This is going to be a really odd post but one that I sorta feel like I want to make. I have a deep and personal bond with Mister Rogers Neighborhood that I am not entirely sure if I can put into words. I grew up the only child of two very busy parents with no other children within easy access distance to me because we lived just far enough out of the city limits to make everything awkward. For the most part I say I was raised by my grandmother, because she was my babysitter and playmate as a child. The problem with that however is that she was the anchor of a very busy rural household, which meant there were larger swaths of the day where she was out doing chores. I mean this is a woman I can regularly remember going out to chopped/split wood for the stove to keep the house warm while grandpa was out tending to the cattle.
As a result there were large swaths of the day where I was left to my own devices, and essentially had to learn how to keep myself entertained. I was the first person in my family to get cable television… and even then I did not get that until I moved to college so as far as programming went I was limited to the four over the air networks. It was at an early age that I developed an affinity for PBS or the Public Broadcasting Service and regularly would sit there in the floor of my grandparents living room soaking up everything I could find while doodling and inventing nonsense. Without a doubt the only show I never missed however was Mister Rogers Neighborhood, because it had a way of bringing me into that world.
I felt like I was friends with Mister Rogers, Handyman Negry, Mister McFeely, or Lady Aberlin… as well as X the Owl, Henrietta the Cat or Daniel the Lion. For thirty minutes I was sucked into this other world where not everyone looked the same as me but still managed to get along perfectly. This was deeply important to my upbringing because I lived in what you might say was a quietly prejudiced world and thought Mister Rogers neighborhood it allowed me to build up a bit of an immunity to having any of those thoughts root deeply in my brain. His mission to drill into our brains that we were all the same inside and that we should celebrate the interesting differences is something that served me well and that I have tried to never betray.
Then the other night after a normal day in the office, I sat down to start doing what I sorta refer to as “checking into the world”. One of the things that crossed past my eyes was the above trailer for a new movie about the life of Fred Rogers called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and as I sat there watching it… I started tearing up to the point of just water pouring out of my eyes. Hell as I sit here writing this post this morning I am teary eyed as well. It is impossible to put into word accurately how much this man meant to me… and how much the show Mister Rogers Neighborhood did. He took what was an otherwise solitary childhood where I sat alone for hours at a time finding ways to entertain myself… into a constant voyage of discovery as I anxiously awaited the moment when the show would be on again and we could do more interesting things together.
I made a comment to this effect the other night on Twitter and my friend Gryph commented that there was a Mister Rogers Neighborhood marathon going on over on Twitch. This was a night when my wife had gone to Dallas and I was ultimately waiting up for her to get home safely before going to bed. So from about 10:30 until around midnight I sat there watching old episodes of the show reliving moments from my childhood. By the time my wife got home I had to explain why my eyes were so teary because there were so many moments that just hit me in the gut. Example the above image is from when Lady Aberlin forgot to come pick up Daniel Lion for a party, and he thought she didn’t love him anymore.
These were important lessons to talk about with kids, and to help them work through complex feelings of frustration and abandonment… giving us ammunition for dealing with those things when we experienced them later in life. I am far from normal, but I feel like I am a better person because of the lessons we learned every day after school from Mister Rogers and the crew. The role Betty Aberlin played has to be highlighted and appreciated because she had this way of treating those puppets as though they were the most real people in the world with their own complex needs. Without her and her presence in the land of Make Believe it would have been harder to get sucked into the world because of the way she carried the interactions with the puppeteers.
If you were too young to experience Mister Rogers Neighborhood… which is a realistic concern given that I am 41 almost 42 and was part of the prime viewership… I highly suggest you check it out. There is something magical and timeless about the experience and it has been interesting to see the outpouring of goodwill and support on twitch chat. This is normally a community that can be offensively toxic, but instead everyone is reveling together in just how pure and good the experience is. There was a mystical quality in the primitive nature of the show and its extremely low production budget… but in many ways that also is what sells the experience and makes it so easy to let your imagination fill in the gaps. Excuse me while I try and find something to dry my eyes.