I heard on NPR this morning that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood began broadcasting 40 years ago today. While I’m too old to have actually grown up with Mister Rogers — I was 12 when the show began — Fred Rogers and the show hold a special place in my heart.
When I was in college and taking a child development class our professor, whom I considered wise, told us that if a young child is to watch television, the programming should be varied. Sesame Street alone was not enough. If the child watched Sesame Street, he/she should also watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and vice versa. He explained that Mister Rogers, although annoyingly sweet to many adults, was a comforting presence to young children. They could learn to count and learn their letters and sounds from Sesame Street [or The Electric Company], but children also needed reassurance that they were valuable, cared for and loved — even through the TV.
I didn’t think much of Mister Rogers or his neighborhood before then — and if I did, it was probably to make fun of the wholesomeness of the program and his near-feminine demeanor, but I took my professor’s advice to heart and planned on recommending his suggestion to parents of students I’d eventually teach (which I did) and following it in the event I had my own children (which I tried, but they preferred Barney). I also may have watched a few episodes and understood the potential appeal to young children. I became a fan of Fred Rogers at age 21.
Then in 1981 something extraordinary happened. My boyfriend was accepted at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and invited me to come along. I’d not expected to move away from my hometown, but jumped at the opportunity. We searched for apartments, settling on one in the Shadyside neighborhood.
I don’t know when I discovered that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was filmed in Pittsburgh and that Fred Rogers lived in one of the eastern neighborhoods, but it was probably when I worked at the Shadyside Giant Eagle with a woman whose daytime job was on the set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, who when she learned of my fondness for Mister Rogers, brought me a tee-shirt and two records from the show. Or it might have been when Mister Rogers was featured in Carnegie Mellon’s newspaper because he used their tennis courts regularly as it was close to his apartment. While technically not the same neighborhood as Shadyside, Oakland, where CMU is located, is directly west of Shadyside, so they are neighboring neighborhoods. So, you see, I can almost claim to have lived in Mister Rogers Neighborhood.
Besides [almost] living in Mister Rogers’ real-life neighborhood, was the fact that, in the apartment directly below us, lived two and a half college girls. The half of a girl was a girl that claimed she lived in the apartment — her mail came there and she stored some belongings there. But she didn’t live there — although I saw her once or twice. Instead she lived most of the time with her boyfriend.
And guess who her boyfriend was.
He was Mister Rogers’ son.
So even though I fudge a bit on the living in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, I definitely lived in Mister Rogers’ son’s girlfriend’s neighborhood.