By Cory Turner
Death first visited me on a Thursday.
I had a brown ‘n’ serve roll in my hand and a Vesuvius of buttered mashed potatoes on my plate. It was Thanksgiving and my 7th birthday, 1983.
My grandmother sat across from me, my brother beside, my parents at the ends, but conspicuously absent under the table was our dog, Mingo, a black cocker spaniel. Days before, my mother had sprawled on the kitchen floor, holding him, pleading with him to swallow medicine meant to mitigate the effects of his kidney disease. He grew weaker, sicker. The day before my birthday, my parents took Mingo to the vet, where he stayed overnight.
“Where’s Mingo?” I asked repeatedly at the Thanksgiving table.
My parents exchanged pained glances. I know now that life had put them in an impossible bind. Mingo had been dying for months and suffering for weeks. The vet urged euthanasia then and there. My parents reluctantly but humanely agreed. But how to tell me? So they didn’t, hoping to wait until after my birthday.
“Where’s Mingo?” I wouldn’t let it go.
Finally, they admitted he’d “been put to sleep.” I ran from the table in tears.
It turns out, I wasn’t the only one struggling that day. Death had also come to the unlikeliest and safest of all spaces: Sesame Street.
In what would become one of the show’s most famous episodes, broadcast on Thanksgiving Day, when show executives knew grown-ups would be home watching with their kids, Big Bird learned that Mister Hooper, who ran Sesame’s corner store and lovingly made his birdseed milkshakes, had died.