The Presidential debate last week surprisingly brought Big Bird into the political limelight. But in our home, Ernie was the much more troublesome Sesame Street character – at least for one very memorable day.

Our oldest may have been a little precocious in the area of miniature figurines. Most kids who collect and play-act with little toy statuettes begin around age 3 or 4 years old, but our home was a Sesame Street shrine from the moment Matt started following Big Bird et al. at age 2. He was too young to even pronounce the characters’ names – Cookie Monster was “Cookiebader.”  His love of Sesame Street miniatures made gift-giving easy – for about $2 each, we gradually accumulated all the critical players in the Sesame Street saga.

It was almost miraculous for Matt when we learned that Sesame Street Place, the show’s theme park, was in Pennsylvania, not far from where grandparents lived – and of course, the next trip to Mema and Grandpa’s included a visit to SSP. That may have been the most memorable trip of Matt’s childhood. He hid behind Grover’s garbage can, climbed in Ernie’s bathtub, and ate Cookiebader cookies for lunch. “Do they really live here!!??” The gift shop even sold a rare figurine that we didn’t have at home – Mr. Snuffleupagus, if memory serves – two bucks like all the rest of “the guys.”

It’s that devotion to Sesame Street that made Ernie’s mysterious disappearance one summer afternoon a day that will live in infamy. The characters never went anywhere without Matt, and he rarely went anywhere without them. But on that fateful day as play on the windowsill stage was about to begin, all the characters checked in present and accounted for, but where was Ernie?!! Breathlessly, Matt ran to tell us of the disaster – Ernie was missing! And so began a legendary search through the house that turned up just about every other lost toy for the previous 2 years – but no Ernie! We called friends, grandparents, neighbors – it was an “all points bulletin,” we explained to Matt. Just as we were about to post “lost toy” fliers around the neighborhood, our next door neighbor sheepishly called – seems his grandson, Clint, with whom Matt had been playing the day before might have accidentally slipped Ernie into his pocket.

Grateful that the crisis was over, we chose not to press charges. The Sesame guys were reunited and, although I can’t be sure, I think I saw Burt shed a tear of relief. I know Matt did.

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