Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Life's real heroes, somewhere 'On the Road'


My dream is to one day travel from sea to shining sea, notepad and camera in tow, finding and telling the stories that really matter, those about so-called ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Charles Kuralt, the reporter who told such tales better than anyone else, once said that "it does no harm, just once in awhile, to acknowledge that the whole country isn't in flames, that there are people in this country besides politicians, entertainers and criminals." He made a career -- a rather good one -- doing just that for CBS News, both "On the Road" and as host of TV's best news program, "CBS Sunday Morning."

Kuralt, and Ernie Pyle -- who in his wonderful way also wrote about such folks during World War II -- are two of the few journalists who deserve to be called heroes. They are mine.

I have tried, in my feeble fashion in my little corner of the country, to share such stories about such people. I do not have one-tenth of Kuralt's talent, but I keep trying. His is a fine example.

I found a clip containing several of Kuralt's best "On the Road" dispatches on YouTube. It can be found here. The entire program, aired on "CBS Sunday Morning" a few days after Kuralt's 1997 death -- on Independence Day, no less -- is worth a look.

Have to share this personal aside: The day Charles Kuralt died I was vacationing with family in Jackson Hole, Wyo. They planned to hang out with friends that afternoon. I didn't feel too terrific. By then I already had rumblings I wanted to be a writer and had spent many Sunday mornings before church in awe of Kuralt's poetry.

So I stayed behind and decided to walk to a little bookstore -- it's no longer there -- to hunt something to read. Lo and behold, on the shelf sat a paperback copy of Kuralt's memoir, "A Life on the Road." I spent the afternoon alone, reading and remembering.

I don't know if I will ever get the opportunity to file dispatches from Walla Walla, Wash., or Beaufort, S.C., or a million ports in between. Meantime I will keep plugging away here in Halls, telling tales and swapping stories, knowing deep in my heart that the true heroes aren't in Washington, New York or Hollywood. They are out there, in the big expanse known as the heartland, somewhere "On the Road."

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