Sparky And Chuck

Photo from Wikipedia

Both Charles Schulz and Charlie Brown had nicknames. Schulz was called Sparky when he was just two days old. His uncle gave him the name which was based on the character, Sparkplug in the Barney Google comic strip. Charlie Brown received the nickname Chuck from Peppermint Patty, a sandal wearing, tomboy like girl who had a crush on him and never seemed to realize his name was Charlie. But, that is not where the similarities end.

To understand Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts cast, we must first know, really, deeply know Charles Schulz. Why did his main character, a rather round and plain faced kid who could never do anything right, capture the hearts of everyone who read comics from the 1950s until the retirement of Schulz in December 1999?

In the book, “A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Making of A Tradition” we are introduced to Charles Schulz as a quiet and gentle man of deep faith with a love of country and an eternally optimistic outlook on life.

The Destiny of Sparky

Charles Schulz, the son of a barber and a housewife, grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. Unlike Charlie Brown, Schulz was an only child. From an early age he enjoyed drawing; his artistic abilities were noticed by his kindergarten teacher who told him he would grow up to be an artist. Never underestimate the power of a teacher’s observation.

Schulz was a shy and insecure young man. His profound shyness made school unpleasant; even art classes were no refuge for him. His insecurities caused him to compare and always find his work lacking. For this reason when it came time to attend art school he did it via correspondence course to avoid the same issues of high school.

I was afraid to go to art school, because I’d be right back where I was in high school—in a class with a lot of people who could draw better than I could. And I’d be a nobody again.

Charles Schulz as quoted in A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Making of a Tradition

Despite this insecurity and multiple rejections, Schulz had drive and a sense of eternal optimism, and I believe a sense of purpose and destiny, that pushed him until The Saturday Evening Post published fifteen of his comics. The door had opened and he stepped through, never looking backward.

The Lessons Thus Far

I have loved the whole Peanuts gang my entire life; however, I have never really delved beyond the surface to really know and understand the individuals. I was content to read the comics everyday and watch the Christmas special each year, to decorate with my favorite ornaments and yard decor, but I didn’t take the time to dissect the deeper meaning to the characters and the story. The humor, as is always the case, is rooted in truth. I dare say there isn’t a person alive anywhere who doesn’t identify, at some level, with Charlie Brown and his insecurities.

There is no doubt that Charlie Brown is Charles Schulz. The story of Schulz and his views on himself shed all the light we need on Charlie Brown and his approach to life. The insecurity and acknowledgment of being different never stops him from trying yet one more time to kick the football or fly the kite. Everyone may jeer and tell him he is a bad baseball manager or horrible play director, but that doesn’t stop him from trying, again, again, and again. There is a very powerful message for all of us in the example set by “Chuck.”

As I spend the rest of the day pondering the depth of Charlie Brown and prepare for tomorrow, I leave you with this bit of Charlie Brown wisdom.

Keep looking up…that’s the secret to life.

Charlie Brown

Personal Traditions—A Gift To Yourself

Yesterday I took a day off from writing to consider the previous post, and the significance of my Charlie Brown Christmas tradition. Realizing the depth of the story, the characters, and their value to me, I decided to write a series about these enduring and endearing characters.

A New Tradition Begins

A great deal of thought has gone into the history of my Charlie Brown Christmas tradition. The memories are deeply personal, and rooted in my life as a newly single adult. No one else shares those memories; therefore, the tradition just can’t mean the same thing to them. For many years all we did was just watch the show without setting the stage or going through the ritual. Soon it was obvious to me that my daughter and then grandchildren didn’t love the Charlie Brown gang as I did. My “other people focused” way of living leaves little room for self. I can’t enjoy doing something with people who are doing it for me, but are not really enjoying it. I’d rather not do the thing at all than know I am putting those I care about through some kind of torture. For me, there is no joy in that experience; Christmas should be about joy.

Last night was the beginning of a new annual tradition for me. Before then it never dawned on me to do it for me, and do it by myself. One night every year I will schedule an evening alone to set the mood and spend twenty five minutes immersed in the world of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts Gang.

