To the Editor:
Most of America knew Mr. Rogers by his TV neighborhood but Mr. Rogers had another neighborhood in Nantucket at Smith Point. His unimposing, weathered, “Crooked House” perched on the edge of the dunes just west of the Smith Point gate house, has been the summer destination for Mr. Rogers and his family for decades. His cousin, “Captain” Tom Okanak and his wife, Peggy, who live just down the beach in Mr. Roger’s mother’s old chauffeur’s cottage, introduced us to Mr. Rogers in the mid nineties. It was the second summer my husband, Tim Russert, and our young son, Luke, came to vacation at Smith Point. So much of that neighborhood still embodies the warmth and gentleness of Mr. Rogers.
“Come sit down here right next to me, Luke,” Mr. Rogers beckoned our then eight-year-old who thought he was way beyond Mr. Rogers. The gathering was the neighborhood’s annual end of the season potluck feast, “Thanksgiving Dinner”, celebrated for the good times we had together all summer long, whether at the traditional clambake or on the boat rides to Tukernuck. Thirty or more neighbors crammed into the little cottage to relive their best fish stories and aquatic adventures.
Soon Luke and the other children present were beguiled as Mr. Rogers had them coloring on paper plates where each picture eventually became a part of a clock that Mr. Rogers showed them how to make. He was as patient and soft spoken as he was on television. At first it seemed a bit surreal that this really was Mr. Rogers in the flesh, in his sneakers no less, talking to my child as if he were a captivating grown up.
As we left, Luke pressed his hand to the glass door to say goodbye to Mr. Rogers on the other side of the glass. Mr. Rogers immediately placed his hand up on the glass covering Luke’s hand with his own. They both left their hands there for a long moment and I realized the instant intuitive connection and understanding that Mr. Rogers had with all children. It showed me the kindness and the wisdom that allowed Fred Rogers to leap through the glass of television screens nationwide to touch millions of children every day.
We will miss you on Nantucket, Mr. Rogers: you were part of the magic.
— Maureen Orth