As a little boy, there was nothing I liked better than Sunday aftemoons at my grandfather's farm in western Pennsylvania. Surrounded by miles of winding stonewalls, the house and barn provided endless hours of fun for a city kid like me. I was used to parlors neat as a pin that seemed to whisper, "Not to be touched!"
I can still remember one afternoon when I was eight years old. Since my first visit to the farm, I'd wanted more than anything to be allowed to climb the stonewalls surrounding the property. My parents would never approve. The walls were old; some stones were missing, others loose and crumbling. Still, my yearning to scramble across those walls grew so strong. One spring afternoon, I summoned all my courage and entered the living room, where the adults had gathered after dinner.
"I, uh, I want to climb the stonewalls," I said hesitantly. Everyone looked up. "Can I climb the stonewalls?" Instantly a chorus went up from the women in the room. "Heavens, no!" they cried in dismay. "You'll hurt yourself!" I wasn't too disappointed; the response was just as I'd expected. But before I could leave the room, I was stopped by my grandfather' s booming voice. "Hold on just a minute," I heard him say, "Let the boy climb the stonewalls. He has to learn to do things for himself."
"Scoot," he said to me with a wink, "and come and see me when you get back." For the next two and a half hours I climbed those old walls and had the time of my life. Later I met with my grandfather to tell him about my adventure. I'll never forget what he said. "Fred," he said, grinning, "you made this day a special day just by being yourself. Always remember, there's only one person in this whole world like you, and I like you exactly as you are."
Many years have passed since then, and today I host the television program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, seen by millions of children throughout America. There have been changes over the years, but one thing remains the same: my message to children at the end of almost every visit, "There's only one person in this whole world like you, and people can like you exactly as you are."