Monday, January 30, 2017
Quiet Man, Good Man
If there was a word to use to sum up Fred Rogers, the wonderful children's icon, to me it would be goodness. He exuded gentleness, kindness and an all-around goodness. With his soft voice, simple sweet songs and adorable world of make-believe, this man warmed many hearts and was father figure to some, friend to others.
I was fortunate enough to have met him one time in my life; a very dark time for me. As a young girl of twelve, I lay in a bed at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in the nineteen seventies. I had curvature of the spine, or scoliosis, and would be undergoing major surgery--the kind that was very serious and extremely frightening. There had been talk of paralysis for some of the girls who had the surgery before, so it was a very real possibility. Also I knew that I would be wearing a plaster cast over most of my body for many months. Twelve is an age of body awareness and the discovery of boys. But for me, it was a time of much uncertainty.
The plaster body casts were always put on before surgery in those days, and then cut for the procedure later. It was a day my parents hadn't arrived yet for their visit. I lay in a bed in a ward of twelve girls or so, but because I was unable to move, sit up or anything, all I could do was feel sorry for myself and succumb to a feeling of gloom and depression. I heard a bit of excited chatter and wondered what the hoopla was about. A few moments later, Mr. Rogers appeared in our ward, stopping to talk with each of the girls, tarrying longer with some, but always speaking kindly--gently. When he arrived before me, I was able to manage a smile. This was a Pittsburgh celebrity, and even in my morose state, I felt honored to meet him. He put out a hand to touch my face and exclaimed, "What a pretty girl." I don't remember much else, but that moment shone for me in an otherwise dark time.
Many people through the years mentioned how much my own father resembled Fred Rogers. He and Dad could have passed for brothers with their looks, but it was much more than that. My father exuded many of the characteristics of Mr. Rogers as well. He had a soft-spoken way about him; an imagination, humor and charm. During my surgery, my father stands out in my mind as the one person who was such a rock of strength, but also of humor. He would bend over backward to make his little girl smile.
My father was a postal clerk and he had a zipper sweater that resembled the one Mr. Rogers would zip into and out of during his television show. One evening a friend of mine and I were watching t.v. when Dad went into his best rendition of "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" zipping himself into the sweater while two little girls giggled. It's a memory I will cherish forever, much like the few moments I was blessed to have met one of the most wonderful men ever--Fred Rogers.
Dad on my porch . . .