Saturday, July 18, 2009

Saturday With Walter

Although this isn't exactly book-related, the passing of Walter Cronkite brought back an indelible memory from my childhood.

When I was growing up in Charlotte, my dad was an executive with the company that owned WBT and WBTV, the CBS radio and television affiliates in town. CBS therefore helped put food on our table, and that great postwar generation of CBS reporters -- Murrow, Shirer, Collingwood, Sevareid, Cronkite -- were household gods.

One project that Dad created and administered for the company was the Jefferson Convocations, which brought in nationally known figures to speak to a select group of high school students. Walter Cronkite was the scheduled speaker on one occasion, and, on the day he was supposed to speak, the phone rang while we were eating breakfast. My brother got up and answered it. He put the receiver down, came back to the table to tell Dad the phone was for him, and then stage whispered to Mom and me, "I think it's Walter Cronkite!" All three of us immediately shot glances over to the phone, and heard my father -- for whom the term "laid back" could have been invented -- saying, "Yes, Walter...I understand, Walter...well, we'll see what we can do." Dad then ambled back to the breakfast table and said that it was indeed Walter Cronkite, calling to say that he was stranded in New York due to inclement weather (it was wintertime). The convocation went on as planned later that day, with CBS setting up a remote feed so that Cronkite could speak to the students from New York. I later thought that we should have disconnected that phone, put it under glass, and made it the centerpiece of an altar to the CBS gods.

And that's the way it was.

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