by Cora ’21
As a young child, I remember watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with my sister Willa in our sunny living room. Willa could never quite remember the name of the show, and lovingly referred to it as “the old man with the houses” and occasionally “the old man who made me not scared of being sucked down the drain anymore.” I didn’t watch the show as frequently as I would have liked to, as PBS didn’t show reruns very often. But when episodes did come on, my sister and I would settle down, bubbling with excitement, while a wash of calm and comfort surrounded the room. We would become instantly captivated, and even my parents would find themselves standing idly by, watching along, also mesmerized by the gentle voice of Fred Rogers and the warm glow that magically radiated from inside the TV and out into our home.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was different than most children’s shows, in that it had a deep history in our family. My mom grew up watching the show as well. Fred Rogers became something akin to a father figure to her when she needed one as a child. My mother’s father left her family when she was three, and because of this, she and her little sister spent a lot of time home alone after school while her mom – my grandma – was working hard to support their family. When Willa and I watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, my mom would often reminisce about how it was Mister Rogers’ week long special on divorce that brought her solace and clarity in her childhood years when she tried to make sense of the loss she had experienced as a child. At a young age, it was clear to me that this Mister Rogers man had the power to take a very serious and sad situation and give someone great comfort and hope. The fact that my mom had remembered such a small detail from so long ago meant that it was a big deal, and so I held Mister Rogers with the utmost respect and admiration from the beginning.
While Mister Rogers was a favorite show in my household, it was really later in life that I began to appreciate it. During what I can say in hindsight was without a doubt the hardest period of my life, Mister Rogers had somehow found his way back to me once again. A family friend told me that when she was feeling overwhelmed while writing her thesis paper, she would play Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in the background, and that his gentle voice and reassuring words would give her the strength to power through. I hadn’t watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in years, and had practically forgotten about it altogether, but was excited to see the show with new eyes. But even though I was excited, I never expected a tearful reaction like the one I experienced the second the gentle theme song began to play. Like reuniting with an old friend, I was welcomed back into a world of wonder, magic, and hope. It was a world that I had desperately missed, and while watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on that awful summer evening, I saw a tiny flicker of light at the end of the tunnel. Watching Mister Rogers again made me see the message I had taken for granted as a child. Somehow, Fred Rogers has an almost spiritual way of telling you through the TV exactly what you need to hear when you’ve hit rock bottom. And for me, it was the simple message of “the way you feel won’t last forever.”