Maggie and I didn’t watch all the same cartoons when we were kids and had that privilege, which at least in my parents’ house was limited to Saturday mornings. But we both liked any and all Hanna-Barbera offerings as well as Looney Tunes.
Maggie says her favorite cartoon character was the Roadrunner, the Looney Tunes’ purveyor of all things Acme, who might have the record for surviving explosions and falls over the edge of cliffs. I was partial to Snagglepuss, a Hanna-Barbera feline whose comment, “Heavens to vegetables, I’ve been squashed… mashed even” has been lodged in my brain for longer than is probably good for me.
We got into our cartoon recollections while driving back to Manhattan after a recent morning with our grandsons, Abram 5, and Wesley, 2, at their home in Topeka. The occasion was a Sunday on which our son Connor, a pastor at a church in north Topeka, handled extra duties.
This was necessary because a contingent from the church that included both the head pastor and Connor’s wife, Jac, as well as groups from churches in other states went to Kenya as part of Missions of Hope International. Jac also was one 21 climbers who “summited” Mount Kilimanjaro in neighboring Tanzania. That adventure was a fundraiser that generated more than $200,000 to help young students in Nairobi who live in conditions no child anywhere should have to endure.
When Maggie and I reached Connor and Jac’s house at 6:30 a.m., both boys were asleep, and Connor was beginning to cook bacon and eggs. He’d laid out the boys’ clothes and told us a lazy day for the grandparents and kids would be fine while he was at church. He and Jac usually limit the boys’ screen time, but the rules were relaxed with Jac out of the country for 13 days. He said the boys knew what shows were off limits, reminded us about snacks and what was available for lunch, said to call if we needed to and then was off to church.
Abes awoke a few minutes later, about a half-hour before Wes did. Both changed from adorable little-kid PJs into jeans, T-shirts and socks, although Wes needed a little help. They knew we were coming and were glad to see us. Abes had bacon and eggs with us, and Wes had cereal, one small helping after another and then another. Then Abes echoed his dad’s instructions: “He said we get to hang out with you and watch cartoons and stuff.”
And that’s pretty much what we did, courtesy of Netflix, but our options didn’t include Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Taz, the Roadrunner, Huckleberry Hound, Pixie and Dixie or Snagglepuss. Far from it.
We started with one of Abes’ favorites, “Transformers: Rescue Bots Academy.” It’s about what it sounds like: transformers for beginners. Five walking, talking robotic recruits, among them Hoist, Wedge and Hotshot (there’s always a hotshot) — go on training missions. In the process, they get themselves in trouble, get themselves out of trouble and learn lessons that will one day help them save humanity. Education for metal-heads.
We also took in a few episodes of “Transformers Rescue Bots,” which was much like the academy version, but these rescue bots had graduated to something approaching real life and take on genuine bad guys. The bot leader, as anyone who has seen a transformers movie knows, is Optimus Prime.
We didn’t just watch robot cartoons. After a while we moved oh to “Super Wings.” This gem involves cute little jets, airplanes and helicopters with distinct personalities and names like Jett (for package delivery), Mira (a deep-sea diving craft) and Dizzy (a helicopter) performing good deeds despite themselves.
Maggie and I also talked the boys into trying a show with a long pedigree that they didn’t need to know to enjoy: “The Magic School Bus.” What’s not to like about a show in which Lily Tomlin is the voice of Miss Frizzle? In one memorable episode, the school bus and its passengers shrink and take on the traits of honey bees, even carrying nectar from flowers to the hive to bail out one of the passenger’s parents. That’s positively heroic, and magical.
Maggie and I didn’t just veg out in front of the tube that day. We also read several stories to the boys, played with a plastic Optimus Prime and Boulder (you had to be there), and refereed a couple of potential squabbles. But on this occasion, it was watching the toons together that the boys will remember, at least for a while. As for Maggie and me, we’ll never forget that wonderful morning.
Walt Braun retired in 2017 as the Mercury’s editorial page editor.