By Gerald Hausman
Bokeelia, FL, USA
There are mentors we remember and some of them go back to first or second grade - that is, for me they do. But the most unforgettable mentor was one I met and became friends with during the 1980s. I refer to Mr. Rogers. He was a friend of a friend of a friend and somehow we got to be friends. I visited him in Pittsburgh, swam with him in New Mexico and stayed in Latrobe, Pennsylvania with him, and then we exchanged letters, cards and phone calls.
Fred was a swimmer, a Pisces, and I shared a love of water with him. No matter that every time we got into a pool, he swam like a fish and I, well, I swam like a whale, good enough but slow next to Fred. Fred streaked through the water. The last time I spoke to him on the phone, he asked how the water was and I said, "It's fine, come over, Fred, and we'll swim in our pond and scare the snapping turtles." He laughed. "There's nothing I'd rather do, but I'm afraid there's something I have to do first." He didn't tell me what that thing was but later I found out it was dying. He did write me a card before he passed: "Keep the water rippling. I'll be there in a while."
I recall the time, some years earlier, when I sent Fred a copy of my picture book Eagle Boy, illustrated by Barry Moser and his daughter Cara. Fred called me when he got the book and said it was his favorite of mine, and he went on about it. He loved the pictures and the story, but as much as he loved them he explained that, "I love whatever it was within you that brought this story out of you. I appreciate what made you write this and give it to others."
Fred's premise - and this is the reason he was such a great mentor - was that nothing is more fulfilling than helping others. He didn't, he couldn't, think of himself first. What a wonderful way to be a writer, an artist, a teller of tales, a puppet-master, a singer and piano player. What a wonderful way to just be. That's what Fred was so special at - being. And helping others be the best they could be in whatever they did or wanted to do.
My favorite Fred story - and everyone has one who knew Fred personally - was when we were going up the stairs to his TV studio in Pittsburgh. On the way up we met a woman who was hand-scrubbing the stairs. She was crouched there with bucket and brush, soapsuds and busy hands.
"Oh, be careful," she said over her shoulder. Then she saw who it was.
President Bush greets Fred Rogers (2002)
Her eyes lit up and she smiled and became a child again. "I've been waiting for years to meet you," she said. "And here you are."
"And there you are," Fred said, smiling. Then he added, "And, do you know, I have waited my whole life to meet you."
The amazing thing is that Fred meant every word of it.
How great a teacher is that? A person who means every word that he says and expects nothing in return except the gladness of being.
To be Fred wasn't always easy, I could see that. People crossed the street to see him, to meet him, to touch him. He was that kind of man.
When I think about it, no teacher gave me more courage to be myself. To love and cherish…being me.
Thank you, Fred, and keep the water rippling.
Gerald Hausman - Author & Storyteller
Gerald Hausman's profile at Stay Thirsty Publishing
Gerald Hausman, author and storyteller, calls himself a native of the world. He is the author of 70 books, some of which have been made into films, many of which have been translated into foreign languages. His latest book, The American Storybag, was released by Stay Thirsty Press in October, 2010.