Setting The Mood

Last night, I was alone for the evening so I decided the time was perfect to recreate my Charlie Brown Christmas watch party for one. It is unseasonably warm in Texas this month, so I did what any self respecting Texan does to get in the Christmas spirit: turn thermostat down to mimic a chilly December evening. I then gathered the all accoutrements to make the experience complete. In the future I will plan this a little more in advance so that I can have a signature cocktail and season appropriate hors d’oeuvres. I may even throw pillows and a blanket on the floor for an authentic childhood experience. Well, maybe not. My knees aren’t what they used to be…I’ll probably stick with the recliner.

Being too lazy to cook then clean up the mess, I warmed up leftovers, poured myself a tall glass of homemade sweet tea, grabbed the blanket and settled into my recliner. My current set up is much more luxurious and lovely than when this tradition first began. Though the event has little to do with luxury or comfort, my lovely living room is a definite plus.

The room is dark, illuminated only by the two trees strategically placed in opposite ends of my open concept living room space. The ambience is warm and cozy.

Music

The soundtrack to Charlie Brown Christmas is iconic and playing in the background as I write. I love the West Coast jazz made famous by artists such as Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker and Stan Getz. Vince Guarldi, composer and arranger of the soundtrack for Charlie Brown Christmas, falls into this category. I have strong ties to the Southern California of the 1960s and this music is just a part of what reminds me of that time in my life. I can still remember coming home from elementary school, to our little house on La Reina Street in Anaheim, California, being greeted by Ray Charles’ voice singing “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Music is such a powerful trigger for me. Nothing can make me melancholy, reflective, worshipful, or joyful quite like music.

So, it is no surprise, that as soon as the music began, I was ushered into a place filled with memories, childlike anticipation and the aching loneliness of the woman I was in 1985. Those are powerful emotions and they set the stage for what was to come.

What Lies Beneath

Because of this series, and just where I am in life, I wanted to watch with eyes that see deeper than the action on the screen. There is much to unwrap here. I must watch it again. Maybe watch it several times in order to unpack the characters and the deeper meaning Charles Schultz wrote into his funny little band of childhood friends.

I know I am not alone in thinking about Charlie Brown on a deeper, more psychological level. Funny thing is, for my lifelong passion for the Peanuts gang, I have never done the deep dive. I have simply floated on the surface of the stories; content to enjoy the superficial humor. Call it age or just nothing better to do, that is not enough for me anymore.

That’s All Folks

I end the week with this glimpse into the rest of the Christmas season. I’m going to take the weekend to research. Watch the show a few more times and ponder all that Charlie Brown and his gang have to offer.

I hope that the weekend brings you all that you need: rest, peace, health, and laughter. Consider watching Charlie Brown Christmas again, or for the first time, then come back Monday and let’s have a dose of Christmas joy together.

Every Group Has A Lucy

As I continue my love affair with A Charlie Brown Christmas, I will be highlighting the different characters to see what we can discover from them. First up is Lucy.

Lucille Van Pelt

Or, Lucy as we know her is the bossy, opinionated, self appointed leader of the Peanuts group. She is the older sister to Linus and Rerun. On the surface she is a bully. We grew up laughing at her yanking the football away from poor Charlie Brown, but even as a child I felt bad at laughing. I felt sorry for Charlie Brown. Lucy was mean to him and he just kept being her friend. I think there is something deeper about this relationship.

Lucy is the oldest child in the family and, as all oldest children know, that means you have the most responsibility. For Lucy, responsibility translated to bossy behavior to keep everyone in line. She tends to be fairly black and white, this or that, in her dealings with other people. She doesn’t mince words, speaks her mind and moves on before realizing the effect she has on people. Don’t we all know someone like this in our lives?

Lucy’s Priorities

Lucy wants real estate from Santa for Christmas. In this classic exchange between Charlie Brown and Lucy, we get a glimpse into her personality.

“I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid toys or a bicycle or clothes of something like that.”

“What is it you really want?”

“Real estate.”

I imagine that she grew up to be a corporate raider or hedge fund manager. She loves power, control and money. Her Achilles’ tendon is the unrequited crush she has on Schroeder; he is equally focused on himself but for him it is all about music, specifically Beethoven. It never mattered how flagrantly she throws herself at him, he never notices. There is some poetic justice in this relationship.

Lucy’s Soft Side

Lucy’s directness and take charge attitude doesn’t indicate she is mean, uncaring or a bully. It is still hard for me to watch the football scenes, but now I wonder, “Why did Charlie Brown keep coming back for more?” Is there something about Lucy that we can’t see but should know based on the fact that Charlie Brown continues to be her friend? I don’t have specific examples, but I think deep down Lucy really liked Charlie Brown and wished she had a little of his kindness and caring.

