OK, I was not a huge fan of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," but the gentle man in the cardigan sweater was certainly a part of my childhood. His soothing voice filled our living room many mornings, often enough that 20 years later I can still hum the tune to "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood."
And so, Thursday's news of Fred Rogers's passing has given me some pause - and prompted me to think back to my childhood, when times seemed simpler and more innocent. A call to my mom reminded me how Mark, my older brother, and I were enthralled with the public-television show's little puppet kingdom and magical trolley in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
"He always seemed very concerned about you being part of his neighborhood," Mom mused. "Even though hundreds of kids were watching, it was like he was talking to you personally."
Mister Rogers's lessons about neighborhood - about how to live peaceably in the company of others - are what set his show apart from most of the rest of TV fare for young children. He was certainly less flashy when compared to such programs as "Sesame Street" and the bouncy "Barney and Friends."
Those lessons about neighborliness are what made several generations of parents trust that they could leave the living room at least half an hour a day without fear the children would fall prey to overstimulation or images of violence.
That commitment to teaching kids about kindness and respect lives on in almost 1,000 shows Rogers taped over the 33-season span of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." In times marked by tension and aggression, it helps to acknowledge the deep impression made by such a friendly and kind neighbor.