Reading the New York Times headline Original Big Bird, Caroll Spinney, Leaves ‘Sesame Street’ After Nearly 50 years made me sad. I’m typically dancing around and giving high fives when someone retires. Retirement is the time you finally get to rest. Slow down. Get out of bed later in the morning, without an alarm. Retirement the time to sit and sip a cup of coffee while greeting the day. Then take a hike and have lunch with friends. That’s not always the case in retirement. People are often forced into retirement because of illness, company restructures or downsizes. Realities for too many people these days.
Why the Sadness?
Growing up I watched Big Bird and Oscar on the front stoop of the neighborhood brownstone. Sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the floor in front of the TV, with long pigtails [like those in the image]. The vacant space my baby teeth once occupied patiently awaiting adult teeth that would eventually move into the void. I’d be wearing something that didn’t match—plaid and stripes—that was my style. But I’d be watching, completely mesmerized, and learning so much about life from the actors and Muppets.
Wont You Be My Neighbor?
Recently I took the advice of Questlove [via his Instagram account] and saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor. Eating popcorn and drinking a soda, and drawn in. Occasionally tears fell on my cheeks. Seeing the simple, sweet, connection between Mr. Rogers and Koko—the lowland gorilla who became famous for her use of sign language and communication—brought an incredible heaviness to my heart. Koko had recently passed in her sleep at the age of 46, so it was timely.
I feel a sincere sadness for children growing up today. Is there an equivalent of Mr. Rogers for them? Who tells them “There’s no person in the whole world like you. And I like you just the way you are.”
Children of Divorce
I was five and often confused when my parents divorced. Navigating dual households, and ‘step’ siblings [Uh, we have six kids in our family, that’s plenty thanks] was brand new. Mr. Rogers’ words were reassuring to me then. TV became a light-hearted place I could tune in, learn, and see role models. Especially shows like Electric Company, Captain Kangaroo (Mr. Green Jeans!), the Lawrence Welk Show, Hee Haw, Planet of the Apes, and eventually American Bandstand and Soul Train. I’m completely unaware what a five year old watches now. Or the impact shows have.
Very Happy Endings
Caroll Spinney is retiring. He is 84 after all! I’m incredibly happy for him and his family.
Mr. Spinney, I hope you fully understand the impact you’ve had on so many children for nearly five decades. I know how much the friendship between Big Bird and Oscar meant to me. I truly wish you the best retirement, filled with good health, and everything you desires.
Cheers, and many thanks, to all the role models out there!