Friday, Apr 20, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Marilou Johanek

We'll miss the warm magic of the Captain

Above the din I heard the news. It was the end of the week, the kids were squabbling LOUDLY, one or more of their toys was talking incessantly, the phone was ringing nonstop, and even the cat joined the chorus, whining for attention. But somehow I got everything to quiet down in a hurry.

The radio announcer was saying an old friend had passed away and a strange sadness settled in on me.

I hadn't thought about Captain Kangaroo for years. Left him in my dust when I grew up, went off to school, got married, had a family. I've been a bona fide, grown-up for a long time, preoccupied with grown-up worries. Life is hectic 24/7, a constant struggle to catch up to the future. But when Captain Kangaroo, in the person of Bob Keeshan, died a week ago at age 76, everything stopped for a minute. I was suddenly a kid again, remembering silly things long forgotten.

Sprawled out on the living room floor with other siblings angling to see the small black-and-white television screen, fans like me followed as the mustached Captain meandered through his Treasure House every day. In his simple, "I'm-one-of-you" bowl haircut, he was one of those safe people kids wanted to hug," wrote a television critic. We kids just felt comfortable with him. Captain Kangaroo had no hard edges. He was always calm and patient - even when pelted by a torrent of ping-pong balls after Mr. Moose asked him a knock-knock joke.

We knew the balls were coming at the punch line just as sure as we knew the scheming, carrot-crazy Bunny Rabbit - wearing glasses, get it? - would always manage to sneak a bunch from the bemused Captain. We laughed at the funny routines and we learned about getting along from the pleasant, round-faced, unshakable Captain Kangaroo and his stable of sage friends.

Mr. Green Jeans loved nature and taught us to do the same. The Magic Drawing Board stoked our imaginations. Dancing Bear never said a word but put music and movement together. We couldn't wait to wake up Grandfather Clock or watch Tom Terrific blow steam when Crabby Appleton bothered his lovable but lazy dog, Mighty Manfred.

In a blink it was all back, the warm magic, the personal connection that was never patronizing and always respectful. With his out-sized jacket with pockets like kangaroo pouches, the good captain took us 3, 4, and 5-year-olds along on simple but endearing journeys of discovery about ourselves and our world.

We listened to him like we would a wise, old grandfather.

He was less a performer putting on a children's show and more a family friend we got to know over many mornings with our moms. They liked how he treated their children and made learning painless. Plus Captain Kangaroo was a gentle alternative to the frenetic pace of other kid's shows. There was no animated violence, no anvils dropping on cartoon characters.

Captain Kangaroo was one of the longest running network chil<0x00AD>dren's shows, broadcasting from 1955 to 1984, and generations of fans enjoyed it. Parents who had once watched it as children sat down to see it again with their own. The nostalgia was powerful.

So was the emptiness that followed the news that the man who had helped us grow up was gone.

Boomers, ever reluctant to admit time's passage, were forced through another tough transition when Bob Keeshan died. But even in the din of our advancing adult lives we couldn't let our old friend go without saying good-bye and thanks for lasting memories.

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