He was a child, once, too, and so one day I asked him if I could go with him back to Latrobe. He thought about it for a second is benaughty free, then said, by way of agreement, “Okay, then-tomorrow, Tom, I’ll show you childhood.” Not his childhood, mind you, or even a childhood-no, just “childhood.” And so the next morning, we swam together, and then he put on his boxer shorts and the dark socks, and the T-shirt, and the gray trousers, and the belt, and then the white dress shirt and the black bow tie and the gray suit jacket, and about two hours later we were pulling up to the big brick house on Weldon Street in Latrobe, and Mister Rogers was thinking about going inside.
There was nobody home. The doors were open, unlocked, because the house was undergoing a renovation of some kind, but the owners were away, and Mister Rogers’s boyhood home was empty of everyone but workmen. “Do you think we can go in?” he asked Bill Isler, president of Family Communications, the company that produces Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Bill had driven us there, and now, sitting behind the wheel of his red Grand Cherokee, he was full of remonstrance. “No!” he said. “Fred, they’re not home. If we wanted to go into the house, we should have called first. Fred…” But Mister Rogers was out of the car, with his camera in his hand and his legs moving so fast that the material of his gray suit pants furled and unfurled around both of his skinny legs, like flags exploding in a breeze. And here, as he made his way through thickets of bewildered workmen-this skinny old man dressed in a gray suit and a bow tie, with his hands on his hips and his arms akimbo, like a dance instructor-there was some kind of wiggly jazz in his legs, and he went flying all around the outside of the house, pointing at windows, saying there was the room where he learned to play the piano, and there was the room where he saw the pie fight on a primitive television, and there was the room where his beloved father died…until finally we reached the front door. He put his hand on the knob; he cracked it open, but then, with Bill Isler calling caution from the car, he said, “Maybe we shouldn’t go in. And all the people who made this house special to me are not here, anyway. They’re all in heaven.”
We were heading there all along, because Mister Rogers loves graveyards, and so as we took the long, straight road out of sad, fading Latrobe, you could still feel the speed in him, the hurry, as he mustered up a sad anticipation, and when we passed through the cemetery gates, he smiled as he said to Bill Isler, “The plot’s at the end of the yellow-brick road.” And so it was; the asphalt ended, and then we began bouncing over a road of old blond bricks, until even that road ended, and we were parked in front of the place where Mister Rogers is to be buried. He got out of the car, and, moving as quickly as he had moved to the door of his house, he stepped up a small hill to the door of a large gray mausoleum, a huge structure built for six, with a slightly peaked roof, and bronze doors, and angels living in the stained glass. ” The window was of darkened glass, though, and so to see through it, we had to press our faces close against it, and where the glass had warped away from the frame of the door-where there was a finger-wide crack-Mister Rogers’s voice leaked into his grave, and came back to us as a soft, hollow echo.