Sunday, April 05, 2009

Radio Memories: The Return Of Hope

Back when my wife and I were still engaged we took an afternoon to visit the picturesque community of White Rock, curious to see the actual white rock there. The end of our pleasant day together saw us strolling, hand in hand, along a deserted sidewalk when suddenly our path crossed that of an elderly woman heading in the other direction. I forget what she looked like, but I’ve never forgotten the advice she offered us as we passed by. After we smiled and greeted her with a friendly hello, she suddenly said to us, a note of urgency in her voice: “Love each other while you still can, while you’re still young together”.

Easter is around the corner, and not too many decades ago that meant a lot of Easter-themed programs broadcast over television’s entertainment ancestor, the theater of the mind: radio drama. Resurrecting the tradition I had to put temporarily aside in February, this week we resume our regular Sunday Radio Memories posts, taking a break from blogging about more serious subjects in order to spare a moment to renew our hope in better things to come, by remembering the good things that have already come our way.

To help get in the mood for Easter weekend, this week’s Radio Memory is a sentimental favorite, a radio play with an important plot point revolving around an encounter similar to the forementioned one my wife and I personally experienced that unforgettable afternoon in White Rock.

The episode is entitled “Easter Rabbits” and was first broadcast Sunday evening, April 25th, 1943. It is from the immensely enjoyable situation comedy series The Great Gildersleeve, sponsored for the first 13 of its long 16-year run by Kraft Foods. In those simpler days the common practice was that one sponsor could afford one whole program themselves, which frequently led to a fascinating, almost quixotic individuality in programming, as a series would grow to reflect something of the values of the individual family business sponsoring it. For The Great Gildersleeve, Kraft alternated advertising its still comparatively new products, Kraft macaroni and cheese dinner (introduced in 1936), and Parkay margarine (introduced in 1937), as well as their contribution to renewing America's love of cheese, courtesy of Kraft's development of long-lasting, processed cheese.

A remarkable tradition began with this particular wartime episode: each year septuagenarian Mr. Kraft himself, Canadian-born Mennonite (and later Baptist convert) James Lewis Kraft, would offer Gildersleeve's listeners some hopeful thoughts on the spirit of Easter, through a short talk re-routed to Hollywood from his company's home base in Chicago. Starting at the 25:49 mark in the closing moments of this Easter broadcast, Mr. Kraft delivered the following three-minute address, which I've transcribed below for the sake of those who may not be able to listen to the actual episode.
I find J.L. Kraft's epilogue invigorating to listen to today, and as comforting to those of us challenged in our time to keep faith in a positive future, as it must have been to those back in 1943:

“I’m glad of this opportunity to bring Easter Greetings to Kraft men and women everywhere, and to the families of our boys and girls who are now in the service of their country.

When we think of Easter we naturally think of the Resurrection; the two words are eternally linked together. In every Christian land today, the celebration of Easter will bring its age-old message of hope to a war-darkened world. The fact of the Resurrection and the faith which it symbolizes, have never been so significant to so many nations and to so many peoples in the world’s history.

In itself, the word ‘resurrection’ is one of the most beautiful in our language. It means bringing back to life, the conquest of death, the return of hope.

At this springtime of the year, all nature tells the story of resurrection. We read its meaning in the budding trees, and in the miracle of nature’s re-awakening to vibrant life.

There is still another significance to the word ‘resurrection’: to bring back to memory that which was forgotten or lost. And it is upon this meaning of resurrection that I have been reflecting on this Easter Sunday. While our boys are away fighting for freedom around the world, enduring hardships, loneliness, weariness, we on the home front have a high responsibility toward them. While they are absent, our virtues grow in their minds and our shortcomings are forgotten.

Let us so live our lives that their ideals shall not be shattered when they return. Let us make them as proud of us as we are proud of them.

And so it seems particularly fitting to me that each of us at Easter time should resurrect our faith in God, and in the ideals of our forefathers. That faith and those ideals upon which this nation was founded, and by which it grew strong and great.

As youngsters our mothers taught us to say, when we pray, ‘now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep’. I have just had a letter from one of our own boys in North Africa, in which he says that eight men of his group kneel at their bunks every night and speak this prayer as they go to sleep. It means something to them, it meant something to us as children.

Let us then, as we think of these simple prayers, resurrect the trusting faith of our childhood, and approach God understandably. Let us resurrect and renew our strength in the God-given pioneer virtues.

Let us, at home in our daily lives, have the courage, the strength and the fortitude of those who fight for freedom; that we and our children, and they and their children, may live in peace. They are counting on us, depending on us, to maintain their ideals of home and family, until they join us again.

And in this we cannot fail them.

The times change, but the message remains the same, doesn't it: to love each other as we can, so that even in the aftermath of painful loss the darkness of personal despair may be gently dispelled by the light of another's love, sparking a renewal of individual faith, leading to a general return of hope.

Previous Radio Memories posts:
Dimension X: Time And Time Again
An American In England: Women Of Britain
Cavalcade Of America: Bob Hope Reports
The March Of Time: Feb 10 1938 broadcast
Hear It Now: Coming Home From The Korean War
Escape: Vanishing Lady
Rogers Of The Gazette: Rewinding The Town Clock


truepeers said...

Wow, what a voice Kraft had. It's an immigrant voice, trying to effect the authority for which he has become responsible; and it is its Christian nature in which he finds the way. thanks for that little illumination of history.

Charles Henry said...

Thanks for listening..!

He certainly has an arresting voice. You get the sense that there was a lot of life experience, good and bad, behind the words he spoke.

Kraft's own career is an interesting lesson about renewal and resurrection; if his former business partners hadn't left him high and dry he never would have been forced into a new line of work, the one that led to such eventual success, that of becoming a "cheese mongerer": a wholesale cheese supplier to grocery stores, delivering his product himself to his customers on a horse-drawn cart.

Frustrated by the short natural shelf-life of his product (depending on the season, he sometimes could only sell his product in the mornings, for the stores to sell out by the afternoon, lest it rot in those older days before proper refrigeration), he searched for a way to sustain it's natural state, ending up with processed cheese... which cheese fans at the time wanted to be labeled and sold as "embalmed cheese"..!

In his attempts to "cheat death" with his product, I wonder: did he end up losing the very magic he was trying to save..?

Given what Kraft cheese slices tend to taste like, there's an irony in there somewhere that I'm having a hard time re-packaging into words...

truepeers said...

Maybe you're saying that eating Kraft slices is eucharistic, that when radio listeners heard Mr. Kraft and then went to the grocery store they were imagining that they too could share in the good news of the midwestern Cheese mongerer by consuming his work while listening to his world-wise voice?

I remember being surprised when visiting the US and in some fast-food restaurant being given a choice of cheeses to put on my sandwich (e.g. Swiss, American). What's American? I wondered. As I recall, it's Kraft-type slices.