Books, Family, Television

Did I Ever Tell You You’re My Hero?

Some of you may remember sitting in your mother’s laps, or snuggling up next to your dad, listening to them read to you.

But my most vivid memories of being reading to are not of the people in my house, or even the children’s librarian at Jane Austen’s Village Public Library. My most vivid memories involve pictures on a screen and the voice of Captain Kangaroo.

Kangaroo2Just remembering the jingly theme song for his show brings a smile to my face.  I can remember the journey into The Treasure House, the not-so-hilarious knock knock jokes, the schemes of Bunny Rabbit and the hi-jinks of Mr. Moose, the charm of Mr. Green Jeans and the grace of Dancing Bear.

But most of all I remember Captain Kangaroo reading to me.

He read "Caps for Sale" and "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" and "The Little House" and "Make Way for Ducklings" and the book that still brings tears to my eyes, "The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge."

The image in these stories are burned into me. I know from reading them that unlikely things can really happen, that those who feel they are less than useful can prove to have a purpose, that the small are not without their effectiveness, value and power.

In January of 1972, Captain Kangaroo came to Washington, DC, to film location footage for "Americana Week." My father, a Senator from Virginia, was considered to be a Jeffersonian Democrat, and he was invited to accompany the Captain to the Jefferson Memorial. I was 10, and in the 5th grade, but my father knew how fond I was of the Captain and arranged for me to go along. (My younger brother declined, to my relieved delight!)

I knew by then that the Captain was an actor, and I enjoyed talking with him about his costume. He told me he had worn a wig until he was old enough to have his own long grey hair. In honor of the theme, he was wearing a red tie with his white shirt and blue jacket, and even his watchband was red, white and blue! Charlie MacDowell, who wrote about Washington for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and was a friend of my father’s, came along, too, and he reported that I gloomily commented, "And *I* have to watch you in black and white!"

I told the Captain that I didn’t much like school and really preferred spending the day with him, although we were outside and the weather was as cold and as grey as his hair. He said kindly, "It gets better, Songbird. It gets better."

Somewhere I have a picture of us standing there together, my daddy, Captain Kangaroo and me in a little girl’s raincoat, a funny expression on my face. But it is the picture in my heart that means more to me today, of a kind man who took the time to pay attention to an unhappy little girl, a kind man who brought Curious George and Ping the Duck and Ferdinand the Bull alive for me and so many other children.

26 thoughts on “Did I Ever Tell You You’re My Hero?”

  1. Oh, how fun all those falling ping pong balls were! I loved the Captain too, and am so jealous that you actually got to meet him! And I so remember his reading about Mike Mulligan and Mary Ann. Oh, the memories…

  2. That’s lovely…I’d not come across the good Captain before, but dear DEAR Ferdinand the Bull is still one of my very favourite characters…sitting just quietly and smelling the flowers 🙂

  3. Beautiful story – there just aren’t any more Captain Kangaroo or Mr. Rogers. Our loss….
    Thanks Songbird for sharing your stories.

  4. Wow, Songbird. I’m impressed. And I understand yet another reason why your words resonate with me: those episodes of Captain Kangaroo were playing when I grew up as well, and I was raised on all of the stories that you mention.
    Man. What will you tell me next? That you loved Bill Peet’s “The Caboose Who Got Loose,” too?

  5. Songbird, Songbird, Songbird — I loved this. I didn’t do last week’s Brushes with Greatness Meme, but if I had, it would have been the time I was the Captain (and Mrs. Captain’) waitress at the Quechee Inn in Vermont. They had duck. It was wonderful. Mrs. Captain was/is French and I was impressed that someone who would be friends with Mr. Green Jeans and Bunny Rabbit would have a French wife. Nice.
    Great post.

  6. You MET Capt. Kangaroo?
    I watched him for years and as a seminarian took my breakfast tray from the refrectory to an alcove to watch the Capt. before class! MY rabbit stuffed animal wore glasses JUST LIKE Bunny Rabbit!
    He meant so much to me!

  7. My memories of my preschool childhood are days at my maternal grandmother’s house because Mom was between marriages, just Baw-Baw and me living quietly because Paw-Paw worked the night shift at the P.O. Mornings were Captain ‘Roo on her big black-and-white TV in the back room, followed by Romper Room and chocolate milk when they had their snack.
    Wasn’t that the best place in the world to learn what a running gag was (even if not what it was called)?
    Oh, and don’t forget the music — I still can mentally hear no one except Perry Como sing “Swing on a Star” and still mentally see the animation they put up to go along with it.

  8. What great memories. I still remember some puppets dancing to a song about “are you from big D, little A, double L, A, S”,which made me want to go to Texas (and look what happened).
    I loved my Bunny Rabbit hand puppet, although I used to bang him on the table a bit too emphatically–as I recall, body slams on the table appeared to be Bunny Rabbit’s primary mode of communication.

  9. When we were little girls, I thought the picture of you and Captain Kangaroo was cool beyond words. If I remember correctly, you are standing on the steps, with your little pageboy haircut, wearing kneesocks. So cute.

  10. hey songbird,
    you just gave me a whole new way to think about TV (which you might have noticed I’m usually pretty anti-, since I’ve never really ahd one, including in Capt Kangaroo days). Thanks for broadening my mind, as usual.
    -Juniper

  11. I grew up with the captain as well. My parents devorced when I was 5 years old, but the Captain was the most stable person in my life. Do you remember the song “Look there Daddy do you see. There’s a horse in striped pajamas. No that’s not what it is at all. that is what most people call a zebra. A zebra? But it still looks like a horse in striped pajamas to me!”

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