End Of An Era
It's the end of an era. With the recent passing of Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, a piece of my childhood died. I don't want to sound too dramatic or maudlin, but I can't help it - the world will never be the same. I feel like I've lost some of my oldest friends.
I remember learning to read by sounding out the exploits of the Peanuts gang. I'd pore over the brightly colored Sunday comics pages, getting newsprint on my knees and palms, as I matched words to pictures to try to figure out what kind of embarrassment Charlie Brown would face next, or what pearls of wisdom Snoopy would bestow upon his loyal readers.
Before I could even fathom what days, weeks and months meant, I knew that a special day was all the nearer when the appropriate Peanuts special appeared on television. As I grew older, these shows became an inextricable part of how our family celebrated holidays. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was Christmas. "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," was as much part of how we observed Halloween as the ritual of trick-or-treating.
They weren't just cartoon characters to me. Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty, Linus, Schroeder, and Lucy became as familiar to me as my neighborhood friends, and they were just as vivid, loyal and instructional.
From Charlie Brown I learned the value of determination, even in the face of humiliation. Peppermint Patty single-handedly (or double-footedly) spurred the Birkenstock craze. From Linus, I learned that a little security -- wherever one finds it -- is not to be taken lightly. Snoopy taught me that even a dog deserves respect. Schroeder demonstrated that life would be empty without music. And Lucy, my personal favorite, showed that sometimes, when words fail you, the best response is a good right hook to the jaw.
In an unpredictable world filled with strife, road rage, famines and war, Peanuts provided an oasis of middle-class, suburban normalcy. Parents could rest assured that their kids weren't being corrupted, exposed to solicitous sex or violence, or taught unwholesome values -- or swear words. "I've discovered in my life that 'Good grief' and 'Rats' will cover just about anything that'll happen to you," Schulz said in a 1990 radio interview with NPR.
Kids could identify with one or more of the characters (who hasn't had a "Charlie Brown" day? Whose cat or dog hasn't acted with surprisingly human intelligence, a la Snoopy? Who hasn't wanted to trek off to school or work, security blanket in hand and thumb firmly in mouth? Who hasn't felt the pangs of unrequited love?)
And the sometimes biting wit contained in the strip was equally appealing to grownups. From World War I veterans to frustrated writers to psychiatrists, we found ourselves among the pen-and-ink drawings. And we laughed -- at ourselves, at each other, at life. "I don't regard this at all as a strip for children," Schulz told NPR. "I just draw what I think is funny and what thoughts come to me."
Though I will miss my friends, I'm glad that Schulz had the foresight to ensure that the strip would end with him, that it would not be taken on by another cartoonist after his retirement or death. Peanuts was Charles Schulz, and millions of readers felt they knew not just the cartoon characters he created, but him as well. "I hope that no one else ever touches the strip. The strip is me," he said.
An article announcing his death by Reuters news service said the strip "served as a mirror for the baby boom generation." It seems that just like they've done with everything else, the Baby Boomers feel the need to lay their absolute claim to this gentle humorist. I resent the implication that only readers of a certain age and mindset could identify with Peanuts, for it goes against everything the strip, the characters and the artist himself stood for. Peanuts went beyond age, race or gender. Peanuts was America.
Peanuts was all of us.