Column: The Captain’s lessons carried from childhood into adult life

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 4, 2004

By Al Batt, Tribune columnist

Captain Kangaroo.

He was a dork.

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But then so was I. I remain a card-carrying dork to this day.

Bob Keeshan who played the gentle and patient Captain Kangaroo on TV, died recently.

Captain Kangaroo was on television from 1955 until 1993.

Captain Kangaroo did good.

Childhood days can never be recaptured, but Captain Kangaroo helped make sure that they were the &uot;good old days.&uot; He gave us precious memories. He will be missed.

I wish I would have thanked him. He delighted me with his weekday morning entertainment. He was a part of our family.

The mustachioed man with his sugar bowl haircut charmed millions of children.

Each morning, the Captain would pick one from a jingling bunch of keys captured on a large ring to unlock the door to our imaginations.

We would accompany Captain Kangaroo through the Treasure House, an amazing place filled with toys, unforgettable characters, amusing ideas and wonderful life lessons.

The slow pace of the program mesmerized me. It was an enlightened path that we followed the Captain down. The Captain knew that play is the work of children.

Bob Keeshan, who was the original Clarabelle the Clown on the old &uot;Howdy Doody Show,&uot; joined Mr. Green Jeans, played by Hugh &uot;Lumpy&uot; Branum, a former string bass player in the Fred Waring Orchestra, to teach us to understand and respect so many things.

Captain Kangaroo had the kindly nature of a favorite grandfather who offered good advice.

Although I didn’t know it &045; because we never had a color TV &045; Captain Kangaroo wore a red jacket and as I suspected, Mr. Green Jeans, wore green pants. The Captain had huge pockets in his jacket &045; pockets that rivaled the pouches of real kangaroos. Those pockets held a never-ending supply of carrots to feed the insatiable appetite of the carrot-greedy Bunny Rabbit. Bunny Rabbit was always scheming to get carrots. It seemed right that even though Bunny Rabbit ate a lot of carrots, he still needed to wear eyeglasses.

Mr. Moose would teach us knock-knock jokes. They were corny; just the way we liked them. The punch line to the jokes invariably produced an avalanche of hundreds of ping-pong balls that would fall onto the Captain’s head.

To this day, I can never eat a carrot while a cascade of ping-pong balls falls on my head without thinking of Captain Kangaroo.

We watched Dancing Bear and the Banana Man. We helped the Captain wake Grandfather Clock, who was always dozing off. The Captain would sneak up on the snoozing Grandfather Clock and we would all shout, &uot;Wake up, Grandfather!&uot;

Grandfather Clock would always wake up in a good mood and reward us with some keen insight in a poetic form.

One of the best parts of the show was when Captain Kangaroo would read stories.

My favorite was &uot;Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Mary Ann.&uot; It was a real book that we saw on the screen, with actual drawings from the pages. There were no special effects.

The show had a regular cartoon segment.

It featured Tom Terrific and Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog.

Tom wore a funnel for a hat and could turn himself into almost anything. He battled constantly with the villainous Crabby Appleton. Crabby was rotten to the core. He proved it by chanting, &uot;My name is Crabby Appleton, I’m rotten to the core. I do a bad deed every day and sometimes three or four.&uot; Tom and his incredibly lazy dog would always win, defeating their chief nemesis, the evil Crabby.

Some might say that Captain Kangaroo was nothing more than a babysitter in a box, but he was so much more than that.

He offered a &uot;kids first&uot; message.

The Captain was a trusted friend. Captain Kangaroo stood fast against any ads that were inappropriate for children.

He taught us the importance of reading and learning. He reaffirmed the need for us to be nice to animals and to look both ways before crossing the street. We learned the power of those magic words, &uot;please&uot; and &uot;thank you.&uot; He taught us right from wrong.

In an odd thing for a TV personality to do, Captain Kangaroo taught us that one of the secrets to finding the time to do things is to not watch so much TV. We were not only entertained, we were educated as well.

Captain Kangaroo was a good friend.

He sent us a message of kindness and concern. He got us off on the right foot.

The Captain was there for us kids.

The only time Captain Kangaroo ever let me down was when he went off the air.

(Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear Wednesdays and Sundays in the Albert Lea Tribune.)