CONCORD -- I have three discernible memories of my sixth year. One is watching TV; Bob Gibson is pumping strike three past George Scott in the 1967 World Series. Another is my first trip to Fenway, with my dad, the next season (Sox 12, Yankees 2!). And the third is sitting in the cramped kitchen of our cluttered raised ranch on a June morning, trying to understand why my mother is crying.
Loretta Filipov with grandsons Fyodor and Alex
She told me Bobby Kennedy had died. I remember thinking this must have been my mommy's friend.
Loretta Filipov was crying again this morning, and this time it was for a Kennedy she had come to think of as a friend, and not because Ted Kennedy was ever a guest at the raised ranch where she still resides.
Like so many people in Massachusetts, my mother felt she had developed a personal relationship with the senator that transcended the normal dynamic between voter and candidate, between constituent and politician. It transcended the positions he had taken and she supported -- in favor of universal health care and against the war in Iraq. It transcended Kennedy's many foibles and public mishaps.
It was as though the Kennedys were family, and Teddy, warts and all, was the most beloved of the brothers.
"I supported the man, the young boy of the two older brothers, whose ideals and words spoke to us. It was what we believed," she recalled in the same house, cluttered as ever. "With all his flaws and imperfections, in the end, I believe that Ted Kennedy rose above and beyond, and became a better public servant than his brothers ever were."
And she believed in Kennedy. Soon after it came to light that he had driven off a bridge at Chappaquiddick Island in 1969 and failed to report the incident in which Mary Jo Kopechne died, my mom and dad, Alexander M. Filipov, wrote the young senator a letter of support. They got a letter thanking them, which is still lying around the house.
"People wondered why we were so supportive of someone who did such a terrible thing," she recalled.
Times were hard. Dad was laid off a few times. There were recessions. They were raising three kids. Each year, my mother would receive a letter from Kennedy explaining what he was up to in the Senate. Each time he came up for re-election, he got her vote.
I did not inherit my mother's personal affection for Kennedy, and mainly because I returned to Massachusetts only recently, never voted for him.
But I did take his call one day.
It was in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. My dad had been a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11. The phone rang. I was the designated phone-answerer that day.
"This is Ted Kennedy," said the unmistakable voice. "Can I talk to Loretta?"
They spoke for a while.
"He told me in a voice that was cracking about how sorry he was for what happened to Al and that he was a hero and a good person," my mother recalled. "I said, 'You have survived all the tragedies in your life and I hope I can survive this as you have done.' By the end I think we were both crying."
Kennedy also offered help and comfort, and in the coming weeks, my mother needed it, and got it. A Social Security snafu got unsnagged. Meetings were organized with the FBI to discuss what had transpired on the planes. A flag from the Senate arrived. Functions for family members were held.
"When dad died, it was as if Kennedy was personally holding my hand," my mother told me.
The build-up to war in Iraq led my mother down a road of antiwar activism. To her, killing Iraqis had nothing to do with the deaths of her husband and the other victims of 9/11. Her views were not always popular, not in Concord, not at family reunions in the coal-mining regions of Pennsylvania. Once again, Kennedy was with her: He voted against the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.
"We were of the same voice," she said.
She got involved in Peaceful Tomorrows, an antiwar group that, among other things, lobbied congressional leaders in Washington.
"We'd go to his office to make copies, to leave our things when we were parading the halls of Congress," she said, describing Kennedy's support.
My mom is 72. She doesn't like it when I say this, but she's always dropping hints about how many years she has left. So she was particularly moved by the last letter she got from Kennedy, dated Sept. 8, 2008.
"Dear Loretta, Vicki and I are thinking of you and your family, and we send our very best wishes. Your strength and determination have always been an inspiration to me and I am grateful now to draw upon it as I sail this uncharted course. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, and I will continue to be available if there is anything you need. With my admiration and warmest wishes, sincerely, Edward M. Kennedy."
Maybe all the 9/11 survivors got a letter like that. It doesn't matter. When my mother reads it, her voice cracks again, as though these were the words of a close personal friend. Or a member of her family.
That's what she lost today.
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