September 2001
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The End of an Era
By: Sarah King, SNN Senior Editor, Ascension Collegiate, Bay Roberts, NF

Ernie CoombsErnie Coombs, a.k.a. Mr. Dressup passed away on September 18th, 2001 at the age of 73. Just a few days prior, he had a stroke and had been on life support ever since.

Like most of us, I grew up with Mr. Dressup. I’ll never forget his crafts, his stories, his songs, his drawings and most of all his Tickle Trunk. Every day, he could reach into that trunk, pull out an old tail coat and top hat and whisk me away to that magical land, the land of make-believe. He became to me, a grandfather, an artist, a storyteller, and above all, a friend. Mr. Dressup was never phoney, never sugar-coated; he never underestimated the power of children. He never felt that we were beneath him he spoke directly to us. Every morning, between “Under the Umbrella Tree” and “Fred Penner’s Place” I was content in the knowledge that I was in good hands.

Mr. DressupI remember his conversations with the androgynous Casey and his/her dog Finnigan. I remember the later puppets, Truffles and Chester, Annie and the rest. He spoke to them like he spoke to his audience, like we were mature, intelligent individuals. We had our own thoughts and feelings, and we were more than just “kids”, we were friends.

Just a few weeks ago, CBC’s “Life and Times” program did a profile of three of the best children’s entertainers in the world (in my opinion). Featured were Ernie Coombs (A.K.A. Mr. Dressup), Fred Penner and Bob Homme (A.K.A The Friendly Giant). Rick Mercer put into words the mute adoration that was in my head for Mr. Dressup. He said “My favourite thing about Mr. Dressup was the sound his scissors made when they cut into construction paper… when we tried [to cut like] that, our dinky little plastic scissors never came close.”

At my weekly babysitting job, I get to spend 2 hours reliving my childhood. I share in my charge’s delight as she discovers “A BLUEBERRY, Sarah” on that bush, and I watch in admiration while she watches television. Sometimes I am horrified by the way children are fascinated by shows like “Tansy and Rosabelle” on Treehouse TV. Grown women dressed as dolls, speaking in falsetto voices, garishly dressed seem to captivate their attention. But then I see the differences in her expression when she watches Mr. Dressup. And I see myself, 10 years ago there, on the floor in front of the television, absolutely captivated by the abilities of one man to take a piece of string, a scrap of paper and a wooden spool and turn it into a magical charm to prevent monster attacks. There I am, 5 years old again, learning so much and having the most fun doing it.
Here’s to you, Ernie Coombs. You have been, and always will be…Mr. Dressup to me.