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Friday, July 27, 2012

Be J. P.

I never met Chris Wedes. But J. P. Patches was a treasured friend. While some say his recent passing means our childhoods are truly over, I see it as a call to rally the troops -- the legions of Patches Pals who were lucky to have him in our lives.

Every weekday (before *and* after school for many years), J. P.'s TV show for children would be broadcast live on local Seattle television. Yes, he was a TV clown but he was much, much more than that. J. P. wasn't your manic or sad circus or parade-type clown. Extremely funny and quick, he never lowered himself into being an "in-your-face", attention-seeking Bozo. He didn't need to try that hard.

Children's television was so different back in the 1960s. While some nationally-broadcast shows did indeed have toy tie-ins, there were no rows of J. P. Patches play-things at toy stores. There was just reliable old J. P. twice a day on the TV and that was enough for us.

J. P. wasn't make-believe. He was a real person you could meet at the local Pay n' Save, the Woodland Park Zoo and other special events across the city. If you were super-lucky, your Girl or Boy Scout troop visited the set where the show was filmed. But even though it was produced in a real set in familiar ol' downtown Seattle, his TV show also magical. J. P. could see into our homes with the ICU2 TV set and announce there was a birthday present for Johnny in the dryer. His yearly trip to visit Santa at the North Pole was something I looked forward to every single year.

The show was crazy with lots of memorable characters played by Bob Newman. But underneath the slapslick and Patches chuckles, J.P. respected us, never talking down to us. He promoted good behavior, as evidenced by the Patches Pal Checklist and Santa's Pal-o-Vac. There were rules and you were expected to follow them. But he also had the ability to laugh at himself when things didn't go quite as planned.

At local events, J.P. always asked your name with a firm handshake, looking at you straight in the eye. He had a way of making you feel special. At the Shoreline Classic Car show in July 2011, when I reminded him that he "ding-a-linged" my ponytail at a Ballard store in 1968, he exclaimed, "Oh yes! I remember you, Jeanne!"

My challenge to Patches Pals can be summed up with these words: "Be J. P." Be J. P. to the children you encounter along life's journey. Respect them individually. Expect good behavior (while also admitting that you too mess up sometimes). Be present and reliable. And most important, remember the fun J. P. brought into your childhood and give a bit of that magic back to the little kids of today.

We have oversized clown shoes to fill.

Be J. P.

4 comments:

SUSANNA RYAN said...

He ding-a-linged my pigtail, too, at some produce stand around Halloween time. I'll never forget!

Jeanne Machnik Ryan said...

Yep, that would have been at the Yakima Fruit Market in Bothell. We visited J. P. several times there when you were little.

Donna Peterson said...

Well done Jeanne!

Jeanne Machnik Ryan said...

Thank you, Donna! :)

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