Raised on PBS and Little Debbie . . . Part 3
As much as I love Sesame Street, it wasn’t the only program that I enjoyed on public television. Another favorite was Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Whenever I see a trolley or a pair of navy blue Keds, I am transported back to being 4 years old and soaking up every minute of his show.
There were several aspects of Fred Rogers show (and life) that were just plain magical to me. I adored how he focused right on the kids at home when he shook off the burdens of the outside world while changing into his beloved cardigan and sneakers. The feeling that he was excited to be home to see me is a lesson that I have never forgotten. Of course, that routine wouldn’t have been complete without feeding the fish in the aquarium. A simple act of love reinforced by repetition.
I think my love of documentaries was forged while watching MRN, because I am still riveted by the episodes where he took us to the factories that made toilet paper and crayons. Seeing how something was made, really helped me to look at the world in a different way. In my grown-up hometown, we actually have a company named SpeeDee Delivery, and every time I see one of their trucks, I think of Mr. McFeely (more on him later) and smile.
Yet it was when he sat by the bench seat next to Trolley’s tracks that I loved the most. Even today in my forties, I sincerely wish I could travel on Trolley to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. As long as I can remember I have had a wonderful imagination, inspired by Mr. Rogers and nurtured by my parents. My imagination has been one of my very best friends, keeping me busy on many adventures throughout my life, and Mr. Rogers had a whole world of make believe.
In the land of Make-Believe, I developed deep fondness for several characters, but I must admit, I wasn’t all that crazy about Lady Elaine. As a true Southern girl, I always wondered who did her make-up, and I knew I didn’t want to grow up to be a schemer like her. Daniel Tiger just made me smile, and I always wished he would learn to be bold. Henrietta had a “paws-tively” charming effect of slipping “Meow” into just about every sentence. But my true love was X the Owl. His love of inventions and Ben Franklin, in particular, were right up this future science and math teacher’s alley. Everything X did was exciting to this little budding scientist.
In my childhood hometown of Pensacola, a few years ago the PBS station was celebrating 40 years of broadcasting. I was asked (because my mom had connections) to come and be a part of a panel of speakers regarding how much that station had shaped our lives. (Life circumstances didn’t work out; so, I didn’t get to attend.) If I had, I would have shared some of the stories I am sharing in this series, along with this little nugget of trivia. Almost 40 years ago, I had a brush with my favorite mailman and another friend from MRN, Purple Panda. They came to Pensacola, and I had the opportunity to meet them and interact with them. I think I might have even been featured in the News-Journal as a photo all those years ago.
What I remember from that day was how incredibly kind the characters were. How could they not be? They were a part of show created by one of the most loving, creative, and generous men to ever live. A few years back, I read an article written by a reporter who had a friendship with Fred Rogers. In the article the man shared how Mr. Rogers probably saved his life. It was through the genuine interest and care given by Mr. Rogers that the author realized that he was of value, thus saving him from a life-ending choice. The author shared that Mr. Rogers often ended his correspondence with four letters: IPOY. After many years of curiosity, he finally mustered the courage to ask what the four letters meant. The message was simple: I’m Proud Of You.
If I had been able to speak on the influence of PBS in my life, I would have shared how educational programming fostered my lifelong love of learning. I would have told how I was encouraged to dream, to create, and to use my imagination. Now, all these years later, I was utilizing those skills as a teacher and a mom to do the same for another generation of children.
And in my heart, I believe that if I had ever gotten to meet him in person, Mr. Rogers would have penned an “IPOY” note to me, as well.