PHIL SCHEFFLER: I don't think I missed a single
ON THE ROAD in all the years Charlie did them. I read his books and
watched his television specials. I even went to hear him speak once
I'll always have those in print and on tape, but whatI won't have
is my friend of 40 years. What I won't have is my nextdoor neighbor
and my sailing buddy, my housemate, my traveling companion' the person
I celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and holidays withsometimes
much delayed, to be sure. When we shared a house in the country with
Charlie and Petie Kuralt, we had to put off Christmas several years
in a row. One time, Jack Benny died and Charlie was dispatched to Nassau
to interview Mr. Paley and then anchor a broadcast about Benny. I think
we opened our presents around December 29th. The next year was something
else. When the news or the assignment or the story called, it never
occurred to him to say no.
I don't remember when he stopped being Charlie and started being Charles.
Maybe John Steinbeck's book had something to do with it. Perhaps it
was approaching grandfatherhood. Maybe he felt the need to be more dignified
as the world around him became less civil. Somehow, despite all his
efforts, "Charles" never stuck, not with me, anyway.
He was passionate about many things, about sailing, the New York Yankees,
daffodils, especially fly fishing. We moved into our house with two
beds, a card table and four chairs, and the only decoration on the walls
was a Tonkin cane fly rodthat was all the art he needed. We planned
a vacation in London once, and the dates and arrangements had to wait
until he could organize a week of fly fishing on the Test river, the
most famous trout stream in the United Kingdom. To land a wily trout
on the Test, he said, would be a dream come true.
As wonderful as his voice was, he could not sing two notes in succession.
When he told me that he and Loonis McGlohon had written and were going
to perform a musical tribute to North Carolina to raise money to endow
a chair in his father's name at the U.N.C. School of Social Work, I
had this awful, awful vision of Charlie in front of his friends, actually
trying to sing. But he left the singing to Loonis and stuck to the poetry,
and he raised the money to honor his father.
But he tried to sing. How he tried. Once when we were sailing in the
British Virgin Islands, we put in for dinner at some beachfront restaurant.
You know the kind: thatched roof, simple food and honor bar off to one
side, and a man in shorts playing the guitar, singing sea songs. When
he sang "We Sailed on the Sloop John B," Charlie was transported.
"It was magical," he said, and perhaps it was. He made me
repeat the words to him over and over, and he practiced singing it in
the cockpit the rest of the trip. The results were those that only very
good friends could put up with. But he often spoke of that night: "The
best night of my life," he said.
He was all of the things he appeared to be on televisioninterested
in others, fascinated with the goodness and richness of America, aware
of his gifts, but modest in the presence of others. And he was a wonderful
traveling companion, with that curiosity, that infectious enthusiasm
that made an event of every trip, of every weekend, of every meal.
He was, to be delicate about it, physically unprepossessing, and often
he would go unrecognized as we traveled around. That is, until he spoke.
Heads would turn. It's really his voice which is so well known in America.
If you look at the ON THE ROAD stories he did, you'll be surprised at
how little he actually is seen. He preferred it that way.
If he seemed modest in public, well, he really was, and he was thrilled
when he met what he described as a "real" celebrity, particularly
if it was one of his own heroes. He would come back from a trip and
tell us that he had run into, say, Mickey Mantle at the airport. "Can
you imagine?" he would say, his face beaming. "Mickey Mantle!"
Well, it was "Hi ya, Mickey!" "Hi ya, Charlie!"
He was a hopeless romanticmore about that in a minutebut
he was also very clear about what he wanted and what he didn't want.
And above all, he did not want to be told what to do. He was invariably
polite about it, but it was unmistakable. That house in the country
the Kuralts and the Schefflers bought together had a clause in the ownership
arrangement whereby we each agreed we would buy the other out at any
time. And after four years or so, Charlie asked me to buy his half.
He was away so much, he said, and he was tired of paying half the mortgage
and half the upkeep when he used it so little. But I suspect his decision
was really made when, one Sunday morning, Linda Scheffler picked up
Charlie's coffee mug from the new, bare dining room table and slipped
a placemat under it. He had no intention of living that way. He still
loved us, of coursewe were still his best friendsbut living
under other people's preferences was not what he had in mind. So the
Schefflers acquired a guest room and the Kuralts bought the house next
door, where presumably he could put his coffee mug down any damn place
When he went on the road, it became clear that he really had found a
world in which no one told him what to do, and he resisted any effort
to change that. At least three times, Don Hewitt tried to get him to
come to 60 MINUTES, and while he was polite in his refusal, the real
reason was that he couldn't abide the idea of the kind of heavy editing
and consensus which is the center of 60 MINUTES' editorial system.
