Before Janet and Chrissy on Three’s Company, before uppity Blair on Facts of Life, before Princess Leia, before Daisy Duke, before Julie from Love Boat and before CBC’s gossamer of loveliness Gloria Macarenko, there was Sesame Street’s feisty and kind-hearted store owner/fix-it-woman Maria.
Like many people who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, raven-haired Maria was our first love. Was it the way she conjugated verbs? Or how she ably handled perennial grump Oscar? Or her sage advice to Big Bird and Elmo? Or her seemingly sex-less and thus non-threatening onscreen marriage to fellow Fix-It Shop proprietor Luis?
Whatever the case, Maria became the benchmark to which we held all future crushes.
So it was with both shock and sadness that we learned this week Sonia Manzano, the 65-year-old Puerto Rican actress who has played Maria for the past, gulp, 45 years, is retiring from the long-running PBS children’s program. Shock because we always assumed Maria was her real name, just like Bob and Ernie and Bert, and sadness because the intricately constructed world of our childhood memories has come toppling down like Sesame Street’s beleaguered chef who could never hold onto cakes, pies and shakes when walking down a flight of stairs.
Granted, we haven’t watched Sesame Street in more than 30 years, but we always thought Maria’s presence on the show would be eternal, like a flickering flame, refusing to be blown out by the winds of time. But that is not the case. She is moving on. And for that we are sad. S-A-D sad.