Reality always was blurred at Treasure House

Captain Kangaroo welcomed kids to his world of fantasy


January 24, 2004|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

I remember my early childhood in black and white. Maybe it's because I'm a baby boomer who watched a lot of television. That's why when I think about Captain Kangaroo and his bristly mustache, his Treasure House set, his friends Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Green Jeans, I see it all in black and white.

By the time color television was commonplace, I had pretty much stopped watching.

But those grainy memories of perching daily before the glowing screen in the mid-to-late 1950s are woven into the fabric of my life.

Those years were a strange mix of domesticity, Cold War uncertainty and Dick and Jane conformity. I didn't always take comfort in Bob Keeshan's soothing demeanor, or the show's corny jokes and daily routines. And the talking grandfather clock was a little creepy.

Still, I watched, as did my younger sister and brother. Before day care and pre-school, before Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street, there was Captain Kangaroo. He taught about sharing and honesty. But he also got pelted with ping pong balls and fell for knock-knock jokes.

And he lived in a magical, mystical Treasure House where every problem was solved, at least for that day. For three kids who didn't live in a Treasure House, the show was a momentary respite from the unknown.

But there's one thing I never realized about Captain Kangaroo. When I was 5, I really thought he was an old guy. It turns out he was only in his 30s. Yesterday, I was astonished to hear he was 76 at his death. I would have thought he was much, much older.

I'm grateful for those hours spent watching Captain Kangaroo. It turns out I watched with millions of others, who, sooner or later, also realized Treasure House was make-believe.

As I grew up, I moved from a world of black and white to one of living color. But the quirky captain will always be a part of my distant past, a reminder of the work of childhood: coming to terms with what is fantasy and what is real. Bob Keeshan was a little bit of both.

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