Tell me how to get to Sesame Street
My father hated Sesame Street. I’m not sure he ever watched the program. But somehow he associated it with the changes he saw happening all across the country — changes that, to him, were not for the better.
New math? Sesame Street. Draft dodgers? Sesame Street. Campus demonstrations? “Too much Sesame Street,” he’d growl at the paper, his hand swiping the air like a bear batting a bee hive.
My adolescence was punctuated with those three sibilant syllables. “Where do you think you live, Sesame Street?” he’d say to one of my proposals for spending my summer some other way than working. “Got a job yet?” he’d say the day after I arrived home from a year at college, “This isn’t Sesame Street.”
Somehow, in my father’s world view, Sesame Street stood for a simple, overly optimistic view of the world.
A smart child, my father was moved ahead a couple grades in school. He graduated at 16 in 1943 and, after finally securing his mother’s permission, enlisted in the Navy.
Before his 18th birthday he was at Okinawa and watched the sub-chaser next to his explode and burn after a direct kamikaze hit.
He grew up fast and had very little patience with those who didn’t. There was enormous tension between us during my adolescence and early adulthood.
I loved Sesame Street then and I love it now. I don’t remember watching it often as a teen, but once I had children I watched it regularly.
I love its inclusiveness: everybody’s welcome on Sesame Street, including grumpy monsters. (Sometimes I think that Oscar the Grouch is just imitating my dad.)
I love Sesame Street for its belief that everyone can learn, that those who don’t get something the first time will get it on the eighth time or the eightieth time.
I love it for its sunny optimism, for its belief that learning makes even dark days brighter. And I love it for its emphasis on how things work, from showing manufacturing processes to footage of farms so that city kids can see where the food they eat comes from.
Far from believing that Sesame Street stands for a view of a world gone mad, I believe Sesame Street stands for the world we could have if we all worked at it. I believe Sesame Street is a destination worth striving for.
This essay is brought to you by the letter “D” for “Dad” and the number 1926, the year he was born.
“Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?”
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