Thirteen years ago today, on February 27th, 2003, one of the brightest beacons of our time- Fred Rogers– ascended.
As if but months back, I recall briskly strolling home from a writing session at Nina’s Coffee Cafe, only to discover the New York Times article announcing his departure on our dining room table. The wind knocked out of me, I surveyed the headline to make sure I’d read it right… I had. Blankly, I stared out of the window of 589 Laurel Avenue- a house in historic St. Paul that I shared with beautician Sandra Albert, author Von Braschler and actor Dan Fuller- swallowed the lump in my throat, then mustered up the courage to read the obituary of my television Dad.
Tear-stung half way through, I fumbled for the nearby phone, in a weak attempt to call my Mother, who was probably the only person that might understand my impending melt down. I couldn’t finish dialing on first try, hung up after the first buzz during the second, then deliberately let it ring. The 27-year-old me was embarrassed, but the kid in me couldn’t help it. By the time she answered, I was sobbing unintelligibly, whilst silently thanking various Catholic, Roman and Greek deities that none of my aforementioned housemates were around to witness this hot mess.
You see, for many of us Gen-X/Y-ers dealing with divorce and/or Fatherlessness in our families, Mister Rogers was our part-time Pop, Uncle or Granddad. For others, he was a mentor, friend, tour guide, self-esteem coach, or if nothing else, that familiar, reassuring, smiling face between channels.
After a heart-to-heart with my Mom, I finished reading his obituary, then dragged my feet upstairs, to the privacy of my then-pink bedroom. And so, one block away from where F. Scott Fitzgerald was born, I dug out what childhood toys I had left, surrounded myself with them and cried myself to sleep.
Of all the bigger pieces I’ve read about Fred, this 1998 Esquire Magazine cover story by Tom Junod is one of the most touching:
esquire.com/entertainment/tv/interviews/a27134/can-you-say-hero-esq1198. I also cherish this recently republished New York Daily News article from 1973: www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv/mister-rogers-focuses-children-feelings-article-1.2542259. Reading this coverage of his funeral has also helped me to make peace with it, as rainbows, hearts and coloring pencils couldn’t have been more appropriate, and I’ve always admired Yo-Yo Ma (now more than ever): http://old.post-gazette.com/localnews/20030504rogers0504p1.asp.
Tonight, I hope that you’ll take a moment to remember Fred with me, to reflect on all of the helpful things he taught us, and to re-visit an important episode. In our adult lives where everything moves at near-light speed and all has changed, this episode is particularly pertinent: www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8eEHV-b6WM.
Next, I’d like to acknowledge that it’s partially due to Mister Rogers’ work that I’ve been able to pen In Praise of Men. If ever any thing’s out of place in your life and you need advice, to see the smiling face of a life-long neighbor or friend, all you need to do is find him on Youtube, or visit his legacy site: www.fredrogers.org/fred-rogers.
Finally, I’d like to spread some good news: Fred is still very much with us, in the countless lives he touched.
Thank you again Mister Rogers, thank you to your family, staff and to PBS.
With Speedy Delivery and Love,
Two of my favorite men in the world, who are featured in our final chapter,
50 Magnanimous Men.