Saturday, September 06, 2008

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

I am special just the way I am and Mr. Rogers told me so!

I don't exactly have a plethora of happy childhood memories so I cherish those that I do have. When I remember something fondly, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy and a little teary-eyed. If that feeling came in a bottle, pill, a powder, or you could roll it and smoke it, I probably would have become addicted to it. Hmmm. Maybe that's what I was hoping to find in that bottle, those pills, those very skinny cigarettes, and that powder.

But I digress. Mr. Rogers was one of those warm and fuzzy spots in my childhood and, when my friend Liz sent me this picture of his famous sweater from her visit to The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, it triggered my fond memories of this geeky minister on public television.

I moved around a lot growing up but I know that when I was four-years old, I lived next door to Tracy Ferresso. I remember that Tracy's dad was a really nice guy and that he had baby chicks that hatched from eggs in the garage. I also remember that Tracey and I got in very big trouble when we had a yard sale and sold our parents' belongings--or maybe it was just me who got in trouble. I also remember that Tracy went to preschool in September and left me all alone.

I asked my mother why I couldn't go to preschool and she told me that it was to teach children how to read and, since I already knew how to read, I didn't need to go. I think she told a bit of a fib but I kind of get it. The year I was 4, my older brother, John, was in first grade; Laurie was only 2 and Tom was a year old. So, I can only imagine that preschool cost money that my parents didn't have or it would have been a logistical nightmare to organize dropping me off and picking me up with two littler ones.

So, every day, I was all alone with no one to play with. I'm sure my mother was taking care of the little kids and I spent time alone, reading and watching PBS. Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street were my companions.

I've been told that, when Mr. Rogers took his dress shoes and jacket off and put his sweater and sneakers on, I mimicked his moves. Then, I talked to the television. When Mr. Rogers greeted us with "Well, hello! How are you today?" I responded, "Fine, thank you."

And when Mr. Rogers sang, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?," I sang along. I loved when the trolley traveled to the Neighborhood of Make Believe with King Friday, Queen Sara, and Henrietta Pussycat, I went along.

Throughout each show, Mr. Rogers reminded me that I was special just the way I was and that he was proud of me. He also taught me how to be kind and that it was ok to have my feelings and talk about them.

For a child that grew up in my chaotic household, these were revolutionary concepts. But I believed him!

So, when Saturday Night Live skits and other comedians made fun of Mr. Rogers, I never laughed along. I LOVED Mr. Rogers.

When I worked on ARTHUR at WGBH, I was very excited to learn that Mr. Rogers was going to be animated and voice an episode. In the story, Arthur is embarrassed when Mr. Rogers comes to stay in the Read home. He's afraid that his friends will find out and make fun of him for watching a baby show. Naturally, Arthur learns that everyone likes Mr. Rogers and, more importantly, people who like him, will like him just the way he is.

The really cool part was that Mr. Rogers came to WGBH after the episode was completed. Because he is so popular, Children's Programming decided that only people on the ARTHUR Team could go to the gathering where he would be. Thank goodness I was on the team!

I showed up as soon as the doors opened and got a seat near the end of the large conference table where Mr. Rogers would be sitting. I felt like I was waiting for a movie star or the pope or something! Mr. Rogers did not disappoint. He thanked all of us for the experience, told some stories I don't remember, and was generally just his very sincere, very sweet self.

Then, he stayed in the room to greet every single person individually. When it was my turn, I approached him nervously and reached out to shake his hand. He took my hand in both his hands and before I had a chance to say anything, he told me that he saw me in the group and he really appreciated how I smiled and was so clearly listening to everything he said. He told me that he was always a little nervous meeting new people but that my smiling face made him feel welcome and comfortable.

I couldn't believe it! I told him that he was a very important part of my childhood and that I remembered my time with him on TV each day very fondly. Then he said it. "You are very special just the way you are and I am very proud of you."

I'm really glad I didn't die in that moment but, if I did, I would have died happy.

When Mr. Rogers died a year or so later, I cried and definitely felt the loss of such a wonderful man. A few months after that, a woman on the ARTHUR team was leaving WGBH and found a photo of that very special moment when Mr. Rogers held my hand in both of his and told me that I was special. How lucky and I that one of the best meetings in my life was photographed for posterity! (Forgive the quality of this image. I had to take a photo of the original that's on my fridge.)

I will leave you with the man himself.


  1. Ooh, you worked at WGBH? I love their stuff including Arthur!

    Mr. Rogers was born in lived in my neck of the country (western PA) and his wife is a concert pianist. I got to meet her once when she was performing at my high school and she was just as soothing and gracious as her husband. Thanks for reminding me of these good old days.

    I love your redesigned colorful site, and also wanted to make sure that you knew that I highlighted your blog in early August (but I think I forgot to tell you) at

  2. I always enjoy hearing you tell about your childhood with Mr. Rogers. I'm pleased I was able to remind you of him during an average Thursday afternoon.

  3. That's such a cool story...
    (but I shouldn't read such things at work bcz my employees will wonder why I've got tears in my eyes ;-)