World has changed—and that’s the way it is

Walter Cronkite spoke to my father every weekday evening with the CBS Evening News.
My father sat in his green chair, placed at just the right angle for the television, his legs crossed, right over left, leaving a small V-shaped spot in his chair into which I fit perfectly.
I tucked into that spot, placing my head on my father’s knee while he “watched” Mr. Cronkite and stroked my hair.
The CBS News came into our home via the Duluth, Mn. channel, from the converter dialed into number 83, sitting on the top right-hand corner of the television that Bruce Murray hooked up for us when I was about five years old.
My brother, sister, and I watched from the sofa, scarcely breathing, while this very clever man dialed and tuned and fiddled until the snowy black-and-white picture cleared like magic.
The CBS “eye” appeared on the screen and seemed all-knowing, especially where Walter Cronkite was concerned. Mr. Cronkite’s voice carried out from the television with a timbre that evoked respect and attentiveness—a voice very much like my father’s.
In those moments of watching my father watch Walter Cronkite, the two became synonymous.
They were roughly the same age; Cronkite born three years before my father, but in the same month of November. They both had a moustache and combed their hair straight back—my father doing so to control his curls.
They both wore heavy dark-rimmed glasses but not always; the glasses became a tool to measure the seriousness of the moment. When the glasses were removed, one could be certain that a serious announcement was close at hand.
Walter Cronkite broke many important, life-changing announcements over his career. The one I recall most vividly is the news bulletin that John F. Kennedy had been shot and was, in fact, dead; an unthinkable tragedy as Mr. Cronkite removed his glasses and strained to maintain his composure.
I was eight and squeezed into my dad’s chair. My father, too, removed his glasses and quietly said, “The world is changing.”
And much later, while invading my sister’s privacy and reading her diary, I saw what she had recorded on Nov. 22, 1963: “I weaned Nugget today and Walter Cronkite told us President Kennedy was assassinated,” she wrote.
She had to stroke out her first attempt at assassinated, but both she and Nugget (her colt) were having a difficult day.
When my father died, I wished that Walter Cronkite would step to the front of the funeral home and recount my father’s life; that he would tell the details of this man for whom most, if not all, held a deep respect.
Mr. Cronkite would have removed his glasses and looked me squarely in the eye. “Your father has died,” he would have said. “But you will be fine. Eventually.”
And I would have believed him because Walter Cronkite always told the truth—even the hard truth.
Walter Cronkite, unlike my father, lived to the age of 92 and kept his eye on the political forum, raising his voice where he felt concern. He was America’s father and, in many ways, the father of Canadian listeners.
As we gathered on our sofas and pulled our knees up under our chins, it was Walter Cronkite who told us we had put a man on the moon. He removed his glasses and exhaled rather dramatically, and for several moments was speechless.
Mr. Cronkite also is credited with ending the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He was the voice of integrity.
Who do we hold in such high stead now? Who represents truth to us, and decency and honesty and patience and understanding? The news has become a sensational forum for entertainment—the delivery shocking and often delivered with a frantic flavour, with no hesitation to show the gore and horror of war and violence.
Where is the voice that steadies us; that assures us with the truth, sometimes the unthinkable truth, but always bringing the enemy out of the shadows where we can get a look at him and best determine what is next?
Where has trust and respect gone?
The world has, indeed, changed. We now have to rely on ourselves to sift through the news and sort the facts from the hyperbole.
And as Walter Cronkite would say, “That’s the way it is.”
wendistewart@live.ca

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