Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Best Neighbor Ever


Tomorrow, March 20, marks the birthday of a man who made everyone’s neighborhood a little better, Fred Rogers.  Mr. Rogers would have been 85 this year, though for me he’s forever timeless, frozen in my memory as a kindly gentleman, grandfatherly, perhaps, but still spry and engaging. 

Mr. Rogers 3-19-13

   That trademark sweater, those sneakers, and that ever-present smile—really, who could ask for a better neighbor?  I still remember fondly the time I spent with him, listening to his songs and stories, and traveling to the Neighborhood of Make Believe.  Oh, how I loved X the Owl and Daniel Striped Tiger and the entire Platypus family.  And, of course, who could forget King Friday and Lady Elaine Fairchilde?  I considered them all my friends.  But none were better friends than Mr. Rogers himself.

Mr. Rogers was the kind of guy who made everyone feel good about themselves, just with a simple reminder that someone cared about you.  For myself, I was a lucky child and had family and friends in my real world who cared about me; I had parents who told me every day that they loved me, but even so, I loved to hear it from Mr. Rogers, too.  I can only imagine how other kids felt, those who weren’t lucky enough to have anyone other than Mr. Rogers to give them that love.  And the grown-up me is grateful to him for being a light for all children, but especially those who weren’t as lucky as I.

In retrospect, it was a simple formula, a simple show.  But it was a simpler time.  I’d like to think if he was still around, kids would still be entranced by his messages of love and acceptance, but I just don’t know.  Really, we need those messages now more than ever, but I don’t know if they’d still get through.  Even when my own son was growing up, Mr. Rogers did not have the same appeal to him as he did to me, and that made me sad.  Oh, Billy watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and he liked it okay, but it didn’t engage him the way it had me.  He was much more content with Barney, or Sesame Street, or even Reading Rainbow.  And I’m certainly not complaining about those choices; they all had a lot to offer.  But none of them had the genuine love and concern that Mr. Rogers could give, and I think it’s unfortunate that later generations would trade heart-felt emotion for a little more pizzazz. 

Recently, I ran across a piece about this childhood hero on the Cracked website.  It’s not the kind of thing you’d expect to find on that particular site, but it’s worth a read (and a watch; there are some nice clips to accompany it), though if you’re an old softie like me, I’d advise you to keep a tissue handy.

So, tomorrow, I’ll be thinking of Fred Rogers, and I’ll remember again how very lucky I was to have him as a neighbor.

ps:  If you opted not to visit the Cracked article, you missed out on the fact that a petition has been started at WhiteHouse.gov to make Mr. Rogers’ birthday a holiday.  Personally, I don’t find it very likely that it will become an actual close-the-banks-and-take-a-day-off-work type of holiday (though if anyone is worth that, Mr. Rogers is), but I don’t think a bit of recognition and a designated day would be too much to ask.  If you agree, you can sign here.