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Michael Beller’s Corner: Growing Up

Michael Beller.
Michael Beller.

Growing up, I was devoted to Mister Rogers. His clothes, mannerisms, and the fact that he could visit the Neighborhood of Make-Believe at will, amazed and delighted me. He was my hero and I wanted to be just like him.

One day, my mom relented to the intense pressure brought by my sister and me and bought each of us a kitten. Elise’s kitten was a shining white cotton ball of a cat that she excitedly misnamed Butterfly. Butterfly was bad news. Mean as the dickens, Butterfly bit, scratched and terrified the entire household, including the dog. Butterfly would enter a room and everyone would have to leave or be mangled. When Butterfly ripped a hole in the screen door and ran away about a month after we got him, everyone was secretly relieved.

My kitten was the exact opposite of Butterfly. An unremarkable tortoiseshell, my kitten loved laps and cuddling, and part of her daily routine was to curl up with our dog in a sunbeam. Not having the imagination or the creativity my sister, I didn’t come up with a cool kitten name like Butterfly. Instead, I named my kitten Towel, I suspect because both kittens and towels are soft and comforting.

Anyway, one day Towel and I were watching Mister Rogers when Mister Rogers did something incredible! Mister Rogers brought in his cat! What a moment it was for me. I was wearing a sweater like Mister Rogers, I had on shoes like Mister Rogers, and I had a cat JUST LIKE MISTER ROGERS! It was a brilliant moment in my life. I was certain that at any moment there would be a knock on the front door and I would be handed the keys to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Mister Rogers then introduced us to his cat, a cat he had named Pink-Paws because, as he showed his viewers, Pink-Paws had pink paws.

In a flash, I had Towel on her back, paws up for the entire world to see and, to my joy, Towel’s paws looked identical to Pink Paws’ paws. Sadly, though, I was still quite young and hadn’t yet mastered my colors — and also, we only had a 13-inch black and white TV. In reality, Towel’s paws were speckled grey with not even a hint of pink. My mom, not wanting to crush my dreams, dutifully allowed me to change Towel’s name to Pink Paws, and Pink Paws lived happily with us for many more years.

What does all of this have to do with libraries? Everything! Did you know that Mister Rogers’s real name was Fred Rogers and that one of his (awesome) cardigan sweaters hangs in the hallowed halls of the Smithsonian Institution? His biography (as well as articles on his significance) is available to you from the library’s Electronic Resources page in the database “Biography in Context.”

Mister Roger's sweater at the Smithsonian. (Wikimedia Commons)
Mister Roger’s sweater at the Smithsonian. (Wikimedia Commons)

Meanwhile, in addition to the many physical books on cat anatomy, behavior, and cat poems that are available at the library, I can use the library’s electronic resources to find out that 30.4 percent of United States households have cats, and then break those down by household income (from the database “Statistical Abstract of the United States”) and then read scholarly articles about cats’ importance to the emotional well-being of humans in PsycINFO (through EBSCO).

Or, using the database JSTOR, I can discover the difficulties of simultaneously training larger felines from different species (a lion and a tiger maybe) from the The Irish Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 26 (Dec. 26, 1840)! No, that isn’t a misprint. We really do have access to articles from EIGHTEEN FORTY!!! By the way, the article suggests having at least two muskets on hand — you know, just in case.

Finally, the importance of towels is discussed in Douglas Adams’ book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and while that book might be considered a work of fiction, I think that Douglas Adams was onto something sublimely true. A very young me must have understood something of that to have named my beloved first pet Towel. Of course, maybe “Towel” was the first thing that came to my 6-year-old mind after I used her to dry my hands.