Jewish World Review Feb. 28, 2003 / 26 Shevat, 5763

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

My relationship with Mister Rogers | I've had a thing for Mister Rogers since the mid-'80s. Since he was strictly two-dimensional, old enough to be my father, and unable to come out from behind the television screen, the relationship never posed a serious threat to the marriage.

I hadn't thought of Mister Rogers much since the early 90s when we kicked the morning PBS habit as our youngest shuffled off to school. But now with his passing, I don't know how many times in recent days I've opened the hall closet, grabbed a hanger, momentarily paused and smiled at the thought of my old flame.

I loved Mister Rogers and I need to tell you why.

Mister Rogers was front porch, Main Street, U.S.A. from start to finish. His style didn't change much over 34 years of broadcasting. While other childrens' programming immersed itself in the entertainment culture with music and lights, and bells and whistles, and rapid fire cuts helping fuel short attention spans, Mister Rogers maintained a slow and steady even pace.

Other shows for children were written with a subscript directed to parents, laced with inside jokes and spotlighting celebrity guests far more familiar to adults than kids. Not Mister Rogers. He never morphed into a big purple dinosaur with clumsy dance moves and a sound track retailing for only $19.95. (Hurry now, kids, maybe you can get the lunch box and jammies to match!) He remained a soft-spoken man who lived in a simple house in a friendly neighborhood and wore a plain dark cardigan.

Mister Rogers was a marketing nightmare. Year after year it was the same old "Won't you be my neighbor?" same old puppets, same old Land of Make Believe and same old visits from slow moving and even slower talking McMister Feeley.

Cornball humor? Oh yeah. Somewhat boring? I thought so. But that's why I loved Mr Rogers. He wasn't talking to me, he was talking to kids. Mister Rogers, was one of a kind. An adult, acting like an adult, interacting with kids.

I loved Mister Rogers because he was safe. I could leave the kids alone to watch his show and tend to other things, knowing full well the content of Mister Roger's agenda: kindness, love and respect. Sometimes I'd poke my head in just to get a dose myself, just to hear that soothing voice say, "You know something? You're special."

I loved Mister Rogers because he honored childhood and respected children. Children weren't cash cows to be milked, they were innocence and curiosity, eager to learn about the world around them. They were quite simply, each and every one of them, his neighbors.

We saw one of his sweaters at the Smithsonian. It was just like I thought it would be. Worn, slightly stretched out of shape and a dull forest green Very homey. Very warm.

Many, many sweaters ago, I remember an appearance Mister Rogers made on the Tonight Show back when Johnny Carson was host. Carson was trying to milk the visit for a laugh. He cocked his head, flashed that crooked grin and said, "So what is it with you and all these kids?" The implication was something kinky (this was before the days of Neverland and Michael Jackson, when such a bizarre insinuation could earn a comic a cheap laugh). Mister Rogers didn't play along. He leaned forward and in his pay-attention-now-because-I'm-going-to-say-something-very-important voice, he said, "It's love. Just love."

Mister Rogers died of stomach cancer at the age of 74. He will always be loved and he will always be our neighbor.

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JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids. To comment, please click here. To visit her website click here.

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© 2001, Lori Borgman