Teddy and me

At a fundraiser in Oakland, I thanked Sen. Kennedy for all of his good work. Then he looked into my eyes and promised we were going to win.

By Anne Lamott
Published October 27, 2004 4:34PM (EDT)

The sky is so beautiful these days, full of clouds and sun, and in the trees down the street as the light fades, the persimmons are almost in full glory. Just when you need it, when the light is fading, the persimmons become as soft and lovely as Japanese lanterns, their light and warmth coming on slowly, rising from the bottom of the fruit. I have been walking to see the persimmon trees every day for a month, as if to a shrine, and this, coupled with some rising polls for Kerry, has so raised my spirits that two weeks ago I began taking $100 bets that Kerry would win next week.

Or rather, I was offering to take $100 bets. No one actually took me up on it. My friends are not a betting people. They are activist worker-bee Birkenstock types. So I decided to take another kind of chance, and take all the last-ditch money I'd planned to donate to various groups, and spend it all on a Democratic fundraising event where Ted Kennedy was to be the guest of honor.

A dear friend of mine, whom I've known for 30 years, got me to sign up for this. I can't really wrap my mind around that last sentence -- Was I even out of school 30 years ago? Was I even born? So let's just say that this nice -- and very familiar -- woman got me to pay a bundle to eat dinner at Oliveto, one of the great restaurants in the Bay Area.

I didn't have the vaguest idea what to expect. I only knew that I had a fabulous white diaphanous lace blouse that I wear to fancy gatherings, and a pair of black silk pants that would fit if I walked a little more. So I did. I took my dog Lily out every afternoon for an hour in the hills, passing the persimmon trees, tracking their changes. At first, the fruit look hard and green, but slowly, shyly, they begin to show their colors. For the longest time, you can only admire them. They are a fruit with beauty, but also severe limitations -- if you pick them too early, they are bitter -- so you have to pay attention, because they are only at their prime very briefly. Then, almost immediately, they are too ripe, gelatinous and wiggly, only edible in the steamed persimmon puddings like my English mother used to serve at Christmas when I was young.

It's not a dessert you see much anymore, and besides, many of the people in my family have gone to the great lefty cabin in heaven, where they hang out and smoke, drink Gallo Hearty Burgundy, and talk about various elections. In the old days, everyone used to gather at our house, because my parents were precinct leaders, for JFK, whom my father resembled, and for Bobby, whom we all adored. And then Teddy, too, for his civil rights and antiwar stances, and for carrying on the lineage.

I felt beautiful when I left for Oakland the night of the event.

I met up with my friend and her husband at Oliveto at about 6:30. The restaurant was exquisitely appointed, beautifully lit, elegant and relaxed and filled to bursting with exuberant, stylish old-time Democrats -- my people. The food, when it arrived, was stunning, fit for a magazine cover.

It was a nightmare.

It was hot and overwhelming and I hardly knew a soul except for my friend and her husband, who were at another table, and I had forgotten one tiny detail when I had signed on: You had to eat with people you didn't know, and talk to them.

I would seriously rather be in a long line at the DMV than eat with people I don't know. But I did the best I could while waiting for Kennedy to arrive.

Almost everyone but me was drinking expensive wine, and things got louder and giddier, and my tablemates and I shouted to each other about the food, until finally, Teddy and Victoria arrived, and were seated at the head of our table.

Teddy looked fantastic -- healthy and much trimmer, a lion in very early winter. Victoria, whom people seemed to be calling Vicki, was beautiful, friendly, smart, lively, and only two seats away from me.

And so I got to make small talk with her, and when the person across the table suddenly spilled his glass of red wine all over me and my perfect white blouse, it was my new best friend Vicki who called off the troops who had begun wiping at me with their napkins: "Dab, dab," she said. "Don't rub," and she called for a club soda.

That was my favorite part of the evening, when Vicki and I talked about stains -- the red wine stain, and the great strides in stain removal that have been made just in our lifetime. We talked about how when we were young, our mothers couldn't get anything out, not blood or ink or grass. But now, you could Shout out anything, or Google your specific stain-removal needs.

It's a great time to be alive. I was back in the saddle. And I did the only thing I could think of: I threw myself at Teddy Kennedy. He was seated a few people away, and I walked over, my mind spinning with opening lines, and without meaning to, I ended up kneeling before him, as if I was about to propose. This surprised him, for a moment. I took his hand, like a supplicant in "The Godfather," and said, "My family has loved your family for 45 years, and I want to thank you for how you have spent your life."

He was so kind to me. The organizers of the event were sitting on either side of him, and told him what a fabulous writer I was, and how many benefits I had done in the spring at people's homes. He clasped his hands to his chest with thanks, and looked down into my face, where I knelt like a knight-in-training at the Round Table, as he said how great it was to hear of my work. And how we were going to win.

It was one of the great moments of the year.

In between the second or third course, Teddy gave very loud speech about peace, and his brothers, and the poor, and what an evil moron Bush is -- OK, I made that last bit up.

But then he was done, and I was really exhausted, and then more and more platters of food arrived, like "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins," and I grew increasingly miserable. The small talk got harder, and worst of all, my only real friend, Vicki -- Vick -- started talking to other people. And I realized I just had to leave. For about 10 seconds, I thought about telling the truth -- that I had had enough. But instead I lied and said Sam had a major history report due, and I had to go home right that second.

I am still excited about meeting Kennedy, nearly two weeks later. The stains in my blouse came out, and Kerry is pulling ahead in some battleground states. And the persimmons are nearly ripe, although they still need a little more time to soften. They will begin to yield to the touch soon. In the meantime, I am going to keep the faith, work on getting out the vote, and keep on registering women in New Hampshire and Minnesota, who can register through Election Day.

We have until Friday to write them. E-mail me if you want to help.

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is the New York Times bestselling author of "Help, Thanks, Wow"; "Small Victories"; "Stitches"; "Some Assembly Required"; "Grace (Eventually)"; "Plan B"; "Traveling Mercies"; "Bird by Bird"; "Operating Instructions" and "Hallelujah Anyway," out April 4. She is also the author of several novels, including "Imperfect Birds" and "Rosie." A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an inductee to the California Hall of Fame, she lives in Northern California.

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