Sunday Snippet: Mr. Dressup (Ernie Coombs)

“Keep your crayons sharp, your sticky tape untangled and always put the tops back on your markers.”

As a child, I learned about the world through a variety of sources. I peeped through a door adorned with polka dots, I visited a place with a friend named Fred, and I looked way up at an amiable fellow who towered above everyone else, chatting with a rooster who inexplicably lived in a burlap sack on the wall.

But more so than anyone or anywhere else on television, I grew up with Mr. Dressup. He taught me how to draw, how to make believe, and how to craft together just about anything with some cardboard and colorful pipe cleaner. With 4,000 episodes spanning nearly three decades, Mr. Dressup was a Canadian icon and a national treasure. Still is, really.

Something that happens to practically every parent is that we get to re-visit and re-live our own childhoods through our kids. We look back at the shows we watched, the toys with which we played, and the lessons that we learned. It is through the lens of role models like Raffi, Fred Penner, The Friendly Giant and “Mr. Dressup” Ernie Coombs that I learned to exercise my imagination and tap into my creativity.

From the Tickle Trunk to the treehouse, from the drawing board to reading a story on the couch, I was enraptured with this show on CBC. Mr. Dressup emerged during a time when it was still appropriate for a middle-aged man to invite neighborhood children over to his house to play. I grew up watching him and I can’t imagine what my childhood would have been like if I had not.

What’s interesting to note is that while Ernie Coombs is best known as a Canadian children’s entertainer, he was actually born in Lewiston, Maine. And even though he started playing Mr. Dressup on Butternut Square before taking the character to its own show in 1967, Ernie Coombs didn’t become a Canadian citizen until 1994. And when Mr. Dressup aired its final episode two years later, Ernie Coombs was named a member of the Order of Canada. And rightfully slow.

His legacy lives on not only in the context of children’s entertainment, but also through the impact he has had on any Canadian who watched the show at any time during its 29-year run. I just may need to pick up a few DVDs to watch with my own daughter when she’s a little older. The hope is that the magic has survived the test of time and she too will endeavor to keep her crayons sharp and her sticky tape untangled.