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Decorating the Kennedy summer house

Decorating the Kennedy summer house - GANT Magazine -  March 2011

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. or “Bobby” as he is known to his friends, loves the water. It’s a very personal love that is rooted in a magical childhood growing up in Hyannisport, Massachusetts on the shores of Nantucket Sound. Here, among historic clapboard houses, boardwalks and beaches Bobby and his six energetic children now share their own home.

The Kennedys moved to Hyannisport in the 1920s when Bobby’s grandfather Joseph P. Kennedy purchased a rambling beachfront home. “Grandpa’s house” was soon surrounded by the homes of his children including Bobby’s father’s, Attorney General Robert Kennedy and his uncle’s President John F. Kennedy, in a tight compound. Other Kennedy relatives also moved into a slightly more scattered orbit around Joseph Kennedy’s gabled clapboard summerhouse and the tiny seaside village.

Bobby spent each summer on Cape Cod at the family compound where he and his 29 cousins enjoyed a daily regimen of athletic training and outdoor activities. Each day the families would sail to the nearby islands with the children skippering their own tiny sailboats and the grownups leading the flotilla in the family’s 26-foot Wianno Senior. They would picnic there and fish for sand sharks, scup, flounder, puffers and sea robins; gather hermit crabs, periwinkles and scallops, or dig for the tasty steamers. After sailing they would play baseball on the field behind John F. Kennedy’s summer White House or touch football below Joseph Kennedy’s veranda.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is President of Waterkeeper Alliance and the best-known environmental lawyer in America. Waterkeeper Alliance is the world’s foremost grassroots water protection organization. As president, he leads over two hundred local waterkeeper programs that protect rivers, lakes and ocean bays aroundthe world using patrol boats, litigation and science to bring the biggest polluters to justice. Waterkeepers understand that clean water means healthy communities.
Sprawling green lawn bordered by sawgrass and white sand beaches that stretch into the sparkling sea.

Hyannisport was a paradise for Bobby.
Surrounded by his family he indulged his obsession with the natural world. Nothing much has changed in Hyannisport in the 50 years since the White House but today Bobby’s six children have 85 cousins to play with, all of them enjoying the same close relationship with nature and the sea.
Each day they ride their bikes to the tidal inlets at Calmus Beach to crab, or to the salt marshes at nearby Squaw Island to catch fiddler crabs, killifish, and mumichugs. They dip-net for painted turtles and baby catfish on Anderson’s Pond, and seine for eels, shiners, skipjacks and Atlantic needle fish that hide in the Sargasso weed on the shores that bracket the harbor.

Bobby’s home is a virtual hotel. His siblings, cousins and dozens of young cousins from the 4th generation assemble each night with weekend guests and stray kids from across the village after outdoor games of baseball, football and capturethe- flag. As head of the household, he cooks a giant barbecue, as thirty bicycles lie resting on the front lawn.

Bobby’s classic New England cedar shingle home was built in 1820 by a sea captain. On its roof is a charming fenced terrace known locally as a “widow’s walk”, where the captain’s wife could watch for her husband’s return from the sea. From here, the expansive sea views stretch to the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket on the edge of the horizon. Midnight may find a dozen children sleeping on the widow’s walk beneath the stars on foam bedrolls. Facing the other way, there’s a Kennedy home in every direction.

Bobby himself grew up in the house next with ten siblings, his mother Ethel who still lives there and father Robert Kennedy, the legendary attorney general and civil rights champion of the ’60s. The doors of this hospitable household are never locked. The kitchen is always open and the barbecue pit lit. Ringing phones, blaring music, trampling feet and the barking of the Kennedy’s two dachshunds, Cupid and Cinnamon, add to the atmosphere of amiable anarchy. Kids box, dance, wrestle, paint pictures or play “ananagrams” on the floor while the older boys and girls clean fresh caught bluefish on the outdoor patio. Somewhere someone is playing a few bars on a piano.

Even on the occasional Cape Cod rainy day, the family spends time together. Bobby takes the kids to play paint ball or roller hockey or go bowling or to the movies. The return trip to the compound almost invariably includes a stop at the world famous ice cream parlor “Four Seas”, which also provides cones and chocolate sundaes on evenings when dinner guests outnumber the desserts.

Fresh ocean breezes blow through open windows and doors. The president of Waterkeeper Alliance has spent his entire life on rivers and by the sea, and was taught from an early age along with the rest of his cousins to never fear the ocean. Kennedy boats can be seen on Nantucket Sound even on the windiest days when the small craft warning flag is battering the flagpole at the end of the Hyannisport pier. Calmer days find the children swimming, diving from the pier, windsurfing, waterskiing, wake boarding, kite surfing, kayaking and surfing. All the children know how to navigate and handle themselves on a sailboat

Bobby’s passion for the sea is evident throughout
his house. Navigational charts, marine and nautical art adorn every wall. The third floor is paneled in the style of a wooden ship’s cabin. In those rare instances when the house is actually quiet, Bobby gets a chance to tell the children tales of Cape Cod’s riveting history, pirate ships, the Wampanoag Indians, whaling fleets and the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock. Other days the family goes diving with friend and worldfamous treasure hunter Barry Clifford, searching for pirate treasure on the wreck of the Whydah – Sam Bellamy’s ship that foundered off Cape Cod in 1691.
The Kennedy children often return to the
surface with handfuls of gold pirate dubloons.

The idyllic paradise that patriarch Joseph Kennedy found in Hyannisport abides for generations of Kennedys. Each year new members of the clan learn to love nature and Cape Cod as their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have during every magical summer since 1920.

Filed under Robert F. Kennedy Jr RFK Jr Gant Magazine