Sounds like the title of an old Doobie Brothers album, doesn’t it? Well, it is—and a great one at that. Maybe their best, from back in 1973. “China Grove” and “Natural Thing” are tough songs to beat. Given, too, that I recently wrote a book about the music biz, that would be a pretty darn good guess as to the topic at hand. But, that’s not what I’m referring to here. Nope, not this time around. I’m talking about an actual man. Perhaps, I might add, one of the most famous men in America during the Sixties and Seventies. Revered, even. And, much to my surprise, this man—a burly ex-Marine, no less—insisted upon hugging me when we first met. Me, that is, and about three hundred other people.
No, it wasn’t one of the Village People (yes, I know what you’re thinking…). Huh-uh. Instead, it was none other than Captain Kangaroo himself, Bob Keeshan. In 1999, the good Captain wrote a memoir about his days spent in the Treasure House on TV and he came through Seattle on a nationwide book tour to support it. Living in the Emerald City at the time, and thoroughly grooving on all things retro even then, I made a beeline for his book signing. And I couldn’t be happier that I did.
As I finally made my way up to the Captain’s table, after standing in line for at least two hours along with every conceivable manifestation of the human species, my entire childhood instantly flashed before my eyes. There he was: the man who had patiently read a story to me (or “stirry,” as he pronounced it) every weekday morning of my early single-digit years. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, anyone? The man who was constantly outwitted by Bunny Rabbit and who fell for Mr. Moose’s knock-knock jokes every time, getting a shower of ping-pong balls on his head for his trouble.
But before I could open my suddenly-dry, thirty-nine-year-old mouth to form any kind of comprehensible sentence, the Captain asked me my name, I mumbled a faint reply, and then he motioned for me to come around behind the table. There he gave me a hug like he had known me all my life. And, in a way, he had. He knew millions of us, his surrogate kids. A kindly-looking grandpa-sort, Captain Kangaroo was nothing short of beloved. And that’s why the Captain’s trademark jacket with the oversized “kangaroo” pockets is on display, to this very day, in the Smithsonian Institution.