Monday, July 20, 2009

RIP Walter Cronkite 1916-2009

Your scribe wrote his first novel just over a year ago. The action ranges far and wide, from Greenwich to London and back again. Many topics are discussed, including attempting to make peace with the Muslim world centuries after the disastrous events of the First Crusade and the bloody conquest of Jerusalem in 1099.

A brief recap: the hero meets the heroine, who is a TV news reporter. They fall in love, marry, parent, and embark on a series of adventures together. Five more books ensued in quick succession. Such is the writing life.

Here is an excerpt from the first book, which was written in early July of 2008, just a year before Cronkite’s death:

“Do they have a bathroom on this island?” she asked. This time I was the one to take her hand, and led her over to the lavatories. “Don’t go away,” she said as she went in. As if, I thought to myself.

When she came out she was composed and ready to get down to business. “Castles,” she said—“let’s talk castles.”

“Yours or mine?” I asked, and she smiled again.

“We’ll start with yours, and see if we share any architectural ideas in common.” So I told her about the brick Georgian house set on two acres and filled with bookshelves.

“Nice,” she commented. “How much are we talking for that?”

“About five million, give or take,” I replied. “And I have a pretty good idea in what section of town to find it.”

“Okay,” she said. “What about the other twenty mill?”

“ What was that Thoreau quote again?” I said, although we both remembered it perfectly well. It took her only a second or two.

“Oh,” she said, “a foundation! What a great idea! What will you use it for?”

“Well, first I’ll need to set up an advisory board to help to decide that,” I said with a wink. “Would you like to be the first member?”

She clapped her hands, perfectly willing to play the game. “Of course! Let’s see…the arts, naturally—painting, music, drama, writing—they’re the lifeblood of any civilization.”

“Good,” I said. “How about support for education—scholarships, travel grants, teaching fellowships?”

“Absolutely,” she agreed. “What level of education are we talking about?”

“All levels,” I replied. “Any level where a mind can be opened and expanded by the judicious application of eleemosynary funds.”

She laughed again, and again I thought how much I loved to hear that sound. “Great! So if Mrs. Grundy’s third grade class wants to visit the Bronx Zoo, we can charter a bus and pay their admission fees and off they go.”

“That’s it,” I said, enjoying as before her use of the first person plural. Maybe she thought my offer of a slot on the foundation’s board was in jest, but I knew that it wasn’t, and that I’d made an excellent choice.

“What about the application form?” she asked.

“Just a one-page letter,” I replied. “Tell us in one page what you want to do and why, and how much you think it may cost. We can always ask for detailed budgets and résumés and all that stuff later on, once we approve of the general idea.”

“That’s pretty straightforward,” she said. “Do you think something that simple will really work?”

“Why not?” I replied. “It’s our foundation, and we can run it any way we want to.” Two can play at first person plural usage, but she seemed not even to notice. Maybe she didn’t think I’d been joking, after all.

We spent another half-hour putting the foundations under the foundation, so to speak, and Sarah was beginning to look peckish. “Lunchtime,” I said, and we headed over to the refreshment stand. Food always tastes better at the beach, and with my new best friend-slash-cousin at my side it tasted better still. We each had a cheeseburger, and I showed her how to take a frozen Charleston Chew bar and slap it down sharply on the counter to fracture it into bite-size pieces.

“Yum,” she said through the sticky nougat and chocolate confection. “They taste much better this way.” This is a woman of refinement and discrimination after my own heart, I thought.

“So how will you get from here to there?” she asked, reverting to her reportorial role. I told her about my conversations with Lawyer Lee, and how he was already drawing up the papers for the tax-exempt status. She asked how the mechanics of cashing the ticket would work, and I explained my idea of hiring a limo for the three of us to drive to lottery headquarters.

“What about my cameraman?” she asked.

“He can follow us in the van so that he can broadcast live,” I said.

“Great idea,” she said, and squeezed my hand. “You have this all planned out, don’t you? No wonder it took you so long to call me.”

“Well, there are still lots of details to iron out,” I said. “Can we run a foundation from a residence without running into zoning or neighborhood issues? How big should the board be? What should be our scope—townwide, countywide, statewide? Not nationwide—twenty million is pretty small potatoes in the foundation world.”

“Small board,” she said. “Let’s get people who are professionals in their field—local artists and teachers and musicians. And let’s keep the focus local as well—better to make a big difference in a small pond than to have our benevolence lost in a large lake.”

“I like your thinking,” I said, and she looked at me thoughtfully. Sarah was nobody’s fool.

“You’d already decided that, hadn’t you?”

“Yes, but I needed a second opinion. That’s why I’m glad you’re on the board. My offer was serious, by the way.”

“So was my acceptance,” she said promptly. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

Then the conversation drifted back to our personal histories. She had attended Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, followed by Columbia College and School of Journalism. Her parents still lived in Wethersfield. She had a condo in Glenbrook, at the eastern end of Stamford. She loved her job and dealing with people. She loved books and words and ideas. Walter Cronkite was her journalistic hero.

“You’re too young to know about him,” I said.

“ Nonsense,” came her answer. “We studied him in journalism school. Great reporting is timeless.” I had no reply to that. She was obviously right.

It is doubtful that Walter Cronkite himself ever read these words. Your scribe met him once many years ago, at the Union Club in New York City, and his deep, rich voice thrilled your scribe to the core. It was a moment never to be forgotten, and thus your scribe paid tribute to him in his first novel.

Walter Cronkite was not merely Sarah’s journalistic hero; he was America’s journalistic hero. He could easily have become president, but was too modest to run for office. He was one of the greatest Americans of our time, and indeed, of all time.


Blogger Malicious Intent said...

There will never be an act that classy or trustworthy again.

July 24, 2009 7:30 PM  
Blogger Bill Clark said...

Alas, I fear not. Uncle Walter was one-of-a-kind.

July 25, 2009 9:22 AM  

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