Goodbye, Mr. Peppermint

How is it that I am this sad today, about the death of Mr. Peppermint? A few moments ago, I was in literal tears, followed by a feeling embarrassment.

I wasn’t a close friend, like others here in Dallas can say. I didn’t know him through theater circles, as some drama-friends did.

But like an entire generation who grew up here, Mr. Peppermint meant a lot to me. And I’m deeply sorry to hear he’s gone.

For the unenlightened, Jerry Haynes, aka Mr. Peppermint, hosted a children’s show, mornings on Channel 8 here in Dallas. Think: Captain Kangaroo for North Texas kids. He played the character in two stints that lasted almost 30 years, starting in 1961 and finally ending in 1996.

He was also a well known actor in the Dallas community, and from what I’ve been told by actors and theater people, he was respected and loved by almost everyone who ever met him. For those of you outside Dallas, you may remember Jerry Haynes for his role in the movie “Places in the Heart” as Deputy Jack Driscoll.

It’s lovely to hear all those writing in about how they knew him personally, how he was a kind and decent human being. But for me, and for several generations of Dallas kids, he was larger than life, bordering on mythological. He was living a superhero. But he was from Dallas. He was our local superhero.

I remember my Mom taking me to see Mr. Peppermint at NorthPark Mall, and getting a black and white publicity picture of him that I put up on the wall of my room. My Mom also bought me a peppermint-striped walking cane, and a straw hat, just like in this picture…

See that kid? Could have been me. It was me.

Mr. Peppermint always began his show with a segment that had him walk through the studio, and dramatically point his cane at various parts of the room; an action that apparently caused the lights to come on. To my five-year-old mind, it was more than just a staged movement. I didn’t know what that was. To me, it was MAGIC.

Mr. Peppermint had magical power over electric light itself.

Time after time, I would dance around the living room, in cane and hat, recreating this same scene.

Somewhere during the time his show was off the air (1969-1975) I was moving out of that “magical” time of childhood and into the harsher reality of adolescence. We were members of Lovers Lane UMC and so, apparently, were Jerry Haynes and his family. In one of the most stunningly confusing moments of childhood, I passed him in the halls of church one morning,  apparently on the way to pick up his own child from Sunday School.

I remember staring at him in awe, and if he noticed he didn’t let on. In that moment, he became  just “Jerry Haynes;” a guy with Mr. Peppermint’s face, but wearing a regular suit. It was like walking into your neighborhood Starbucks to discover Santa Claus has retired and become the morning-shift barista.

I’m sure that moment happened more than once for him. In a sense, it did for me too, because I got used to seeing him each Sunday, and gradually grew used to the idea that there was a man named “Jerry Haynes” who was not just Mr. Peppermint, but a real-life flesh and bones guy.

Here’s a nice slideshow of images about Jerry Haynes.

By the time Jerry Haynes went back on the air for his second stint as Mr. Peppermint, I was moving into junior high and high school; well beyond the time of childhood heroes.

In fact, “feeling into” my sadness today, I sense it comes from recalling the loss of that magical childhood time and the inevitable movement into the reality of adulthood. Eventually it dawns on you that nobody turns on the lights by pointing a candy-striped walking-cane at them, and each childhood “Mr. Peppermint” eventually becomes just a “Jerry Haynes.”

And, even more than this, I think, the sadness is knowing that not even being a superhero like Mr. Peppermint can save you from the ravages of time itself; a fact I’m certainly feeling myself, and seeing more in the lives of friends and loved ones too.

I heard about his Parkinson’s disease, and I know enough about that disease to know that his last years were surely difficult. Likely, too much reality and not enough mystery and magic.

However it is that we die, all of us deserve to be remembered at our best and our most magical. I am sure that his close friends and family will remember him in so many varied and personal ways at many points of life.

But even as a man who grew to know who Jerry Haynes was, I will still always be most grateful Mr. Peppermint, and remember for what he meant to this six-year-old boy.

(As always, if you like this post, then “like” this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too…)

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

One thought on “Goodbye, Mr. Peppermint

  1. I didn't grow up here, but Mr. Peppermint was a part of my life, too. My parents grew up here, and my grandparents lived here until they died. We lived close enough to visit my grandparents 3-4 times a year, and I always looked forward to seeing Mr. Peppermint's show when I was here.I hadn't heard the news of his death before I read it here. Thanks for passing on this sad news.

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