Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Mister Rogers, Madaket Millie & Me
I received an incredible package from Family Communications today. It is the Holy Grail of video tapes that connects Mister Rogers to Madaket. We've been seeking it for inclusion in our documentary, "Mister Rogers & Me," for over three years.
The hour-long special, "Old Friends... New Friends," premiered in 1978 and features Mister Rogers' visits with animal activist (and "Golden Girl") Betty White, and Nantucket resident and honorary Coast Guard Warrant Officer (and local legend), "Madaket Millie" Jewett.
Local photographer Beverly Hall's photo of Fred and Millie hung in the living room of the West Wind, the cottage my mother rented there in Madaket, well prior to either of our realization that Mister Rogers himself lived next door. Of course, Chris and I visited Miss Hall in January, 2008. She was friends with both Fred and Millie, and told us the story about that day. Finally, then, I get to see the segment. And it's incredible!
Fred and Millie wander around the yard of her little cottage still standing today on the edge of Hither Creek (right across the street from the house my mom rented last year, just to the right edge of this photo).
As always, Mister Rogers goes straight for the heart. He asks about her childhood, about which she initially demures. With some empathic coaxing, though, we learn that she was born and raised there in Madaket before there were roads or electricity. Her mother died when she was young. She spent the bulk of her life alone there on the quiet, blustery edge of the island, a steely, terse curmudgeon who avoids eye contact, but loves her many pets and keeps watch over the choppy waters of the West End.
"You know, you have helped so many human beings," Fred says to her. "And so many people care about you..."
She is at first stunned, then momentarily moved, looking up to Fred with momentary vulnerability.
"Anybody who needs a helping hand if I can help, I don't what time of day or night it is, if it's three o'clock in the afternoon or two o'clock in the morning, I don't care what time it is. I do the best I can."
Back in his Pittsburgh studio for the end of the segment, Fred says, "There are so many different ways of expressing love, some very forceful and busy others very quiet and calm. I guess one of the great blessings of this life is being able to recognize love wherever we find it. And feeling confident in our own ways of expressing it."
Like most things Fred Rogers related, it is perfectly timed, arriving at my desk at the tail end of a thirteen-hour day just three days into a year that is already moving at a relentless pace.
Thanks, FCI. Thanks, Bev Hall. And thanks, Mister Rogers.