February 27, 2003


I learned what a platypus was from Mr. Rogers, and have some foggy memories of the puppets' personalities and voices (all done by Fred himself). But I remember the sets the most vividly; the opening pan of model streets and houses, the owl's tree, the trolley that disappeared into the wall and reappeared at King Friday XIII's castle...

But what I still, to this day, want to know is; what was the deal with that house? Who's house was it? I mean, the show opens with the panning shot, following the street en route to the little red house, and then Fred opens the door and walks into the house, but we're already in it. Then at the end he changes from loafers to shoes, sweater to jacket, and walks out the door leaving us inside. Huh? Was it supposed to be our houses he was visiting? No, 'cause Fred's stuff was in the closet, Fred's food was in the kitchen, and it's where Mr. McFeeley delivered Fred's mail. So when Mr. Rogers left at the end of the show, why was he leaving us there, and where was he going? It stymied me as a kid, and doggone it, it still does.

But my most memorable visit to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood wasn't a childhood visit. In the summer of 1995 several friends and I took a trip up to York, Maine for a week. Norm and I were up early one morning and turned on the TV. "Wow, Mr. Rogers! Haven't seen this in twenty years!"

There was a momentus event in the Land of Make Believe; a dancing horse and Henrietta Pussycat were to be introduced.
Now, my memory of the show I'd seen in the early '70's is hazey, but I remember Henrietta. She would say things like "how meow meow are you Mister meow meow Rogers?" This time the cat was dressed as a witch. Then it started to get weird.
First they were the "World's Smallest Dancing Horse and the Talking Cat-Witch". Eventually they became "the Dancing Horse and the World's Smalling Talking Witch" ("meow meow Cat-Witch" she corrected). I wouldn't doubt that they finally ended up as "the World's Smallest Talking Horse and the Dancing Cat-Witch". Bugs and Elle joined us during the show, and we were just laughing hysterically in a post-all-nighter morning fog as the bizarre storytelling unfolded.

I also remember Fred destroying the illusion. He had model sets of the Land of Make Believe, and would set them up in a line, to show us how they might look as one. And he would occassionally show the actual model of the town that was shown in the opening and closing credits.
So I think the set was not so much a house as it was a home. It was was where we spent our special time together. Fred's sweaters were in the closet and his milk was in the 'fridge just because he was Fred and we were us. It was a special place that wasn't his or yours or mine; it was ours. It was as much a part of the Land of Make-Believe as X the Owl's treehouse.

My friend Stacy, back in high school, met Fred Rogers on the Metroline commuter train that runs from New Haven to New York City. She got his autograph, and gave it to me:

"To Bob, Best wishes from your TV neighbor. Mr. Rogers 1980." I still have it. It's something I keep to remember two friends by.

Posted by Tuning Spork at February 27, 2003 06:14 PM
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