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EllynAnne Geisel Headshot

Big Bird and the 'hood @ 40

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One of the joys in growing up during the Fifties was watching the children's programming on television. Every afternoon we would sit inches from the screen and watch one show after the next until Daddy came home for supper and turned the TV off. There was Pinky Lee, Winky Dink, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, and the hands down favorite, Howdy Doody. When Buffalo Bob asked Hey, kids, what time is it? We'd scream back, It's Howdy Doody time!, syncing our voices with those of the Peanut Gallery, the live audience of kids seated on a bleacher in the studio.

In 1953, my younger brother Paul was one of those kids. This was huge. When my mother called long distance from New York City to say he'd made the cut and would be on the show that very afternoon, we ran screaming out of the house to tell the entire neighborhood, which followed us back home to see Paul in the Peanut Gallery.

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My brother has had many accomplishments in his life, but meeting Buffalo Bob and Clarabelle in person, and having his picture taken with Howdy Doody is right up there.

Television then was such a big deal. The set itself was a piece of furniture, housed in a wooden console that was the focal decor of a living room. It commanded this honor because television was new to everyone - adults and kids - and there was no competition for our attention.

By 1980, the generation raised on television no longer considered it so special. I was of that ilk, until we moved from Boulder to Beulah, a southern Colorado mountain community, and set up residence in a log cabin too deep in the peak's shadow to receive anything but one network and a PBS signal.

Pregnant and desperate for the now-called Boob Tube to babysit our toddler while I rested, I actually cried when the local programming announced the 10 a.m. Sesame Street would repeat in the afternoon. Sesame Street captivated little boy number one, and eventually his brother. I became a life-long member of PBS.

Raising a family outside the fast lane and with limited distractions was not unlike my childhood. Howdy Doody became Sesame Street. And incredibly, my boys walked in my brother Paul's shoes.

In February of 1985, Bob (!) of Sesame Street brought his musical version of the television show to nearby Pueblo, and Noah and Gideon were cast as bakers in the Sesame Street neighborhood. And it was huge.

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While the beloved television shows of my youth are available as vintage DVD, Sesame Street is celebrating its 40th anniversary. In competition with Nintendo Wii for children's attention, that the 'hood is still in production is a huge accomplishment.

It's probable that Sesame Street figures more prominently in my psyche than my sons'. But if there's justice in parenting, they will one day become life long members of PBS because the Bird let their wives take a nap.