When I caught chickenpox from my infant daughter in 1997, I knew I was in trouble. The virus can be serious when it strikes adults, and I was brought low with blisters, high fever and body aches so sharp that I felt like I’d been pierced by a quiver of arrows.

The only bright spot was a call from David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who died on Sunday at 89. When I answered the phone and heard McCullough on the other end, I assumed I was delirious. There was no reason for a celebrated author to call me up, and it would have been easy for my overheated brain to summon McCullough’s avuncular voice. Thanks to his TV projects, McCullough’s velvet baritone was a cultural fixture, striking just the right note of earnestness and gravitas. His work on Ken Burns’s “Civil War” series and PBS’s “American Experience” had essentially made him our national narrator. He sounded like history itself, deep and resplendent but unmistakably human.

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