Mr. Rogers would have been 85 years old today. He was a kind, gentle soul who created television programming for children that was thoughtful and educational. He was also a local boy, born and raised in the Pittsburgh area. After becoming an ordained minister, he got his start as a television personality on WQED. He wanted to change the way television treated children, and he succeeded.
I have to say, as a child I was never a huge fan of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” Even from an early age, I need more excitement, thrills, and action. I watched “Zoom” and “The Electric Company,” but preferred “Lost in Space” or “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.” I was a hopeless sci-fi fan even from an early age, and Mr. Rogers didn’t offer laser guns or robots. What he did create, however, was still magical.
I remember waiting and watching as the trolley disappeared into his wall. For me, that was the best part of the show. The track ran through his living room, and the little hole in his wall was a doorway to possibilities. As soon as I would hear the sound of the trolley’s bell, I would sit up in anticipation. We had no idea what would happen next; we could only imagine.
Unfortunately, the Neighborhood of Make-Believe never quite lived up to what I imagined. Lady Elaine Fairchild was creepy. Henrietta Pussycat annoyed me with her constant meowing. Daniel Tiger was a wimp. Even as a small child, I can remember thinking, “I got excited for that?”
But I still came back for it, for that trolley and that moment of wonder, and that is Mr. Roger’s true gift. He taught us to create our own Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Mine was a little different from his, since it was inhabited entirely by aliens, time travelers, and magical beings, but it was the perfect place for me to stretch my imagination as a child.
I’m sure his program meant different things to different children. For some his was a soothing voice in a harsh world, for others he was the only father figure they had, and for many his neighborhood may have seemed like a safe haven when reality was very different. But for me, it's still all about that little red trolley and the door to anywhere. Thank you, Fred Rogers.