Personal Tragedy & Peanuts

Not to appear as though I’m fishing for sympathy or anything, but my grandfather recently passed away.

It’s been pretty difficult for me considering I haven’t seen him in four years due to distance, plus on and off bitterness between me and my immediate family preventing us from making the trek together, and COVID. I’ve been extremely agitated thinking about all the instances over the years where I suggested bringing my grandparents up for Thanksgiving or Christmas only to told how infeasible it would have been due to the distance. And how my parents refusing to accept my transition for two years meant I didn’t get to be with them during their visits to my grandpa in that time. And how I suggested we take the time to go visit him in the assisted living center while we were in the area for a wedding, only to be overruled so we could get home faster. The very next year, COVID happened and his assisted living center wasn’t letting anyone in to see the seniors. In recent years, I tried calling a few times but was always told he couldn’t talk due to dementia. So, I just feel the need to express the following:

Never pass up the chance to see someone, because you don’t know when the last opportunity will come. A year later, it won’t matter that you got home 30 minutes earlier and beat the traffic. What matters is the person was right down the street, two minutes away, and now you’ll never get to see them again. Don’t take them for granted, don’t assume there will always be “another time.” Beyond that, I’m just annoyed at all the times my feelings were downplayed if not outright ignored through the years. How, my wanting to see him was always treated as a nuisance rather than a priority. How, rather than acknowledging my feelings now, I’ve been told “Well, he can see you from Heaven!” (Ugh.) It feels like my family has the wrong answers, while my friends and partner are willing to commiserate with me in grief but don’t have any answers at all. In times like these, what helps me work through negative emotions is usually writing, so I thought I’d give that a shot.

I don’t think it’d be appropriate to do a straightforward tribute by sharing intimate details about my grandpa’s life, or pictures of him and my family, on this site. (Partially due to their privacy and especially because I share a lot of controversial opinions on theCarbonFreeze which my family may not want their likeness associated with.) But it would nevertheless mean a lot to me if I could honor his memory in an indirect manner. So, that’s what this post is going to be about.

Damn, that punchline

Media Associations

Sometimes, a piece of media is so deeply connected with a certain time in your life that it’s impossible to separate them afterwards. One of the best examples of my lifetime is Bye Bye Birdie, which will always remind me of the summer of ’03 when I watched it obsessively. Another is Daria, which I discovered and subsequently binged during the Spring semester of ’15, when I started transitioning. In a few cases, a piece of media will share a special connection towards a person from my life–like the Muppets with my cousins and Game of Thrones with Luna. (For better or worse, in that particular case.) When said film/show comes on, I always think of them and the times we’ve shared together.

If there’s one thing I associate with my grandfather (besides his infectious sense of humor, taking us for walks through the park with his dogs and being a wonderful influence on my life) it’s Peanuts. My grandparents always had a bunch of Peanuts compilation books around the house along with the animated specials playing on TV. It’s the media that crossed generational boundaries enough to where we could always relate to each other through those characters. The keepsakes I still own from my grandparents’ are: 1) the Snoopy and Woodstock pin which has remained on my childhood stuffed animal ever since my grandma gave it to me when I was 4 and 2) the compilation books of Peanuts strips I’d always look through when visiting my grandparents, which they gave me after they moved out of their old house. ( 3) Plus A Pictorial History of World War II, but that doesn’t fit the theme of this essay.)

To find the right balance between remembering my grandpa and distracting myself from the painful memories I’ve shared in the first two paragraphs above, I’ve been re-reading those books. At the same time, I’ve been checking out some of those old TV specials again. Peppermint Patty is my favorite Peanuts character, and the little-red-haired-girl is my favorite trope associated with Charlie Brown. So I was looking at the episodes most associated with those two.

These will be presented in order from worst to best.

Poor Charlie Brown has no idea how much he’s loved.

A Charlie Brown Valentine

The voices are a lot better than Happy New Year Charlie Brown, though still kinda “off” in my opinion. They’re listenable at least, but something about those early days when they used real, non-actor kids speaking broken syntax was so charming. In recent times when they switched to professional actors, the characters stopped feeling like actual people and Peanuts became just another soulless cash-grab franchise.

I’ve always felt like it was a mistake for them to show the little red haired girl onscreen, but at least the character design they went with in It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown was cute. (So was the design in The Peanuts Movie, for that matter.) Here, she just looks like a cross between Shirley Temple and Little Orphan Annie. I know it’s crude but I can’t help but think “that’s what Charlie Brown has been turning down Peppermint Patty and Marcie for??!” every time she comes on screen. I say they should have either used the old character design or just never depicted her onscreen at all. It’s like Charles Schulz himself realized from the beginning–the actual person could never live up to the viewer’s fantasy of their own idealized romantic partner.

This special turned Charlie Brown into a pathetic loser instead of a downcast but lovable everyman when he wouldn’t stand up for the little red haired girl even as she was being physically assaulted. (Ask any woman, there’s nothing less attractive than a guy who won’t defend you from others.) I also feel it was out of character for Charlie not to be more appreciative of Marcie and Peppermint Patty both sending him valentines–the first he’s ever received in his whole life. You don’t have to be attracted to someone to be happy that they went out of their way to do something nice for you. For someone so desperate for love and acceptance, he really doesn’t show any to others, does he?

Finally, they completely botched one of my all-time favorite moments from the comics, where Snoopy dances with the little red haired girl. On the page, it was the perfect combination of dramatic and humorous. There’s the Gatsby/Daisy reference (fittingly, one of literature’s most famous tragic romances,) and soft lighting to emphasize that this was a tender moment between the two. (And, therefore, a bitter blow to Charlie Brown who can do nothing but watch.) However, the fact that it’s goofy old Snoop unwittingly inflicting such pain to Charlie adds just enough absurd levity to serve as the punchline for the strip. In this special, the execution of that iconic moment is neutered beyond belief, with no silhouette, no Gatsby flair and the red haired girl’s design is far less appealing. Whoever directed this episode had absolutely no sense of art or ambiance.

The only thing I liked about it was when Peppermint Patty and Marcie have enough of Charlie Brown’s shit and tell him off at the end.

It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown

There’s a Peanuts special where Charlie Brown gets to kiss the little red haired girl! It’s considered non-canonical by Charles Schulz even though he himself wrote the screenplay. I had assumed that’s because Charlie Brown is never allowed even a sliver of happiness. But then when I actually saw it, I feel like that’s only one issue of many where the plot contradicts Peanuts continuity. For one thing, Snoopy doesn’t fly a biplane from his dog house; in this special he himself becomes a helicopter by spinning his ears!

Stranger yet, Peppermint Patty is out of character by acting exceptionally cruel to Charlie Brown. She even calls the poor guy a zero and tells him the little red haired girl would never like him. Peppermint Patty was always my favorite character from Peanuts because she’s the only one who’s ever nice to “Chuck” and clearly has a crush on him. She might tease him a little and get frustrated by his inability to pick up on her signals, but I don’t think she’d ever intentionally say something that’d crush his spirit like that.

Anyway, the last five minutes are adorable but the rest of the special is kind of bland. They even reuse the same “Lucy pulls away the football” gag no less than four times!

Happy New Year, Charlie Brown

This special is perhaps the best example of Charlie Brown completely missing out on the wonderful thing he’s got in front of him in order to pursue an impossible dream that will never be his. Notice how Peppermint Patty continuously throws herself at him, gives him second chance after second chance, and still he refuses to acknowledge that she cares about him. I had never read a strip where this is spelled out, but according to the Peanuts Wikia, Charlie Brown refuses to acknowledge Peppermint Patty’s affections because he hates himself and doesn’t understand why anyone would like him. That is the most heartbreaking detail of the whole franchise for me, and unfortunately I can empathize with such a predicament. I wasted so much time in college hating myself and/or pursuing impossible limerent fantasies, only to acknowledge years later that certain people liked me and I never let myself believe it.

Unfortunately, while this is perhaps the most emotionally powerful special on the list, it’s among the worst in terms of execution. I don’t mean to disparage the hard work that anybody put into it, but personally I can’t stand the later-day Peanuts voice actors. They’re too loud, too screechy and very irritating to sit through. Compare Peppermint Patty’s voice in this special to You’re in Love, Charlie Brown and the difference is night and day.

You’re in Love, Charlie Brown

Peppermint Patty is just the most endearing character ever, when she’s actually written in-character. Gabrielle DeFaria Ritter, who voices the character here, is my favorite person to portray her. I love Patty’s mannerisms, calling Charlie Brown “Chuck,” and “Chuck ol’ boy,” for example. She is so willing to help him out, it’s just too sweet. If you watch this special, every other scene is just non-stop dread, with Charlie Brown agonizing over his crush, making a fool of himself, getting laughed at. Then Peppermint Patty shows up and just brightens the mood as the lone supportive friend in this poor guy’s whole life. Everyone in the world needs a Peppermint Patty helping them out when they’re down, even if she goofed up and talked to the wrong girl. (Of course, this special was written before Patty herself developed a crush on Charlie Brown.) This is probably the best special on the list if the viewer wishes to get a feel for the fun side of her personality.

Guys, I know I send mixed signals a lot. One day I’m calling Eureeka cute. Then Gomez Addams, George McGovern, and Grace Slick. How can these demonstrably different people all be adorable at the same time? Well, there’s a little beauty in all of us, man. And it comes from working with what you’ve got and a sunny disposition. You know what I’m saying? Love begets love, innocence inspires admiration and vulnerability breeds nurturing. Never forget that, guys. Don’t ever fucking forget.

Snoopy Come Home

Here’s an additional fantastic Peppermint Patty moment from another special in which she plays a minor role. Look at how willing she is to go out of her way to lift Charlie Brown’s spirits when he’s down. Peppermint Patty really is the best friend anybody could ask for and he takes her for granted time and time again. In fact, if Schulz had more time on this Earth to continue the strip, that would have made for a fantastic arc. Imagine if Patty just got sick of Charlie Brown’s apathy and moved on to someone else. Then, true to life, he would realize the good thing he had all that time only after it’s too late. Perhaps this could lead to a reconciliation and stronger bond, or maybe Charlie Brown just misses his chance and has to live with regret. (Again.) Either way, there’s a great fanfiction to be had in there, somewhere.

There’s No Time For Love, Charlie Brown

With this, I believe I’ve found the most wholesome, and possibly my new favorite, of the Peanuts specials. It adapts an adorable Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty arc from the strip, which I consider to be the quintessential interaction between the two. There’s some really great Peppermint Patty moments in here, like when Marcie is nervous about the upcoming field trip, and Charlie Brown is worried about writing an essay, she goes out of her way to comfort both of them. When Patty, Charlie and Marcie are done writing reports, she makes sure that Charlie Brown intends to walk Marcie home. Peppermint Patty is a really great friend and he takes her for granted in my opinion. I get that he’s hung up on the little red haired girl, but I feel as though Charlie Brown would really come to appreciate what he’s got in Peppermint Patty before too long as he got older. (Though, to be fair, it’s unclear how much time is meant to have passed during the course of the strip.)

The Tragic Saga of Peggy Jean

As a result of my renewed interest in the series, I discovered Charlie Brown briefly had a girlfriend in the ’90s. (Man, the ’90s were a great time for everyone, amiright?) It’s too soon to say for sure, but Peggy Jean may end up displacing both Patty as my fave character and the little red haired girl as my fave part of Charlie Brown’s arc. This is partly because she’s a rare moment of happiness for the poor guy, and partly because I can see a lot of myself in this story. The way Peggy Jean offers to hold the football, and Charlie Brown is unsure of whether to trust her or not due to years of Lucy hurting him, is such a simple and profound metaphor. It’s expressing the way we all carry grief and resentment over the years from people who’ve hurt us in the past. This trauma sometimes prevents us from fully embracing the new people who come into our lives thereafter, which can hurt them in term, and the cycle continues. It makes me think of the people I’ve held at arms length because I was afraid of getting my hopes up only to be disappointed again…and I ended up disappointing myself as a result, anyway. (Fuck you, high school bullies.)

With regard to the character herself, I love how Peggy Jean calls Charlie Brown “Brownie Charles.” It reminds me of college when the guys in my dorm started calling me by an unasked-for nickname. I always hated it, but then when I was introduced to some nice young women from my roommate, and they only knew to call me by this nickname, suddenly it didn’t bother me anymore. Coming from them, it sounded like an endearing pet name rather than dudebro teasing, and I was happy for it. “Brownie Charles” is such an adorable pet name and I can just imagine a sweet little girl saying something like that, even without Charlie Brown’s botched introduction. Judging by her words in the strip, Peggy Jean seems to be an incredibly good-natured, trusting person, wise beyond her years in many ways. Someone who’s unsuperficial and willing to see the good in a down-on-his-luck, wishy washy guy like Charlie Brown.

Unfortunately, this story was never adapted to animation, which is a shame because there’s a perfect three act structure here, a gripping emotional climax and a relatable premise. It’d make for a wonderful standalone special or perhaps even a sequel to the 2015 feature film should anyone wish to take it on. With the right people behind such a project, I believe this could be everybody’s new favorite Peanuts story.

2 Comments

  1. So sorry to hear of your loss…I’ve been through the loss of both sets of grandparents, and my dad…it’s a real slow process to grieve. Your posts are very deep, heartfelt, and meaningful, so please know you’re on the right path to healing, and helpful to me, too. PS just found out today Davy Jones’ daughter Annabel Jones husband passed…though there are heroes I’ve never even met who have passed, somehow their deaths affect us all…lately it seems like too many (Jerry Lewis, Eddie Van Halen for me recently, John & George, Dennis & Carl, Davy & Peter still, but for so many, people like Robin Williams, Carrie Fisher, Chadwick Boseman, Alex Trebek, & now David Prowse)…hard to take it in.

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