When we finally sat down at a table in a secluded dining room, Cronkite couldn't have been more kind or gracious. "Please, call me Walter," he intoned, with a mirthful twinkle in his eye and that oh-so-familiar gravity of voice that had been imprinted on my and millions of other brains throughout his fabled career. Sitting there, I dared to tease myself with the thought, "Hey! I'm eating lunch with Walter Cronkite!"
I ran through a list of fairly stock questions: how he got started in broadcasting, what were his most significant memories as a TV journalist, what he felt the state of broadcast journalism was like today, etc., etc., ad nauseum. However mundane it might have been he answered everything I threw at him thoughtfully, with measured words and what seemed genuine interest.
The hour went by in a flash, and soon one of his staff stopped by to remind him of his afternoon agenda.
"Anything else, Bruce?" Cronkite asked.
"Just one last thing - er - Walter," I replied.
It was then that I closed my reporter's pad and launched, passionately, into the topic that Cronkite had doubtlessly tolerated hearing from many thousands of colleagues, friends, family and fans through the decades. I explained to him in some detail how, when I was a freshman in high school, I had come home that fateful day in November of 1963 to listen to him report the almost inconceivable events of that afternoon, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Cronkite listened intently as I related how I was riveted to the TV screen, watching him remove and put back on his black, horn-rimmed glasses and gulp audibly as he struggled to maintain his composure in the wake of those tragic events.
I said to him, "I pulled up the hassock and just sat there watching you and trying to come to grips with what had happened."
When I finished he looked at me, I thought, a bit curiously and then, leaning across the table toward me, asked, in that familiar baritone, "Uh, Bruce, what's a hassock?"