But, as I said, he was also a romantic, and ON THE ROAD fed that part
of him as well. And to see what a romantic he was, you need only to
look at what's in his garage, filled with wonderful reminders not of
how the world is, but how it ought to be. There is the plain pipe-rack
Jeepevery country squire, even the squire of an acre and a half
in Essex, Connecticut, needs a Jeep to run down for the New York Times
in the morning or run up to Ballek's nursery to pick up some daffodil
bulbs. That Jeep is 13 years old and it's averaged a shade over 75 miles
Then there are the two Raleigh three-speed bicycles with the straw baskets
over the handlebarsjust the thing for a gentle roll through our
beautiful New England village. I think the only time they were used
was when I borrowed one to bring to New York to use during a transit
In one corner of the garage are parts of a wood-fired, stainless steel
maple sugarer, used once. Charlie decided, now that he lived in New
England not 75 miles from where his father had grown up, that the natural
order of things required him to make maple syrup. Between our three
acres, there were plenty of maples, so he started tapping them in late
winter, and as the bags and pails filled, he transferred the watery
liquid to several large drums. Actually, Charlie tapped the trees and
went on the road, and Petie did most of the emptying. I think I even
carried a bucket or two. Then came the day for cooking the sap, and
this incredible device was set up in the tool sheda huge fire
drum underneath with a smokestack sticking out of a window and that
stainless steel cooker on top. You pour the clear, raw sap into one
end and the liquid proceeds through a series of mazes and baffles until
it reaches the other end, mostly cooked away and, by now, that dark,
rich maple syrup color. We have the evidence on our wall: a picture
of a beatific Kuralt, plaid shirt, heavy leather gloves, steam rising
all around his heada happy man. That the whole effort produced
only enough maple syrup to cover the next morning's pancakes didn't
faze him a bit. Sugaring is what one does in late winter in New England.
And besides, next year there might be a quart.
I forgot to mention that his romantic notions extended to the sea as
well as the road. For a number of years, he kept a beautiful, small
Hinkley sailboat at a slip on the Essex waterfront and, like the Jeep
and the bicycles and the maple syrup maker, it got little use. But to
him it represented some ideal life, and he often sat in the cockpit
as the sun dropped below the yardarm, drink in hand, imagining himself,
I'm sure, out at sea with only the horizon in front of him.
His alternate vessel was in the garage: the most beautiful handmade
birch-bark canoe anyone has ever seenand probably the most expensive.
Charlie did an ON THE ROAD story about the man in Minnesota who made
these canoes, a few a year, and he decided he had to have one. He sent
the man a check and waited patiently for a year or two until he got
the call that his canoe was ready. Come and get it.
He flew to Duluth, drove several hundred miles, tied the canoe on top
of his rented car, drove back to Duluth, got someone to build a crate
for it, shipped it by air to Hartford and arranged for a friend to pick
it Up and deliver it to Essex. Again, I cannot swear to this, but I
believe that the canoe was only in the water once: it was on one Fourth
of July when Charlie ceremoniously canoed the 200 feet from his house
As painful as Charlie's death is, it seems somehow fitting that it happened
on July 4th. I think it was the day of the year he loved the mostthe
birthday of America, the day Jefferson and Adams died. In 1976, on Bicentennial
Day, Charlie and I and Petie and Linda spent the day on the Coast Guard
tall ship, the Eagle, the lead ship in the parade of tall ships in New
Twenty-five years ago, one Fourth of July at breakfast, Charlie pointed
out that the New York Times always prints a facsimile of the Declaration
of Independence, and he started reading it, the words rolling forth.
It was thrilling. After a while, he handed it to Petie to read and then
I read some and so did Linda. And then he finished with the stirring
closing words. The tears rolled down my cheeks.
We have read the Declaration of Independence every Fourth of July since,
many times with him, always with him in mind. When, on a boat in Greece,
we received word of his death this July 4th, I had a copy of the Declaration
of Independence in my pocket but, somehow, we could not bear to read
But his voice and his words will not be heard at my memorial service
or at those of many of the people in this room he loved and admiredwords
written and spoken by him that would make us more noble and more dignified
than we had a right to claim. It is not fitting that, instead, my poor
words are being said at his memorial. The one saving grace is that he
will be impossible to forget. Many of the happiest times we can remember
were spent with Petie and Charlie Kuralt. He's left one hell of a hole
in our life, in all our lives.
An intellectually stimulating collection of insightful
and occasionally poignant commentaries, Charles Kuralt's People is
very highly recommended reading for students of the human condition in
and legions of Charles Kuralt fans in particular. — Midwest Book
for more info.
Hard cover, 386 pages, $25.95 plus $3.95 Priority
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