Cheerio, Helen Keller!

Well, I’m not exactly a “shut-in”; but being visited by a late bout of seasonal allergies and looking out, red eyed and slightly hung over, at what has been declared the rainiest June on record, I sure can relate to The Story of Cheerio, a copy of which 1936 autobiography I picked up at the rare books room at Manhattan’s legendary Strand earlier this month. According to the cover, Cheerio is the “intimate story of radio’s most beloved character who has dedicated his life to the spreading of cheer, hope and kindliness. With inspiring human stories from the homes of his radio audience of ‘shut-ins.”

Seems like someone shut up this hero of the homebound, Charles K. Field, whom former president Herbert Hoover applauded for his “altruistic” use of the radio, but of whose fifteen years in broadcasting little survives today. A vintage recording of Cheerio in action can be heard at the close of the 19 September 1956 edition of Recollections at Thirty. Now, I’m not sure how much sentiment I can take on a biliously rebellious stomach; but I’m glad I decided to leaf through this as yet unread volume yesterday, when I came across this letter from Helen Keller, who was born on this day, 27 June, in 1880. It is a birthday letter, no less, read on the air on her 55th birthday. “Dear Cheerio,” it reads,

this is my birthday message. Please tell them I like to think God has made his shut-ins special transmitters of hope to the world. It is our lofty duty to defy the seeming omnipotence of Fate. To love. To endure. And to create, from our own wreck, the thing we desire. If we succeed in growing the sweet flowers of happiness among the rocks and crannies of our limitations, others will be inspired to nobler achievement. This alone is compensation. This is joy and victory! As I stand at the doorway of a new birthday, with its new opportunities and new tasks of faith and courage, may I ask my handicapped comrades to rejoice, with me, in that inner vision which makes us superior to outward circumstances and enables us to be one with all great ideals, all heroism, all deeds of beauty. Sincerely yours, Helen Keller.

Though not able to listen to the wireless, Keller was no stranger to the airwaves. When the story of her teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy, was dramatized on the Cavalcade of America program (on 2 March 1938), Keller stepped behind the microphone for a brief message to the multitude. Cheerio, Ms. Keller, for making me come back to my senses on this shot-through-gauze, shut-the-blinds, best-slept-through Wednesday afternoon.

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