Mr. Rogers once said, "I find out more and more every day how important it is for people to share their memories."
I have always liked Mr. Rogers. When he was alive, he found simple ways to talk about feelings and events that were, in reality, not simple at all. As he appeared from our television (when the rabbit ears were positioned correctly) he seemed very wise, for someone in a cardigan.
Mr. Rogers was from my mother's hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania. His calming, genteel drawl is actually the local accent there, which may be a key to the reason I liked him. It may also be why, even as an adult, I find Latrobe a comfortable place to be.
On a recent trip "out East", my family made a stop in that wonderful little town to visit with my mother's oldest living relative. She is a widowed Great Aunt, just a few years shy of 100. She is a joy. She is also one of the sharpest people you'll find.
It was wonderful to see my three children interacting with her in completely different ways. The youngest, my 2-year-old daughter, immediately reached up to feel her hair and touched her face to see how soft it was. My Aunt was elated at her tenderness.
Later in the visit, my 5-year-old came up for a nice close look. He said over his shoulder to me (as if my Aunt weren't there), "Mommy, why does she look so... old?"
To her credit, my Aunt laughed. "Children are so honest, aren't they?" she said, in her Mr. Rogers voice. I put my son on the spot by asking how old he thought she really was. He demurred.
"I couldn't say." A pause. "Oh, maybe about 79."
My Aunt was supremely complimented. "He says I look 79!" she repeated several times during the rest of our visit. "But I get that a lot." she beamed.
My oldest boy, just finishing first grade, had a different take on visiting someone so close to a century old. He wanted to know about her history. And as every boy knows, history begins with your first car.
My Aunt told us about her Nash, purchased in Europe after the end of World War II. "Jimmy [her husband] told me I could have any car I wanted. They had Mercedes and BMWs, even back then. But I was such an American girl. I had to have an American car. So, there I was, driving through Europe in that Nash. Everywhere we went, people knew us by that car."
As children do, they soon decided it was time to explore. So, my husband took them for a walk to get a cookie from the nurses and to meet the other residents. I was glad to be left alone with my Aunt for a bit.
When I was a baby, she and our family lived closer. My Great Uncle Jimmy had passed away, and my Aunt enjoyed visiting with us, holding me, teaching me things. She called me 'precious'. Now that we were alone, she addressed me with that old name.
"Oh, Precious. Doesn't it just amaze you how fast the time goes? I remember holding you when you were the same age your daughter is now." She put her hands on her temples and her eyes were wet. "Life is just so wonderful, isn't it?"
All I could think of was how grateful I am for this woman and for the opportunity to share my family with her and hear her stories and share our time together. I feel pride in knowing that I have a connection with such a remarkable woman as my Aunt.
Of course, I will always wish that I lived closer or stayed longer. But to me, it is so important to maintain the connection between generations. And someday, my children will remember my "79" year-old Aunt with soft hair and skin and a beige Nash.
But, even if they don't remember, I will. It is a memory I will love to share.