+
Pop Culture

The Gen X grief when a 'Sesame Street' character dies is so real

We're the first generation to have educational programs molding our core memories.

Sesame Street, Bob McGrath

Bob McGrath, one of the original "Sesame Street" actors, has passed away.

"A loaf of bread, a container of milk and a stick of butter."

It's a simple, repeated line from a one-minute sketch, but as a Gen Xer raised on public television, it's one of thousands of "Sesame Street" segments etched into my brain. Such memories still pop into my head at random times, clear as day, well into my forties. Bert singing about his oatmeal box while playing it like a drum. Kermit lamenting that it's not easy—but it is beautiful—being green. Buffy Saint-Marie breastfeeding her baby and explaining it to Big Bird. Mr. Hooper—the sweet, bow-tied man who ran the Sesame Street corner store—dying.

I was 8 when Mr. Hooper died. It was a big deal. I rewatched part of that episode recently to see what I'd think of it as an adult. The "Sesame Street" gang of 1983 handled it masterfully, helping us all process his unexpected death through Big Bird's own experience of learning about what it means to die.


"Big Bird, when people die, they don't come back," said Susan.

Big Bird let that reality sink in, then said that things wouldn't be the same without Mr. Hooper—exactly the sentiment we all had.

Bob comforted Big Bird, saying, "You're right, Big Bird. It'll never be the same around here without him. But you know something? We can all be very happy that we had a chance to be with him, and to know him and to love him a lot when he was here."

And now the always kind, always gentle Bob has joined Mr. Hooper and the original Big Bird, Carol Spinney, in whatever comes next. Bob McGrath passed away this past week at age 90, and I found myself mourning the loss more than I would have expected.

I suspect I'm not alone.

Those of us in the original "Sesame Street generation" were the guinea pigs on which the theory of educational children's television programming was tested. It was an experiment that proved beneficial for millions of us, helping us grow up smarter, stronger and kinder, according to research—but it also gave us a unique relationship with the people and characters who lived on Sesame Street.

The generation that came before us didn't have anything like "Sesame Street" or "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" or "The Electric Company," and the generations after us have had so much more educational programming to choose from. But those shows were all we had besides mostly-horrible-in-hindsight Saturday morning cartoons. For us, the people and characters on "Sesame Street" formed a core part of our most wholesome childhood memories. They weren't just entertainers, but teachers. They helped us become better humans in addition to teaching us our letters and numbers, and the emotional connection created from that mentorship during our formative years is profound.

I'm not a huge crier, but I cried when Mr. Rogers died and I cried when Jim Henson died. I didn't expect it, but I couldn't help it. And when I saw the news this weekend that Bob McGrath from "Sesame Street" had died, I had the same visceral reaction. A piece of my childhood is gone, just like that, never to come back. I didn't know him, of course, but I felt like I knew him. And in some odd way, I feel like he actually knew me, because he knew and understood kids.

Perhaps that's why so many of us feel an emotional attachment to our childhood educational show icons. We weren't just mindless consumers of cartoon entertainment to them, but precious children with the potential to learn and discover, to become more caring and more knowledgeable. We knew they saw us and understood the stages we were going through. I felt that genuine respect for me as a human being even as a young child. And as an adult, I've learned about the sincerity and earnestness of the "Sesame Street" creators and how hard they worked to create the absolute best for kids, which only crystallizes what I felt back then.

"Sesame Street" didn't just make learning the alphabet and counting entertaining. It taught us about life, about people, about relationships and about ourselves—lessons that became part of our identities. I've often thought that the world would be an entirely different place if every young child was raised on a steady diet of "Sesame Street," and the older and more experienced I get, the more I believe that. It really did make us smarter, stronger and kinder.

Rest in peace, Bob. Thank you for everything you taught us and for being such a positive part of our childhood memories.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

I have plenty of space.

This article originally appeared on 04.09.16


It's hard to truly describe the amazing bond between dads and their daughters.

Being a dad is an amazing job no matter the gender of the tiny humans we're raising. But there's something unique about the bond between fathers and daughters.

Most dads know what it's like to struggle with braiding hair, but we also know that bonding time provides immense value to our daughters. In fact, studies have shown that women with actively involved fathers are more confident and more successful in school and business.

Keep ReadingShow less
Identity

This blind chef wore a body cam to show how she prepares dazzling dishes.

How do blind people cook? This "Masterchef" winner leans into her senses.

Image pulled from YouTube video.

Christine Ha competes on "Masterchef."

This article originally appeared on 05.26.17


There is one question chef Christine Ha fields more than any other.

But it's got nothing to do with being a "Masterchef" champion, New York Times bestselling author, and acclaimed TV host and cooking instructor.

The question: "How do you cook while blind?"

Keep ReadingShow less
This story first appeared on the author's Medium and is reprinted here with permission.

Because you're a girl.

This article originally appeared on 04.14.17


I was promoted a few weeks ago, which was great. I got a lot of nice notes from friends, family, customers, partners, and random strangers, which was exciting.

But it wasn't long until a note came in saying, “Everyone knows you got the position because you're a girl." In spite of having a great week at a great company with great people whom I love, that still stung, because it's not the first time I've heard it.

Keep ReadingShow less

Gordon Ramsay at play... work.

This article originally appeared on 04.22.15


Gordon Ramsay is not exactly known for being nice.

Or patient.

Or nurturing.

On his competition show "Hell's Kitchen," he belittles cooks who can't keep up. If people come to him with their problems, he berates them. If someone is struggling to get something right in the kitchen, he curses them out.

Keep ReadingShow less

This article originally appeared on 01.27.20


From 1940 to 1945, an estimated 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, the largest complex of Nazi concentration camps. More than four out of five of those people—at least 1.1 million people—were murdered there.

On January 27, 1945, Soviet forces liberated the final prisoners from these camps—7,000 people, most of whom were sick or dying. Those of us with a decent public education are familiar with at least a few names of Nazi extermination facilities—Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen—but these are merely a few of the thousands (yes, thousands) of concentration camps, sub camps, and ghettos spread across Europe where Jews and other targets of Hitler's regime were persecuted, tortured, and killed by the millions.

Keep ReadingShow less
Health

What I realized about feminism after my male friend was disgusted by tampons at a party.

"After all these years, my friend has probably forgotten, but I never have."

Photo by Josefin on Unsplash

It’s okay men. You don’t have to be afraid.

This article originally appeared on 08.12.16


Years ago, a friend went to a party, and something bothered him enough to rant to me about it later.

And it bothered me that he was so incensed about it, but I couldn't put my finger on why. It seemed so petty for him to be upset, and even more so for me to be annoyed with him.

Recently, something reminded me of that scenario, and it made more sense. I'll explain.

Keep ReadingShow less