Walter Cronkite and the YouTube generation

By Carolyn Marsh | Jul 24, 2009

Like countless thousands (you could look it up), I mourned the death last week of Walter Cronkite, and not just because it distracted me from the psychic damage I’d sustained recently at the hands of a couple of equal-opportunity heartbreakers.

I read some of the eulogies and watched some of the videos — can anyone of our generation ever forget his announcement of the death of President Kennedy? — but found that all those words really only suggested the role he played in people's lives. Who was the last newsperson you trusted? Who was the last person you trusted? All in all, nostalgia and melancholy were the order of the day.

I interviewed Walter Cronkite once, thanks to the good offices of my great friend Willard Wight. He was tied up at Willey Wharf on his way somewhere and we sat in the stern of his boat and talked. I can't remember what about, but I think it was something important, or something that seemed important at the time. I remember him as smart and unassuming, probably because I’d never seen him in shorts and a shirt — or off the TV screen, for that matter. But I wrote it up and he occupied the front page above the fold of the next edition of the paper. Actually, I’ll bet there are a lot of conservatives out there who never trusted even Walter Cronkite! Sheesh, as my friend Ben says. So un-joyous.

I did not read the article in the New York Times that purported to explain Walter Cronkite to the YouTube generation. Dignity and YouTube do not seem to me to go together. Nor do I think he would have bared his soul on FaceBook, if he could ever figure out how it worked. I keep getting notices saying, Five friends are looking for you on FaceBook, but when I follow the link I discover that I have to ask them to be friends, and I don’t want to be friends with anyone I have to ask, thank you very much.

Where were you when we landed a man on the moon? I was in a hotel in Santa Fe, N.M., watching the whole thing on what passed for a large-screen TV in those days. Do you remember the error? “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind,” and not, as had been scripted, “One small step for a man.” I was reminded of that when Sarah Palin announced that she wanted to “affect change” from the outside. Well, she said “affect,” but the countless thousands who wrote about it quoted her as having said “effect.” It must have been the editor’s old dilemma: Do you leave someone’s error and have people think you weren’t smart enough to catch it? Or do you correct the diction and let people think the person you are quoting is smarter than he or she really is? It’s a tough call. It’s what [sic] is for, though I didn’t see much of [sic] in any of the accounts of her performance, except as an opinion.

There is a malediction in the air. One of the area’s most successful curse-makers has issued another one, around mid-April, that will have a major effect (and affect a lot of people). When it happens, and it will, you can read about it here.

Two days of sun, though not without plenty of clouds, have made people giddy. They have certainly brought the tourists, who are like those little mushrooms on your lawn: One minute they’re not there and the next minute they are — many of them, oddly, looking as though they had just sprung up in a dank cellar.

I’ve left town for a few days to stay at what in better weather would be called a summer place but is really just a more rustic retreat from the rain. When my answering machine works, that is, when CMP has not had one of its inexplicable power outages (I long ago ceased to believe the one about the squirrel in the transformer box), the messages I retrieve are almost always questions about where Hattie is and when she will be back.

Hattie is one of the fur people that share my home (run the place, actually). She is sweet, friendly, lovely, kindhearted and seriously peripatetic (Aristotle would have loved her). When I first saw her at the Sexton Shelter a few years ago, she was pacing back and forth in her cage and I said to myself, That’s a cat that needs a lot of room. I didn’t have an entire town in mind, but that has become her space. She’s been to a lot of places around town that I haven’t, and made a lot of friends (also that I haven’t). Because my phone number is on her collar, and my cell phone on an answering-machine message, she has created a veritable network out there.

Last summer some renters from Massachusetts tried to kidnap her, but a construction worker on Sea Street saw her and called to tell me where she was. The family had already bought her a leash (hah! I would have liked to have seen that) and were about to bundle her in their van and abscond, but I got there just in time. At any rate, she is away for a few days and will be back shortly. I will let her know that you asked after her. Any friend of Hattie is a friend of mine.
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