Other views: Captain lit the way for others
I lost my captain the other day. He wasn't a military commander, but he served the United States with honor. He wasn't a sports leader, but I was on his team. When I was just a little kid he was one of my closest adult friends, but I only spoke t...
I lost my captain the other day. He wasn't a military commander, but he served the United States with honor. He wasn't a sports leader, but I was on his team. When I was just a little kid he was one of my closest adult friends, but I only spoke to him once, after years in adulthood myself. So when the news that Bob Keeshan had died was delivered as spot news, I felt a personal loss. I suspect I wasn't alone. Captain Kangaroo was gone.
It's probably not very easy to make it big and be taken seriously in the world -- especially if your name is Kangaroo. But Bob Keeshan did it.
But there are a lot of little boys and girls, who are now my age, that never squandered their visit to the Treasure House where the Captain unlocked the door with his big ring of jingling keys, and invited us inside. Inside he was warm, gentle, funny and friendly. Good morning, Captain!
He was our friend on TV, sporting a bushy, walrus mustache, tiny flat-topped hat, and big old coat with the characteristic oversized kangaroo pockets.
For more mornings than I can count, the Captain was a wonderful friend looking out at me and my sister from our little black-and-white television. Like my own mom and dad who shared a love of reading, the Captain also read stories to me.
My favorite was Dr. Seuss's McElligot's Pool. As he read, he turned the pages -- and oh, those Dr. Seuss cartoons! I became a fan of Dr. Seuss right then and there. I often thought of the Captain when I was reading "Green Eggs and Ham" or "One Fish, Two Fish" to my own little boys.
The Captain lip-synched and danced to melodies that were corny and purely Americana. There was a favorite musical routine of his that he often repeated with straw hats, canes and vests. Yup, he introduced us kids in the 1950s to the entertainment of vaudeville.
At the risk of sounding like an old man whose life is only buoyed by nostalgia, I think those were the halcyon days of kids' TV. There was no language that parents should be concerned about, and every lesson that was taught was wholesome and affirming. The Captain even encouraged us to say our prayers.
The Treasure House residents were our close companions as well as the Captain's.
We all joined in to wake up Grandfather Clock from his slumber. We laughed with childish delight when Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose played tricks on the unsuspecting Captain. We learned about contact with animals from our pal Mr. Green Jeans. (These were different times. I don't recall a single incident when Mr. Green Jeans hand-fed a crocodile while balancing a baby on his hip). I wasn't ever a big fan of Dancing Bear, but heck, no show is perfect.
Captain Kangaroo let a nation full of television-watching children know that they were interesting and important. He let us know that curiosity and reading were an integral part of life.
He lit the pathway with that flickering black-and-white television screen that only a few special others would follow, such as Jim Henson with his Muppets, and Fred Rogers with his own neighborhood.
We can't recapture the past, but we can certainly appreciate it. Captain Kangaroo played a positive, major role in hundreds and thousands of young lives. Bob Keeshan, the Captain's alter ego, committed his life to the betterment of children.
I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to the Captain a few years ago, on the radio. He sent me one of his books, too. I'm going to pull it out of my bookshelf tonight and look at it again. I sort of wish he was around to read it to me and turn the pages.
Stark, Fargo, is a journalist, editorial cartoonist and executive director of the Cass County Historical Society. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org