She didn’t have to make Charlie Brown the director of the Christmas play. Because he had visited her at her psychiatrist stand earlier in the story, she knew he was depressed and, according to her diagnosis, suffered from pantophobia, the fear of everything.

People like Lucy stare fear in the face and boldly march into battle. The Charlie Brown’s of the world take a step back into the safety of the known. Lucy drop kicked Charlie Brown out of his comfort zone and smack dab in the middle of chaos. Would she really have risked the success of the play if she didn’t think Charlie Brown was up for the task? She defended him to the entire cast, including Snoopy. Linus was the only other one who came alongside Charlie Brown in his moment of need.

What To Do With The Lucys In Our Life

Everyone has a Lucy. Some folks may have more than one. Lucys are not always easy to like. Their bossy, demanding nature and often gruff exterior is off putting especially to the quiet introverts of the world. I generally avoid Lucys at all costs. They are just too emotionally draining for me. But, I have learned that if I am patient, get to know them and vice versa, I usually find a really tender and kind person underneath the huff and puff exterior.

As with everything that matters in life if we set aside our own issues, prejudices and viewpoints for just a moment, there is room for something new to shine through. Sometimes the biggest hearts come wrapped in sandpaper. Wear them down and untold riches are just waiting to be discovered.

I am saving Linus for Friday. Tomorrow I will write about the rest of the supporting cast as well all have our very own Peanut Gallery sitting on the sidelines of life.

The Tao of A Charlie Brown Christmas – Part 1

After a week of cleaning and work, the house is ready. Now to prepare my heart and mind for the celebration of the birth of the Christ child. While it might sound odd, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of my most important advent events. This week I will be sharing what this classic Charles Schultz television show has taught me. But today, let me explain how it all began.

In my family, it is a well known fact that I love A Charlie Brown Christmas. Despite not having specific memories of watching it as a kid, I know I did. It is familiar and comfortable, funny and heartwarming. So, if I didn’t grow up with the tradition of watching it, where and when did the ritual begin? For the life of me I couldn’t figure it out. Did it just evolve or was it rooted in something more specific? I have been trying to figure this out for many years. My memory for such things is not great. Then, dawned on me. It wasn’t until I was an adult and could see with adult eyes that watching Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the gang became one of my most important Christmas traditions.

A Grown-Up Tradition

I was shocked to finally piece together the truth. Although I watched as a child, the specific tradition as it has come to be practiced was one I developed on my own as an adult.

It all began when, as a newly single adult, I had to figure out how to be alone at Christmas. The temptation was to be sad and pout because “everyone” else had family with whom they spent the holiday. My family lived half way across the country and travel for Christmas was impossible. So, I did the next best thing, I decorated my little apartment and watched something that reminded me of home. It was a difficult but crucial time where I grew up and started learning how to be an adult.

As I remember it, I decided to replicate the experience of being in a movie theater. Except for the glow from the Christmas tree and television, the room was dark. I curled up on the sofa with a blanket, something to drink and my little dog, Penny, who loved to burrow under the blanket with me. For thirty minutes I was transported back to the safety and security of home. It was a magical experience.

For many years, with childlike anticipation, I scoured the TV guide looking for when it will be broadcast. I planned my week around the special event. Part of the experience was watching it as it was being broadcast. In the days before we had access to VHS, DVD, a bazillion cable channels or streaming programs at any hour of any day, if I didn’t watch it the night it aired on network television I had missed it for another year. This made the ritual sacred.

Transition of Traditions

I tried to pass this tradition on to my daughter and grandchildren. It didn’t take. Their worlds are different and they will create their own traditions. They will always think of their Mimi when they see anything related to A Charlie Brown Christmas, but it doesn’t hold the same significance for them. And that is ok. My husband doesn’t get it either. So, I am back to having this sacred ritual by myself. And this, too, is ok. I think I will choose one day in December and make that my annual A Charlie Brown Christmas Day. It will be a day filled with anticipation and celebration. For thirty minutes I will be in charge – the lights will be low, there will be warm beverages, and snuggling on the couch with my dogs as I travel back in time to be reminded about the true meaning of Christmas. My family is welcome to join me…but being alone is ok too.