The man who painted eloquent pictures of everyday heroes may have been surprised to know that he became one of mine.
I remember the first time I saw a piece by Charles Kuralt. I must have been about 16 years old, catching a glimpse of the CBS News with my parents.
It was the silence that grabbed my attention. I heard birds chirping, the camera panning over a beautiful brook, lovely fall foliage. I couldn’t help but drop what I was doing to listen.
“It is quiet here,” this beautifully deep, melodious voice stated. He then went on to tell the story of an older lady artist who had retreated from the city to the back woods of North Carolina, Kuralt’s beloved home state.
Her artwork, though notable, would likely never land big money or fame. The bigger story was her ability to escape the rat race of the city, replacing it with solitude, tranquility, happiness and fulfillment.
She helped neighbors by feeding them the bounty of her orchard and vegetable patch. She became a quiet hero to many.
I began searching out Kuralt’s stories. His proven philosophy struck a chord with me: Everyone has a story. The “little people” have more interesting stories than the powerful.
It was my admiration of his approach that prompted me to become a writer, and to enjoy telling those stories of the quiet folks. I learned in a biography, Remembering Charles Kuralt by Ralph Grizzle, that Kuralt had begun to hone this craft when he was a very young man.
His father had to drive him to his first radio job, because he was not yet old enough to have a driver’s license.
Grizzle writes that early in Kuralt’s career, at the Charlotte News, “Kuralt began to apply his talents to an award-winning column called ‘People.’ He wrote about ordinary people who might otherwise have gone unnoticed, just like the two maids he had written about as a ninth-grader back at Alexander Graham Junior High School.”
Kuralt traveled the backroads of America to get to the heart of “the real stuff,” and his stories reached beyond those of typical nightly newscasts.
He told of a black man in a poor town who ran a bicycle shop, building bikes for any child who needed one.
His stories were not rehearsed; he connected with the people he interviewed in an honest way that shined through. Every time. Kuralt was a keen writer who saw the largeness in the little gifts and graces of life.
It was in 1979 that CBS debuted Sunday Morning.
I remember watching it in my home away from home in North Carolina where I was living as a 19-year-old, and suddenly feeling so incredibly homesick. I didn’t know then that I was living in the exact county in which Charles Kuralt had been born.
While he was longing to come home again, it was his voice that prompted me to do some serious thinking. Kuralt made me think of my father and his quiet, solid wisdom and I knew I wanted to go home again.
Near the end of his life, Kuralt began to ponder his immortality. “In television, everything is gone with the speed of light, literally. It is no field for anybody with intimations of immortality, because your stuff, by and large, doesn’t live on,” he said.
Kuralt had become disenchanted with CBS, though he agreed to call it “retirement” rather than “parting of ways,” in order to keep the peace. He was a man who often chose the peaceful road.
In this way, he was a man who brought peace to those of us who enjoyed his incredible gift of story-telling, though, sadly, he had not quite found peace in his own life.
The biographer writes, “Kuralt’s America was one of good and decent people. He inspired me, as I am sure he inspired many others, with his entertaining stories of goodness.”
He was a man who quietly questioned political motives while considering himself a true patriot. He died, still questioning many things, on July 4, 1997. As requested in a letter written just two days before his death, he was laid to rest in his beloved Chapel Hill, N.C.
All these years later, I miss him most on Sunday mornings. His “stuff,” by and large, does live on. I wish he could know that.
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!