Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy 80th Birthday, Mr. Rogers

I am resurrecting this post in honor of what would be Mr. Rogers' 80th birthday.

For some of you, this will be a repeat.

But I think it bears repeating.

It's You I Like
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.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I got a great present for my birthday from my husband. Proof positive that this man knows me inside and out. I received an audio book "The World According to Mr. Rogers: Important Things To Remember".

I have never really been all that open about how I felt about Mr. Rogers. Mostly because everyone made fun of him, and because I watched his show years after I was too old to watch, and because the production values were somewhat cheesy. For me, none of that mattered. Fred Rogers soothed my soul.

I read a quote from him that went something like: "The older I get, the more convinced I am that the space between communicating human beings can be hallowed ground.” For most kids, Mr. Rogers was silly, and had very little impact on their lives. If you ever wondered why that show lasted as long as it did, it is because that show was for me, and kids like me.

Even though I enjoyed the puppets, and the trolley, and the entire Land of Make Believe, the real draw for me was the man himself. Fred Rogers provided a window into a life that I had no concept of . . . one where a grown man was kind, and gentle, and loving and understanding.

The early 70s was a very very tough time for my family. I was the last kid, born years after my brothers and sister, and my house was chaotic, to say the least. I learned firsthand what violence was, what drug abuse looked like, what abuse felt like, and how scary being left alone felt. Finances were stretched too thin, and patience was stretched too thin.

I knew every nook and cranny of our house. I knew where to hide when I heard my dad's key in the lock, and I heard the begging cries and earsplitting screams of my brothers and sister when they were beaten by his belt, day after day, when he returned home from another day of debt, and pressure, and pending financial ruin that he could do nothing to stop. He was a bully, and he was crazy, and for some reason, he had some kind of moral objection to beating a baby, but no problems whipping the others. They were older, and they were sacrificed for me, and I could do nothing but run and hide, heart in my throat, and cover my ears and rock and cry until silence signaled that it was over, again. There was nothing that protected me from this horror, nothing except my hiding places and Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers was the voice of calm and reason for me back then. Every day after first grade, I was the first one home to a dark house. There was NO money for daycare, my mom worked all the time, and luckily for all involved, I was a kid that could be trusted to be left alone for hours at a time, and so I was. I remember staying very still and quiet during those hours, wondering if there were monsters in our basement, and wishing that someone, anyone would come home soon, and dreading that at the same time.

I can't tell you how comforting it was to watch Mr. Rogers. Seeing him coming in and singing, smiling at me and telling me that he was glad to see me meant the world to me. Having him explain the world to me through Picture Picture and his gentle, unhurried words was like balm on my scared, tiny soul, and I loved him dearly. I never understood why there were men like my dad, and I never believed there were men any different until I found Mr. Rogers.

After I grew up, I learned a little more about Mr. Rogers. It didn't surprise me to learn that he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his commitment to the well-being of children, that he made over 900 shows or that he had been awarded more than 40 honorary degrees. He was an extraordinary man disguised as a very humble, fragile, quiet person.

Fred Rogers died on February 27, 2003. I was 37, married, with two children of my own, and I cried like a baby. My grandparents had all passed long before I was born, but I can't imagine that losing a grandfather could have been more painful than that was. Explaining my reaction to my husband was nearly impossible, and seeing the look of pain on his face was heartbreaking.

It pleases me to no end that my kids love Mr. Rogers. We watch him together and I am able to experience him all over again through their eyes. Fortunately for them, his kindness is nothing out of the ordinary. And I am proud of that.

I love you, Mr. Rogers.

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