Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kuralt Also Called it Home

Kuralt's boyhood home
 I saw the article in the Charlotte Observer’s Southpark Section recently titled “Charles Kuralt called it Home,” and I thought, finally, someone has written about that rustic old cabin off the Raleigh Road not too far from Chapel Hill.

Charles Kuralt
But no, the story was about Charles Kuralt’s boyhood home in Charlotte.

The Kuralt home that I'm familiar with is the one he and his first wife, Sory Guthrie lived in during his senior year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 Searching the internet, I found only one reference to the cabin in Kuralt’s papers, which are archived at UNC. It was in a letter to a friend of his he once worked with at radio station WAYS:

“Marriage coming off on August 25th at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte. We found renovated tenent shack on edge of town. It has inside plumbing ...just shows you that we’re going first class all the way.”

Kuralt at DTH  1955.  Photo by the author
He was editor of the Daily Tar Heel student newspaper that year, 1956, which in his biography he called one of the happiest years of his life...specifically going down in the evening with other staff members of the paper, myself included, watching the next day’s edition rolling off the press.

Kuralt was the reason I joined the staff of the DTH. You didn’t have to be a genius back then to know that Charlie was destined for “the big time,” in whatever field he chose. I had no ambition to ever work for a newspaper, but it gave me the excuse to observe a man who was obviously “on his way up.”

I was hoping some of what he had would rub off on me.

In those days Charles’s sentences, wrapped in that golden voice of his, would be full of words that I had never heard, much less knew the meaning of.  I concluded that I needed the next four years of college real bad. There was no time to waste.

So I picked up a paper back book at the drug store called “Word Power” and started memorizing it.

About three weeks later, I tried using some of my brand new “college education” on one of my old Central High School friends. His reaction was devastating:

“What the Hell is the matter with you, Ed?”

Talk about powerful words.

As I look back on it, It seems to me that I spent the first part of my life trying to “jump start” my journey toward maturity. I can never remember wanting to “just be a kid.”

During my college years I also was convinced that it would be a terrible waste of my parent’s money if I different from when I left home four years earlier.

That thought, as well as simple observation, suggested that maturity involved more that just learning big words and mastering a history course or two. I was convinced that some outward signs were also needed.

I tried smoking cigars, but couldn’t stand them.

I tried wearing a hat. (You know, the kind men wore for over a hundred years....until about the mid 1950’s.)

I still remember the first time I wore it and how difficult it was for my girlfriend at the time to stop laughing. She said, "You look like a little boy playing man.”

But, I digress.

The cabin, as humble as it was, had a noble history as the unofficial abode of Daily Tar Heel Editors. For a number of years it had been passed down from editor to editor....going back I don’t know how far.

Rolf Neil
I just remember that Kuralt told me that Rolfe Neil, a man he admired greatly, had passed it on to him. (Neil later became the publisher of the Charlotte Observer.)

However, he said, the chain was about to be broken, the next year’s editorship would be run by two men, Fred Powledge* and Ed Yoder* who had just been elected co-editors; and neither was interested in taking over Charles’ lease, so, he asked if I would be interested.

And that’s how I came to spend my sophomore year in college living in a proud, but primitive 3 room cabin that once had served as servant’s (slaves?) quarters. The owner’s house was about a quarter mile from the cabin.

Yeah, I guess the Charlotte Observer did the right thing....writing about Kuralt’s boyhood home on Sharon Amity Road in Charlotte instead of the shack in Chapel Hill.

The long commute from downtown Chapel Hill....a fairly short but very dusty and rough dirt road to the cabin, poor heating, and an even worse gas stove. If Charles were still around, I’m sure he would have one of those $25 words to describe it.

I can’t think of the perfect word for it, but with all its faults, I wouldn’t swap that memory for the world.

Unfortunately, the only picture I have of the cabin is one of me on the front porch.

Smoking a pipe.

And it’s locked away along with a hat, a box of cigars and a Word Power book.



One of Fred Powledge's books

*Fred Powledge is the author of seventeen books and scores of magazine articles and reports on a wide range of subjects, many of them about the environment.

Ed Yoder

*Edwin Milton Yoder is a journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner. Yoder was educated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating in English in 1956. He then won a Rhodes Scholarship to Jesus College,...