Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My brothers and I had our childhood routines, sitting on the floor in front of our black-and-white TV in our Downey family room.  We watched “Captain Kangaroo” in the mornings and a carefully negotiated schedule of cartoons on Saturday mornings.  During the week, we had lunch with Sheriff John. 

Sheriff John was my generation’s “Mr. Rogers,” I think, with his gentle, encouraging manner.  He taught us the “Pledge of Allegiance,” how to look both ways before crossing the street, and always to say “please” and “thank you.”  Sometime someone drew some pictures and sometimes he told a story.  Then he brought out a birthday cake and said happy birthday to lots of boys and girls.  I wondered how he knew that those kids had their birthdays that day.

Then we all sang a birthday song:

“Put another candle on my birthday cake.
We’re gonna bake a birthday cake.
Put another candle on my birthday cake.
I’m another year old today.”

I can sing you that song right now. 

I haven’t thought about Sheriff John in years, until yesterday when I read in the Los Angeles Times that he had died at the age of 93.  I confess I didn’t know he was still alive.  It didn’t even occur to me as a five-year-old that he wasn’t a real sheriff, or that he even would have a last name.  So it was a little startling, and yet fascinating, to read in his obituary that he was a KTTV news announcer who came up with the concept himself of a segment during which he’d dress in a khaki uniform with badge and hat to read cartoons to kids. 

Well, thank you, Sheriff John.  We ate many a bologna or salami sandwich with you, at the low “TV table” our dad made expressly for this purpose (no peanut butter, because my mother thought it was better that we ate “meat”).  We blew out many an imaginary birthday candle with you.  I hope you had as much fun as we did.  It sounds as if you did. 

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