Sunday #35: August 26, 2012 – In Memory of Jerry Nelson, A Man Who Counts

Sometimes we don’t realize how dearly we hold the things from childhood in our memories or how they become part of how we think. I, for example, still hold trinkets in a pink ceramic jar with a matching lid that my mother made for me when we lived on the army base in Yorkton, Saskatchewan from 1978 – 1981. The jar was in storage for years when I was living overseas, but now that I am home and unpacked, it sits on my dresser with things in it. When I look at it, I think of my mother and how she made it especially for me. A little sappy, I know, but that’s OK.

It was that same sappiness for things from the past that made me sad earlier this week when I read that one of the famous voices from Sesame Street passed away. Jerry Nelson, the puppeteer behind the adorable vampire Count von Count, died Thursday at the age of 78. Like many adults, I grew up watching Sesame Street—which began its long television life in November 1969 when I was six months old—and one of the ways I learned to count was through the Count. I always loved his “one whatever-it-is, two whatever-it-is, three whatever-it-is, ah, ah, ah” routine. So much so that even now I use it at home all the time with my dog, Bailey… as in “one cookie, two cookies, three cookies, ah, ah, ah” when I give him his treats. Roland does it too. It always adds a giggle to the doling out of goodies (which is a frequent event in this dog-dominated household).

Jerry Nelson began work on Sesame Street in the early 1970s. He operated puppets and did vocal work for the show until 2004, when he stopped the manual operations but continued doing voices. He remained the voice—and the charming personality—behind the Count until his death this week. Nelson also worked and gave voice to many other puppets on the show (and elsewhere, such as on TV’s Fraggle Rock) including another of my SS favourites, Mr. Snuffleupagus, the shy but charming elephant that only Big Bird could see (at least while I was still young enough to watch). I loved Snuffy because I could relate to his bashfulness. Essentially, Nelson was the voice of two of my favourite characters.

I never met Mr. Nelson, but I nonetheless mourn his passing and think back nostalgically on his work and its influence on me as a child. Sesame Street won’t be the same without his voice. And when I count out the cookies for my dog in the future, I will fondly and gratefully remember Jerry Nelson. He gave us one great voice, two great voices, three great voices….. ah, ah, ah!

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