occurs to me that I am more like my mother than I had thought.
As a role model, my mother was always more liberated than housewife.
When she was fifty, she started pilot training. I didn’t
want to be left out, so I took lessons too. We used to fly as pilot
and co-pilot in the Powder Puff Derby, a cross-country women’s
air race. Little did I know I was in training to meet up with the
infamous Red Baron. The years I spent flying with my mother were
Sparky’s inspiration for a 1975 Sunday comic. Peppermint
Patty and Marcie were flying atop Snoopy’s doghouse, from
California to Michigan. They were following the race my mother
and I were flying that year.
Like my mother, I have made some daring moves in my life. I had
only known Sparky a year when we married and meshed our two families.
It might have seemed risky, but I entered the relationship with
complete trust. I’ve never considered myself brave; I’ve
just learned to overcome my fear. I was afraid of heights, but
I learned to fly a plane. I hated gushy things in the ocean, so
I learned to scuba dive. When I concentrate on something, the fear
dissipates. I’ve had to overcome fear many times in my life.
It took me a long time to let myself “fly” from the
trapeze. By nature, I am practical and have had to keep focused
on the tasks that need to get done. But in order to fly on the
trapeze, I had to hang by my knees, swinging backwards. I had to
get up speed, only to let go. It’s takes a certain amount
of faith to hang upside down, thirty feet over the ground, albeit
with a net and harness. It took an immeasurable amount of faith
to release my anchored knees from the bar, trusting that I would
fly into the hands of the catcher. I don’t think it’s
any coincidence that the flying trapeze is also the place where
I have sought refuge in my life beyond Sparky.
On the twenty-mile drive over to Sam Keen’s ranch, where
there’s a trapeze nestled in the oak trees, I generally am
thinking of all that I have to do: how Snoopy can appear, licensing
agreements, building and maintaining the Schulz museum, answering
all the heartfelt letters. But driving home, I feel exhilarated
and satisfied. I’ve had a place to practice being bold. To
revel in the small victories and put aside, while in the air, everything
that is happening on the ground. I still realize I have a lot to
do, but there is a more relaxed focus to it.
When Sparky died, I immediately became busy working with family
members and advisors, to sort out the business of the arena and
the studio, and the museum project. Because Sparky was much too
modest to honor himself, I had taken the lead on the Schulz Museum
and Research Center. When he died, the museum was in its beginning
stages; I had to finish it. I realize that having multiple layers
of “busy-ness” in the period following Sparky’s
death, kept me from having extraneous feelings or letting my emotions
run too much. The mad pace of keeping up with what I had, kept
me from thinking too much about what I had lost.
I tend to be private in my deeper feelings. Sparky was much more
likely to say loving things than I was. We had this little game
where he would say, “You told me once, but I forgot.” He
would be prompting my response to the question, “”Do
you love me or do you not?” I had given the poem to him once
in a frame. I used to call Sparky “my sweet Babboo.” One
day in the strip, Sally started calling Linus “my sweet Babboo.” I
I came out of “retirement” to continue Sparky’s
legacy. It’s rich for me. I realize the pressure of his life
better now than when he was alive. I knew that he had a horrendous
drawing schedule. He drew and lettered the strip by himself, for
fifty years, creating more than 18,000 strips. He felt the emotions
in the strip while he was drawing it. Though I had an understanding
of that part of his life, I didn’t realize the pressure of
being Charles M. Schulz, the creator of Peanuts and how diplomatic
he always had to be. Fortunately, I’m more extroverted than
Sparky was. It must have been really stressful for him.
Sparky gave me the gift of being completely supportive of me.
He was always building me up, telling me that I could be anything
I wanted to be. He was seventeen years older than I, and
very much a teacher to me. He taught me enough to absorb the bits
of wisdom he was giving me. Though Sparky is not here, in my work
and personal life, he’s still present. I haven’t emptied
Sparky’s drawers or closets yet. Maybe it’s because,
in a way, I’m stepping into Sparky’s shoes everyday.
Maybe it’s just because I have enough room to store all his
stuff. I don’t have to let him go.
I still have a lot of fun with him. I hear his voice and it takes
me back. Sometimes I ask him to help me find things. I say, Sparky,
where is it? And pretty soon, it appears. Every now and then, Sparky
used to be cranky. Now I laugh at myself when I am cranky.
I’m cranky and laughing for my sake and for his. I am carrying
My way of mourning Sparky is by celebrating him. I continue to
tell his story because it’s a story of value. He was a man
following his dream. I take his memory very seriously. He wanted
to be known for the thing he put so much effort into. I don’t
want that “thing” to be distorted or taken out of context.
I am more fortunate than other widows because I don’t have
to sing Sparky’s praises; people all around me are doing
it everyday. Everyone has a heartfelt story to tell about the Peanuts’ gang.
The flying trapeze can be a metaphor for my life. In some ways,
it’s a team effort; in some ways, it’s an individual
sport. It’s not a baseball game where I would feel bad if
I struck out; or a tennis match where, if I missed an overhead,
I’d feel like I’d blown something. In many ways, the
performance on the trapeze is my own. It’s not something,
like golf, that I shared with Sparky. It is mine, alone.
Sparky encouraged me to go for it. When he was in the hospital,
say, “go to your trapeze. I’m okay. It’s important
for you.” He was preparing me for the days that he wouldn’t
be here. He was proud of me for the challenges he saw me take on.
Through the years, I have learned to trust myself in the sky and
on the ground.