Uncle Walter is dead. He died last week at 92, just short of the 40th anniversary of the original moon walk by my namesake Neil Armstrong. I remember watching that momentous event with my friend, Karen Lang, in ’69.  I had just graduated from High School and was wondering what life had in store for me.  I was waiting for my draft board to decide my fate and there wasn’t room for much hope or optimism, aside from being in love (and even that was fraught with trouble, as I had discovered the month before when my “girlfriend” had dumped me for a college boy…). But that day, for one brief afternoon, there was a break in the storm, a moment in history and I was there along with everyone else who tuned in.

Walter Kronkite, one of the best father figures this country has ever had,  was there, too, guiding us through that momentous occasion.  He was on the edge of his seat, just like the rest of us, waiting for that one moment, that one heart-stopping, joy producing moment when it all would make sense even if only for a short time. When it came, he heaved a sigh of relief and wiped away a few tears of pride, just like the rest of us, knowing that America still had it.

It was hard, in those days to see that America was a great country.  There was so much hatred and conflict and suspicion going ’round.  Even in my high school, ’69 was a hard year for me. There were issues that we, as students, tried to address, both within the school setting and without.  School politics seemed so important back then, but I can’t really remember what all the hubbub was about today, 40 years later.  It must have had something to do with the intersection of the Vietnam War  and our protests of it.  And there was a dress code that seemed to be ridiculous back then, though it pales in comparison to the Draconian measures taken nowadays…uniforms?  In high school? WTF?

Everything seemed much more dramatic back then. Perhaps it was because our lives were more quiet and uninteresting. The use of drugs and alcohol weren’t widespread among my peers, though there was a marked increase of experimentation with weed and acid among certain of my friends. After I graduated from H.S. a number of low-lifes O.Ded as drug use really began to rise, but it was still an exception rather than the rule.  And sex was still something that “bad” people did, so teen-pregnancy was almost unheard of (more I think because it was kept hush-hush, than anything else). STD’s were something that impure people got (our students were all “pure”).  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a Quaker school…we were all, for the most part, horny as hell.  We just didn’t know how to deal with it, yet. We learned later on, oh how we learned!

I remember watching the CBS Evening News with Uncle Walter during that time; watching as our world expanded from sleepiness to awakening.  Conventions, riots, assassinations, Viet Nam, strikes, protests, scandals, moon landings, the space race, political shenanigans, the works…Walter K. was there to draw attention to it.  And with such class, even back then, he was an elder statesman for the news.  Walter had been around for a long, long time…longer in fact than I could imagine, I mean, he was 52 in 1969, for chrissake!  I have a hard time dealing with the fact that I’m 58 now!

Walter was cool.  He stated what was going on matter-of-factly, but he wasn’t without emotion, he wasn’t a robot. He was moved by things, which allowed us to be moved as well.  I remember him losing it at the Democratic Convention in ’68 when the Police were beating the snot out of the protesters outside the convention hall.  Up to that point a lot of us had thought we were just pissing into the wind and having little or no effect on the status quo/ business as usual crowd.  But Walter let it be known that enough was enough. It was at that point that he became a hero in my book. Not because he went into a burning building or jumped on a grenade or took a bullet to protect someone, but because he raised his voice in protest, adding it to all the other voices.  And when Walter spoke, a lot of people listened.

Sure he could have sat there reporting the news impassionately, but he chose to react, and he had enough clout that CBS didn’t censor him.

But now, Walter is gone.  Who are we going to turn to for answers now?


3 Responses to “AND THAT’S THE WAY IT IS”

  1. well you young whipper snapper I enjoyed the read I was just leaving
    for Hawaii with two little kids to raise them in a better way of life
    in the banana belt..dropping out


  2. I remember always seeing Cronkite on the news, but he didn’t really impact me. I think my world of art and survival, hanging with friends, going to school and writing sort of separated me from news mouthpieces. I didn’t become a news mouthpiece until recently. I bet I would have had a much different perspective had I been in journalism when Cronkite was around to look up to…

  3. You remember that summer and high school like I do. Drugs and sex were there but a part of the background. But we spent most of the time on the beach and in the surf.
    Music was important. In the summer of ’69 I remember you, Karen, and I in your Dad’s apartment listening to ‘Let it Bleed’ on a small plastic record player. Evcen with all of the technology today, it never sounded better than that evening. It was new and we were still exploring the amazing music that was coming out.
    Drugs were different then, glue, pills, and alcohol. In elementary school classmates were sniffing glue on the beach if they weren’t getting stoned on resin making surfboards with the early pioneers of board shaping. Those kids just never took to school and a couple of thoise who OD’d were my friends like Dusty Maddox. Dusty and I used to sit in the back of the class during Jr. Hi and draw pictures of surfing and dragsters. Weed only showed up in our senior year.
    But the beach was always there for us, drawing me with it’s quiet and the rhythm of the waves. The hot sun on my skin only to be wafted away by a cool ocean breeze. I consider those times as when I first started to meditate. Floating at the surfline looking for the start of a set; watching the horizon for that tell-tale sign of an approaching wave. But my body was my board and I’d feel it taken up by the power of the wave and if I was lucky I could cut across the face of the wave. At the end my body would be consumed by the wave and often I’d come up laughing or excited yelling at you and our other friends about what a cool ride I’d just had.
    We’ve lived through some extraordinary times.
    We lived the beach that the Beach Boys could only dream about.
    We went though riots in Berkeley.
    We hung out in Berkeley and San Francisco during the times when craziness was afoot.
    We hiked mountains into the wilderness before the boomboxes got there.
    We were at the ground floor of experiments in education that have changed the schools.
    We have lived through and shared some extraordinary times.

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