Anyone born or otherwise arrived since 1970 -and that would be about 68 million Americans -will have missed what others mourn with the death of David Brinkley. Not just the man as journalist, but as a symbol of a generation and touchstone for an epoch nearly gone.
It seems fitting to write of Brinkley's exit around Father's Day, as he and his co-anchor of many years, Chet Huntley, were father figures of a sort in American households during the '50s and '60s, as well as spokesmen for events that defined the era.
As children, my generation bore witness to those events through the eyes and voices of Huntley and Brinkley -the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War, protests and the draft.
It was a bumpy ride, and Huntley and Brinkley brought calm and forbearance to American living rooms where families gathered for nightly briefings. Yes, it really was like that.
Those intimate with gravity will recall the tube as a ponderous piece of furniture -a TV tube encased in a wooden cabinet -and often the centerpiece in a living room or den. Families literally gathered because (a) we were families, unhappy maybe, but families nonetheless; and, (b) there was only one television set.
In our household, The News was nearly a sacrament, and Huntley and Brinkley its administering priests. I remember wondering what all the fuss was about -two boring, deadpan men talkingtalkingtalking. Every now and then the picture shifted to display yet another boring deadpan man talking.
Am I allowed to say this? They all looked the same to me, yet parents were reverential in their presence. And serious. I inferred from their demeanor that "news" required a frown in order to be properly received.
I also recall wondering what the heck "Huntley 'n Brinkley" meant anyway. As in, "Quiet, kids, it's Huntley 'n Brinkley." They might as well have said, "It's Armageddon and Apocalypse." I don't think I grasped that those were names. They were just grown-up words like so many others we repeated without understanding, as in: "I pledge a legions to the flag … and to the Publix for which it stands."
Here is what Huntley and Brinkley really meant: We kids would be roasted on a spit in the backyard barbecue pit or thrown into a cast iron pot with the rosin potatoes if we made a sound during Father's despair-filled date with Messrs.
Huntley and Brinkley. The program lasted only 30 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity when all you wanted was to climb on tired Daddy's lap and inhale his remaining oxygen.