- David Kennedy the 24-year-old son of Robert F. Kennedy, has entered a Boston hospital in serious conditin for treatment of a heart infection that sometimes is associated with narcotics addiction. -- The Washington Post. Sept. 13, 1979
"Everybody's so uprooted, which makes it all the more important to keep up communication, to make sure the children are directed, have guidelines and help. It's important they know that should they get into trouble, they've got that anchor back home that's never going to move no matter what happens and that they'll always have that," said Ethel Kennedy.
Young Kennedys growing up at Hickory Hill usually could expect to find Ethel at breakfast, chauffeuring them to school, home at 3 when they were, reading the Bible (primarily the Old Testament) and saying the rosary with them every night and says Kathleen, "being the person you could rely on."
Nowadays, the routine has expanded to visiting the Kennedys who are away at school or married. "I'm always on their doorstep," Ethel Kennedy said.
"We like it that way," said son-in-law Jeff Rube, standing behind his wife Courtney.
Then Jeff and Courtney were gone.
"The most important thing of all," said Ethel Kennedy, "is being right here with the gang."