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At 42, I am one of the first of the "TV generation". Yes, they had TV many years before I was born in 1963, but the late 60's and early 70's was when TV really came into its own as an entertainment option for children. Or, electronic babysitter, if you will. My parents weren't as bad as some, but I got to watch my fair share of television.
Gilligan's Island was, hands down, my favorite show when I was about 6 or 7. Even now, as silly as it is, if I come across an episode while channel surfing, I'm likely to watch the rest of it. Because it has been so long ago now, I only remember the plots of a very few shows, so it's like seeing them new again. Now as an adult, I find them ever so less believable, but I don't like them for their authenticity anyway. It always takes me back to a simpler time, to the golden age of my childhood; to a time when I hadn't really learned any of the hard lessons, and the world was still a lot more magic than it was harsh realities.
I didn't know what hardships and sadness were, I hadn't experienced loss and pain on any but the smallest scales. My Dad was overseas with the Air Force, and I missed him, but I missed him in that "this is what Daddy does, he goes away," way. I wasn't old enough to really understand what it meant when I was told he was going away for a year. I just knew that I missed him less as time went on, that I remembered him less. He became like Santa, someone who I barely knew who was going to come back next year.
The cast of Gilligan's Island were like playmates I got to see all week (it was already in syndication), and I always looked forward to it. If I was at my friend's house, we watched it together. We tried to figure out ways to help them get off the island, but we really didn't want them to. We were glad they were waiting there for us. There were no action figures or board games, collector's cards or Internet fan sites. We had the show and our imaginations. It was enough then.
So, when I found out Bob Denver was in our hospital, I wanted to go visit him. I wanted to shake his hand and tell him what he meant to me as a kid. From what I've heard, he would have liked that, I think. But I coudn't because, technically, no one was supposed to know he was there except the staff members taking care of him. Like the rest of us, he had a right to privacy. He had a right not to be Gilligan while he was on a ventilator in an ICU trying to recover from radical cancer surgery. He had a right to die in peace, surrounded by his wife and family, like any of the rest of us.
I'm going to miss him, and I'm not the only one. I bet there are thousands of us TV generation kids who would have liked to see Bob off in a grand way. Still, in my small way, I'll do it right here. Small things can have big significance. After all, the show only ran for three seasons, but has aired continuously in syndication to this day. I hope wherever Bob is now, he can see all the little blurbs and blog entries about him, like thousands of lighters in the night.
I'm sure it'll fade from memory in a few days, but for now I keep hearing a song from one of the shows where the cast sang,
"G - Iiiii - double L - Iiiii,
G - A - N spells Gilligan!"
Rest in peace, little buddy.