Just one of the perks of the job, the boss used to say, is that working at the park means everyday is a picnic. He was right. At noon, when it wasn't raining, we'd bring our bag lunches over to the picnic table beneath an ancient maple tree, just a bit west of the old maintenance shed. "Everything tastes better outside," he'd say, two or three times a month.
On both scores he was right--everyday picnics were wonderful, and even baloney sandwiches were great outside. He'd cart along one of those little two-transistor radios--hardly bigger than a pack of cigarettes--pull up the built-in antennae, and Paul Harvey would join us right there on the lakefront. He was with us all summer at the picnic table, and the next, and I learned to like him.
That was the late 60s, and Paul Harvey's view of the Vietnam War was just about the same as mine. My parents were as devotedly Republican as they were Christian, and the Richard Nixon they knew and loved was as bedeviled by leftist war critics just as horrifically as Moses had been, trying to lead God's chosen Israelites through all those godless Canaanites. In my senior year of high school , I wrote an essay with the title "Why We Are in Vietnam." I still have it.
Working at the state park was a great job, even though I think I've cleaned more toilets in my life than any human being should. But a daily highlight was lunch at that picnic table, Paul Harvey's gravelly voice coming from that little transistor radio.
Just a few years later, Nixon stepped up the campaign in southeast Asia by moving the fight into Cambodia. I was a senior in college, not high school, and one morning on my radio I heard the story of four students at Kent State University who'd been killed by the National Guard in one of many confrontations on college and university campuses.
I was no longer an ardent Paul Harvey fan, but those two years of summer worksite picnics had brought him forever close, and it was just about then--sometime mid-1970--that Paul Harvey, like Walter Cronkite, decided that he too had had enough. "Mr. President," he said famously, "I love you ... but you're wrong."
It would be overstatement to say that his radical change of heart and mind somehow changed me, but I saw his about-face as another nail in the coffin of the country's war effort. If Paul Harvey was against it. . .
Sometimes I look at students these days and simply don't understand. But then, I remember my student days, when opposition to the war in Vietnam meant turning one's back on all of the major institutions of one's life: my parents, my church, my school (the small Christian college I attended), and, of course, my government. They call their parents once a day just to talk, studies say.
Was being anti-war right? I don't know if the smoke has still cleared fully enough to tell, but I know this: last year, right from the get-go I backed Obama because I thought it was time this country had a leader who wasn't bedeviled by Vietnam. No more heroes, no more protestors; it was time for someone who wasn't owned by that history, someone unlike me.
Paul Harvey made those workplace picnics a joy: but when, a couple of years later, he decided that enough was enough in southeast Asia, he made it somehow easier for me to take a stand too.
That's my Paul Harvey story. His was a much beloved voice.