This week, I was planning to share some time-saving tips for making your Thanksgiving celebration easier and more relaxing, however, I got so busy scalding and plucking my deceased (may they rest in peace) chickens, followed by pealing and cooking my pumpkins into puree for pumpkin pies, that Thanksgiving was over before I knew it! I’ll save all of my helpful hints for an easy holiday meal for next year. Instead, I’ll divert you with lessons learned in the course of my peculiar childhood.
Everything I needed to know about life I gleaned from my constant reading of Archie comic books and the Peanuts comic strip. My mom bought me several collections of Charles M. Schulz’s well known, and well-loved, comic strips. The Archie comics have long since been reduced to shreds, but the hardcover Peanuts books are with me still. Back then, I had every single one of those books (and there are several!) memorized from front to back. I used to have one of them lying open on the kitchen table for every breakfast and lunch during the long, lazy, summer months and/or the cold, cabin fever winters. I simply could not sit down to eat without something fun to read, some source of light entertainment. I’m sure you could find a few Spaghettios’ sauce splotches, ketchup smears, or chocolate stains still hiding amongst the pages today. When I was young and unenlightened, I thought the Peanuts comics were just plain fun…and funny. But, now, as a wizened grown-up, I realize that everything I didn’t learn in kindergarten, I was taught by all the Peanuts characters.
Let’s just start with Charlie Brown. Charlie is the lost, lonely little child in all of us. He loves baseball, but he’s a terrible manager, stuck with an inept, uninterested group of athletes on his hapless, homespun team. He never gets any valentines, even though he stands next to his mailbox hoping one will magically appear from the red-haired girl, with whom he is hopelessly in love. His kite always ends up crashing into the kite-eating tree, he always gets rocks in his trick-or-treat bag, and Lucy always pulls the football out from under him just as he takes a wild kick, sending him flying into the air. And the only help he gets in dealing with all this is the crazy, self-seeking counsel from Lucy’s psychiatric advice stand (5¢ per session). And his dog…well, he’s definitely not man’s best friend, as far as Charlie is concerned. However, through all of his struggles, Charlie Brown never gives up, and his one, true friend, Linus, is always there to encourage him. Think about that the next time things go wrong for you, and call on your inner Charlie Brown – try one more time, because you never know if this might just be the time when Lucy decides to leave the ball in position, and you’ll stand there amazed, watching as your football soars into the sky!
Speaking of Linus, how many of us have our moments of insecurity, bordering on sheer terror, when we wish we had a security blanket in which to bury our face and our fears? Linus suffers such insecurity that he can barely make it through washday, almost passing out before the end of the drying cycle. His big sister, Lucy, enjoys bossing him around and teasing him about his weakness. Snoopy likes to terrorize him, too, by snatching the blanket from him, and spinning him round and round if he doesn’t let go. Does Linus allow this weakness to hold him down? No, he doesn’t! He is confident in who he is, and he’s a wise and loyal playmate, always capable of saying the right thing to a friend in need, or pointing out the philosophical significance of an ordinary occurrence. We all have our moments, when self-doubt can freeze us in our tracks, but Linus would tell us to ignore our phobias, and forge ahead, and perhaps have an extra blanket handy for emergencies.
That brings me to Lucy, the self-proclaimed queen of crabbiness. People get on her nerves with very little provocation. She attends a crabbiness support group, and you better watch your step on meeting days! She knows the Achilles heel of all within her little comic strip world, and she aims right for it with amazing accuracy. She tries to manipulate and control with her cantankerously cutting comments, but she fails to have much of an effect on anyone (except for Charlie Brown). The person she would most like to snare in her web is Schroeder, the resident artist of the comic cast, but Schroeder, like all true creative souls, is at home only within his own expressive realm of (in his case) piano performance. Even though he plays on one of those antique, tinny-sounding toy pianos with about two octaves, he produces sounds of a concert pianist extraordinaire, until Lucy gets irritated with the artist and gives up on her oozy, beguiling sweetness long enough to get him mad. When that happens, we hear the true voice of the piano…and the irritated pianist! Schroeder brings out the soft side in Lucy, while she often draws out the best of his creative genius. Think of the two of them the next time your spouse or best friend is irritating the crap out of you…opposites attract for a reason!
I can’t mention Schroeder without getting a picture in my mind’s eye of Snoopy in the Peanuts Christmas video. Snoopy is the wild and crazy, devil-may-care persona which abides in all of us. It rises to the surface at least occasionally, if not with alarming regularity. In the animated special, Snoopy is jitterbugging to the amazing dance tunes provided by Schroeder’s flying fingers on his skimpy keyboard, and the music suddenly stops. All eyes are on Snoopy as he continues dancing with wild abandon, until it finally dawns on him that he is dancing alone, the room gone quiet. He gets embarrassed and slinks away, but we don’t feel too badly for him, because we all know he’s rebounded quickly, and is off somewhere on another reckless adventure. Snoopy is actually like most dogs we know. He is spoiled and weird and in his own little world, and, when he is not sleeping, he is usually involved in some sort of mischief. I guess that’s easy to understand, considering his owner is wishy-washy Charlie Brown, who couldn’t discipline a dog to save his life. But, still, we love Snoopy, because he’s wildly entertaining and he knows how to live in the moment, along with his strange assortment of friends.
There are lots of other eccentric characters in the Peanuts gang, each with their own little quirks. Freda has the naturally curly hair, which she mentions at every appearance, and Pig-Pen can get dirty walking in a snowstorm. Sally (Charlie Brown’s little sister) has a crush on Linus, who is still too busy with his blankie to care about girls. Woodstock, Snoopy’s little bird friend, is probably the cutest of all, even if he can’t fly in a straight line. Quirkiness aside, however, they all reveal to us the tendency in ourselves to cling to certain behaviors long after we realize they’re not working. The characters also give us the strength and courage to move above and beyond our limitations, and to realize that every day is a clean slate, upon which a masterpiece may be written, if only we are willing to let it happen.
A footnote: I hope you got a chance to enjoy “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” last week, in it’s annual airing on TV. If not, be sure to mark your calendar for “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” sure to be coming up sometime soon! And, in case you were wondering, Charles M. Schulz was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1922. He died on February 12, 2000, leaving to all of us the rich legacy of the Peanuts characters, which still entertains and enlightens today. Thank you, Mr. Charles M. Schulz, for many, many years of smiles and laughter, and for showing us the fears and dreams inside our own, fragile souls!