The Lower-Case “N”*

Sesame Street made its debut the year I started kindergarten. Far northern Montana got the broadcast out of Canada, so I learned to count in French. Cool!

But the coolest part of Sesame Street was that most of it was set to music. Even the lonesome, lowly lower-case “n” had its own theme song:

            The lower-case “n,”

            Standing on a hill,

            The wind is very still (swelling chord)

            For the lower-case “n.”

             *–composed by Steve Zuckerman for the Children’s Television Workshop

So this alphabet we were learning to say and write in Mrs. Walborn’s morning class, where all the letters lined up nicely (as we were told to do when we went out to recess) was not the sedate group of model citizens of the dictionary we had been led to believe.  Letters got lonely.  Letters had problems.  Letters danced and sang and behaved in ways we sensed our teachers, and school in general, were trying to tame out of us.

Numbers went nuts on Sesame Street, too. The chef in the tall poofy hat and the immaculate white coat stood at the top of the stairs proudly holding his tray of luscious desserts and singing, “Eight raspberry parfaits!”  Then he ALWAYS tumbled to the bottom of the steps. There he would lie, in a heap with his tray, his white suit stained in something delicious, wiping whipped cream from his cheek and sticking his finger in his mouth. “Mmmmm,” he’d hum. We’d scream with laughter.

No wonder our teachers limited our viewing to the half-hour right before our parents picked us up.

Ever since Sesame Street, letters and numbers are living things to me. It is largely due to The Children’s Television Workshop that the phrase “Bye-Bye, Billabong Bay!” filled me with such inordinate delight when I thought it up for “Benjamin,” one of the most recent of my one-of-a-kind, custom commissioned story-paintings.

I can almost set it to music.