I don’t particularly know why the anniversaries that end in 0 and 5 take on extra significance. I know that I like them because I’m bad at math and they make calculations a little easier for me. But Jim Henson’s death coincided with a moment when I was starting to make the gradual transition from childhood to adulthood, and this anniversary comes at a moment that I’m about to enter a new decade and a new phase in my adult life, so that gives it personal significance for me.
In a general way, I’ve shared my memories of the day that Jim Henson died. I wouldn’t say that I remember it vividly, but I remember it distinctly. We found out from the evening news, which I wasn’t watching at the time, but I was in the living room when it was on. I guess I was so shocked by what I was hearing that I froze in place in the corner of the room. So rather than watching the news story, I listened to it and watched my mom and my sister watching it. I’ve said before that my mom said that she cried about it. I don’t remember her crying, so I don’t know if it happened then or later.
The thing I remember most distinctly is that when the news story was over, I asked if Jim Henson had had any kids, and my sister said, “Yes, and he never played puppets with them.” To this day, I have no idea why she said that, because I know now that it’s not true at all. But what is interesting to me looking back on it now is that the reason I asked that question is because I had a vague idea in my childish mind that if Jim did have kids, maybe one of them could carry on his work, specifically performing Kermit. Even though I didn’t specifically say, “Did he have any kids? Because maybe one of them could go on performing Kermit,” I think my sister understood that that’s what I was getting at. Otherwise why would she have answered in that way?
In other words, even as a child and a young woman living relatively sheltered lives in South Dakota, I and my sister both had an instinctual understanding of the point that Steve makes about the Muppets being a lineage tradition, even if we were thinking of it in narrow terms of genealogical lineage.
There are times when it feels like no time has passed since the day Jim Henson died, and other times when it feels like an entirely other lifetime. There are times when Jim Henson seems like a figure of myth or legend. That’s why, as painful as it was, I am grateful that I was alive at the time of his death because that makes him real to me in a way that he might not have been otherwise.
It’s important to remember and honor those who have died, but I also think that death and the anniversary thereof serve as a reminder to show appreciation for people while they are still around to hear it. I never got the chance to meet Jim Henson, but thinking about his loss makes me all the more grateful that I’ve been able to communicate to Steve, both in person and online, at least some of what is in my heart about why the work he did with Jim, and the work he’s done since, is so important to me.
And if you haven’t read Steve’s tribute yet, please do so. It’s truly beautiful.
Meanwhile, I think I should probably call my sister.