BY ANNIE CRENSHAW
On June 23, 2021, Edna and Erin – two of three triplet Kennedy sisters – will celebrate their centennial birthday with family members, including their younger brother, O’Neil Kennedy.
The triplets are the daughters of Fred McQueen Kennedy and Ina Earle Andress of the Spring Hill community in northeastern Butler County.
Years ago, having twins was noteworthy, and triplets were almost unheard of.
How rare were triplets? In 1921, in the dozen states then included in national vital statistics (Alabama was not added to the statistical survey until 1927), there were nearly 1.7 million reported live births. Among those births were over 20 thousand cases of twins – and only 250 cases of triplets. That’s in the entire country!
Edna Collis Kennedy and Erin Celeste Kennedy weighed less than four pounds each at birth, and their sister, Edith Constance (called “Con”), weighed seven pounds. And, all three babies were HEALTHY.
Butler County definitely had an unusual occurrence with the Kennedy triplets!
People visited the family and brought congratulations and gifts. One of those gifts was unusual and memorable.
The late Freddie Earle Kennedy (Mrs. Clady Perdue) was the triplets’ older sister. Freddie was only three and a half years old when the tiny babies were born, but she recalled many gift arrivals.
She said: “I remember the people of Greenville came out to see the triplets, bringing them a lot of gifts, three of a kind. Few people had cars in 1921 and no paved roads existed, so those gifts were special.”
“One day Bob Jones, the Butler County Sheriff, delivered a package to the triplets, and in it were three beautiful birth stone rings. A note said, ‘Dear Little Girls, If these little rings do not fit, let your Dad carry them back to The Alabama Jewelry and exchange them.’ The rings were from Butler County’s Probate Judge, C. Fred Winkler.”
Erin and Edna still have their rings, and Edith’s (Con’s) ring is still in the family, as well.
Freddie’s memories were priceless. She recalled: “Mama said that Erin was so small when she was born, Mama could make a dress for her with a man’s handkerchief and it would cover her feet. A silver dollar would cover Erin’s face.”
Freddie recalled the cows being milked three times a day to provide enough milk for the growing triplets and other Kennedy children. There were no refrigerators and her family didn’t yet own an “ice box.”
“Growing up on the farm, we always had plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and Papa planted the best watermelons in the county,” she said.
With a large number of children in the family (nine in all), and especially with three newcomers arriving at once, each child had his or her jobs and responsibilities.
The older children helped take care of the younger ones.
“Since Mary Belle was the oldest,” recalled Freddie, “she had to help with the house work and help take care of me. Mildred helped take care of Con, Woodrow took care of Edna, and Ina Mae took care of Erin.”
There were fun times as well as work. Freddie recalled playing with corn cob dolls, climbing mulberry trees, making playhouses, and learning to play the guitar and pump organ.
“We had plenty of cousins living nearby, and we could always have a ball game anytime,” Freddie described.
They had homemade cake, ice cream and lemonade to celebrate the triplets’ birthdays.
“As the triplets grew up, Con was always kinda bossy to the other two,” said Freddie. “She protected them and managed everything.”
“Con loved school. When she graduated from high school, she went to a business college in Andalusia and later got a big government job in Anniston, making a lot of money and a good retirement.”
“Edna and Erin met two handsome young men and got married young and started raising families. Con helped everyone in the family at some time during her work career – ‘big meeting’ dress material, and all sorts of things. We all owe her a lot.”
What became of the Kennedy triplets? Edith Constance (“Con”) never married, had a long career in civil service, and died in 2015.
Erin and Edna worked at Merrimac Hat Factory for a short period of time. They both married husbands who served in World War II and have had wonderful lives with their families.
Edna Kennedy married Allen B. Gafford. They moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where he had a career with U.S. Steel Mill. He died in 2010. They have three children: Angelon G. Creel, Kenneth Gafford and Dianne G. Owens; 6 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Erin Kennedy married Winford Lansdon and they moved to Montgomery, Alabama. Winford had a career working for CSX Railroad; he died in 2019. They have 3 children: Sheron L. Poole, Pratha L. Harrison and Wendy L. McQueen; 5 grandchildren, 8 great-grandchildren, 3 step-great-grandchildren, 2 great-great-grandchildren (and one on the way), and 5 step-greatgreat-grandchildren.
All of the Kennedy family loved gardening and flowers, including the triplets and their brothers, O’Neil and Woodrow. The children were musically talented, and O’Neil can still entertain a crowd with his singing.
O’Neil is the only Kennedy sibling still living besides Erin and Edna. He’s still a member of Antioch Baptist Church, where his niece, Pratha Lansdon Harrison, is music director.
Erin had COVID-19 and had a lengthy hospital stay. She’s slowly recovering, and hopes to attend the family birthday party. We wish all the best for her!
Just a short time ago, Edna said she was doing fine, but she was aggravated that she couldn’t walk. She said she needed to be chopping and working a garden.
That’s the spirit of a real centenarian!
Freddie Kennedy Perdue said of herself, her triplet sisters, and the entire Kennedy family: “Family has always been important. Our family has lots of love for each other.”
Love will keep a family together, no doubt about it. And, longevity keeps it together even longer.
Congratulations to Erin and Edna on their 100th birthday, which they’ll be enjoying with their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren!