14
Feb 00

Empty Mailboxes: Charles Schulz 1922-2000

FT2 comments • 2,037 views

For the past two days I have at points been totally stopped in my tracks with grief. I literally have been on the verge of losing it entirely more than once now. I just can’t accept that this has happened.

Almost a decade ago, Jim Henson and Dr. Seuss died as well, and now it feels like the third member of a uniquely holy trinity is gone, a certain American sensibility that spoke to generations all at once, that knew how humor and pathos could not only go hand in hand but could express itself without words or with only the simplest of phrases. I can’t begin to capture what it all means for me now, though, now that Charles Schulz is gone.

There’s a couple of pictures of me when I was very, very small — let’s say four years old, at most, maybe even younger. Firmly clutched in my hand is my picture book of the Snoopy Come Home movie. Another picture has me in my Charlie Brown Halloween costume. I remember the drawing of Snoopy my aunt was able to ask Schulz to do for me, and the story my grandmother liked to tell of how she had offered in a letter to put up Snoopy’s brother Spike, after some strips where he searched for a home, and how Schulz had written back in the same friendly spirit thanking her and letting her know that Spike had returned to Needles, California, the desert town he called home. I remember the movies, the TV specials, the endless amount of books I obsessively collected as I could, the special 25th anniversary volume that I discovered when I was, again, very small, that relatives of mine had — almost as big as me, that book, with so many strips lovingly collected and displayed. Then there were the 35th and 45th anniversary books that I collected myself, and the 50th which I still need to get.

And I think about the time Schulz spoke at a gathering of children at a school — an event he detailed in one of the anniversary collections — and how he told them, simply, passionately, to talk to their parents, their grandparents, to find out what drove them, their desires, their loves, their hopes and dreams, to understand and connect with them, before it was too late. Whenever I read that I kept telling myself to send him a letter, something simple, just thanking him for his work. And now it’s too late.

How terrible it must have been for him towards the end — his drawing was already starting to be less crisp due to some uncontrollable shaking, and in his final days he was starting to go blind. Blind and unable to draw! Imagine if he had lived long in that state, I can’t imagine it. But knowing that he’s going to miss out on the special surprise tribute that was being planned by the National Cartoonists’ Society at the end of May, when on one day practically every last comic strip in the paper was going to be a special salute to him — how that would have pleased him, a man so relentlessly unsure of himself and able to achieve high art out of that, to finally, fully understand how he was beyond sui generis, he was a universe of his own devising that leaves everyone in quiet awe. And now he’ll never see that and know about that.

Someone who cares about me very very much has helped me through this, with her kind thoughts and kind words. It’s Valentine’s Day and I’ve barely noticed because of all that has happened now, his passing just before the running of the final strip, my own coming to grips with realizing just how much one artist and his work can mean to someone. I read some of the oldest strips yesterday, and was captivated by the sharpness, the observations, the heights and depths all put together in four simple small boxes a day.

On a day of love, Charlie Brown would sit and wait at an empty mailbox for a valentine, unable to be able to bring himself to deliver one to the little red-haired girl. That is the one truth of today.

 

Ned Raggett, Valentines Day 2000

Comments

  1. 1

    […] I realize he is one of only a few artists — I mentioned Tolkien recently, and I would include Charles Schulz as well — whose work still holds me in particular thrall for decades, literally in all cases […]

  2. 2

    […] other was Charles Schulz, and when I died I penned this piece, still one of my favorites, and one of the saddest I ever had to write. His passing I felt very […]

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