A friend from my childhood died today. I never met him; I never talked directly to him, although I would often repeat what he would say when we were younger. He moved with me everywhere during my childhood, though, and kept me company with his simple songs, his puppet shows, and his fondness for opera. He was Fred Rogers.
Mr. Rogers (as I and millions of people knew him) passed away from stomach cancer this morning, at the age of 74. I can distinctly remember his show, wedged between Sesame Street and The Electric Company when I was growing up. I watched it far longer than many kids my own age, owing to the disparate ages of the kids in my family, so I got to see the same episodes over and over again.
My appreciation for Mr. Rogers has grown over the years. When I was a teenager, it was easy to mock him, his simple little show, and his halting speech. It certainly provided fuel for any number of parodies over the past couple of decades. However, as I look back, I realize that Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood was a prime positive force in my life.
Sesame Street and The Electric Company taught me reading, spelling and counting; skills that I would certainly use in the outside world. Mr. Rogers, on the other hand, taught me more emotional lessons. He taught me that it was good to share, that being nice to people was important, that it's okay to cry sometimes.
I know that the way he talked was slow and deliberate, and a lot of people have made fun of this pattern;however, I realized something about that. Fred Rogers spoke that way to make himself understood to his average audience, which was just learning to speak coherently. He didn't have flashy graphics or broad comedy to make his point; all he had was his voice, which he used to full advantage, whether it was speaking or singing.
As silly as this sounds, when I was in Washington in 1993 to see my sister Tonya get married, I visited the Smithsonian Institution. I took pictures all through the museum: Archie Bunker's chair, the first Apple Computer, Fonzie's jacket. The one thing that I wanted to see and take a photo of, however, was Mr. Rogers' sweater. I found it, and the pic is in my photo collection to this day.
That's about all I have to write about Mr. Rogers right now. I'll miss him terribly, and when I have a child, I will make sure he or she watches Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood (if it's still on) so he/she can absorb some of the niceness of television's nicest neighbor. I'm gonna print the lyrics to one of my favorite Mr. Rogers songs; hope you'll remember, sing and enjoy. *sad little smile*
It's You I Like
by Fred M. Rogers
It's you I like,
It's not the things you wear,
It's not the way you do your hair--
But it's you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you--
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys--
They're just beside you.
But it's you I like--
Every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you'll remember
Even when you're feeling blue
That it's you I like,
It's you yourself,
It's you, it's you I like.
Good night, Mr. Rogers. And thanks.