It's not a beautiful day in the neighborhood. If you haven't heard, Fred Rogers passed away this morning at the age of 74. The cause was stomach cancer.
My own varied memories of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood run rather deep into my childhood. My Mom clearly remembers the first episode I got to see: one of the fish in the aquarium in Fred Rogers' kitchen died, and he was burying it in the "back yard" of the set. The one episode that I sticks out in my mind from those early days was the one where Fred Rogers had a NASA Apollo astronaut in the kitchen as a guest and they were showing the freeze-dried dinners that astronauts eat in space. There were other memorable episodes of course: the arrival of the creatures from Planet Purple and the birth of King Friday's son. In spite of those, it was sight of that astronaut adding hot water to freeze-dried speghetti and meatballs that I remember most.
Fred Rogers grew into a personal hero of mine as I became an adult and stopped watching his show. Why? What you saw on the show is what he was. Everything I saw about him in interviews points to the fact that he was essentially that person. He was like that. There was nothing fake for the camera. He was just a guy who was quiet, gentle, and good to the people around him. He was the sort of man who got up every morning at 5am, swam for an hour, prayed for an hour, and then started his work day. In an age that emphasizes celebrity shock value and tawdry behavior, his absolute lack of either quality speaks more loudly and permanently to me as an example of who to be than most any living personality I've encountered since I was born.
I had the benefit of an excellent childhood. I get along well with my parents, and, while they have their faults, I admire them as people. Mom stayed at home and got to spend large amounts of unstructured time with us. Dad worked, and worked hard, but was always there when we needed him.
Other people I've met did not have that luxury. One of them once told me that watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and hearing Fred Rogers say "I like you just the way you are" was the one time when she felt unconditionally accepted by someone. I can think of no better epitaph.
Goodbye Fred, I'll miss you.
on 2003-02-27 at 12:08 p.m.
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