14 November, 2012
Dear Mr. McFeeley
This summer Maurice Sendak died.
That wasn't your fault, of course, but all the subsequent conversations about books that defined my generation's childhood got me thinking. To be perfectly honest, "Where the Wild Things Are" wasn't a favorite that I read over and over; I don't think we even owned a copy. But I got to thinking about the pop cultural artifacts that were a significant part of my early years, and that of course led me to "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."
In one interview Sendak said he hated autographing books for kids, visiting classrooms, etc. because so many kids were terrified that he was going to take away their book, or were confused by the fact that he was going to write in it when they'd always been told not to write in their books. It broke his heart to be misunderstood and feared by the very children he wrote for. "It's such a paradox that I, who adore them, and I'm interested in their welfare, should become their enemy."
I couldn't help but think of that one day you and I met. I was two. You were...well, I actually don't know if you age at all. I think you were born a cheerful mailman with salt-and-pepper hair. Anyway -- you were making an appearance at a local mall, and my mom took me and my big sister to meet you. You were one of the biggest celebrities in our little lives; we watched "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" every day, and some of my favorite segments were the videos you delivered. You always brought a video about some slice of life we hadn't considered before (the crayon factory was totally my favorite) and you probably always let Mr. Rogers think you hadn't anticipated his question, as though he'd never asked it before: "D'you suppose those people making the blue jeans ever think about all the children that will wear those jeans?"
But, Mr. McFeeley, I cried when we met. I mustn't project Maurice Sendak's feelings onto you, but I must apologize for crying. Did it worry you the way it would've worried Sendak? I was just a very fearful child in general; clowns, thunderstorms, The Dark -- you name it, I feared it. It wasn't you, it was me. I want you to know, though, that I later developed a lifelong affection for the Postal Service. When I eventually learned how to write I collected an excessive number of penpals. I sent and received letters every single day; the coming of the mail was The Main Event of my day (I know, it's sad). I waited by the window around the time The Mail Lady usually drove by in her truck, ready to bolt out the door as soon as she'd shoved our delivery into the mailbox and taken whatever letter I was sending. I'd open the box in breathless anticipation. Where were my letters from today? Florida? Louisiana? Hawaii? The Mail Lady brought me treasure from a world whose size I couldn't fully grasp.
I digress. All that is to say, eventually I got over my fear of postal personnel, and rather wished I could get a "do-over" of our meeting. For a time I actually wanted to grow up to be a mail lady because I had such fond associations with the daily mail delivery. I'm sure if we were to meet today, we'd have a lovely chat about postal uniforms, the price of stamps, and how you select videos for Mr. Rogers. That crayon one, that was pretty great.