Memories of Sesame Street
March 11, 2013
If you grew up in the United States sometime during the last four decades, you have probably at some point watched Sesame Street. The PBS show began back in 1969 as a production of the Children’s Television Workshop and has now educated nearly three generations of children. The show combines learning the alphabet and how to count with other important lessons, such as manners and how to deal with feelings. And, it has never shied away from real life, addressing both September 11th as well as the death of one of the principal characters, Mr. Hooper.
I began watching Sesame Street in the 1970s, and I was recently able to revisit some of these old episodes on DVD. Sesame Street Old School is a wonderful blast from the past for those of us who watched the show back in the days before cable channels designed for children existed. Back then, PBS was one of the few places that young children could see television made specifically for them. Each set contains episodes from those early years, as well as other bonus material.
How many remember the pinball sequence that taught you how to count up to 12? That song is still in my head over 30 years later. Not to mention, "The Alligator King." Who can forget the sweet, seventh son getting the crown that cost “all of seven cents”? Then there was the Muppets wacky take on fairy tales, which always ended up in complete chaos. These were also the days when Cookie Monster was able to eat as many cookies as he wanted. No food police existed back then. I also couldn’t help but feel sorry for that poor man who could never get his meal because Grover kept messing up his order. Why did he keep torturing himself by going to that restaurant?! And I loved the introduction of Mr. Snuffleupagus as Big Bird’s so-called "imaginary friend." I even tuned back into the show, long after I had stopped watching, so that I could see the moment when everyone else on the street finally met Snuffy.
However, my strongest memory is the death of Mr. Hooper. Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper, passed away in 1982. I grew up watching him and couldn’t help but cry along with Big Bird when he realized that being dead meant you never came back. Death was a difficult situation to deal with in a show aimed at such young children, but it was handled so gently and beautifully it still brings tears to my eyes today.
It is surprising how much impact that show had on me and others who watched it. Even now, it feels like Sesame Street must exist in New York somewhere. The characters became like family, so much so that when the actors who played Maria and Luis were married on the show, many assumed that they were also married in real life (some still think that). And all the characters, from Bert and Ernie to Oscar the Grouch, are so much a part of my childhood that it is easy to forget that they are just puppets.
Sesame Street has changed over the years, as all shows must. It has evolved to meet the needs and interests of today’s children, and many new characters have come to much more prominence than the ones that I grew up with. For example, tell a child that there was once a time when Elmo didn’t exist, and they will look at you like you are crazy. And when I see it today, I naturally prefer how it was in my day. Therefore, it was really a fun trip to the past when I was able to watch Sesame Street Old School. In fact, I think that these DVDs are more for us grown-ups than the kids. So, if you want to revisit your childhood, be sure to check out these great walks down memory lane.