“Peanuts” was part of my acculturation. I immigrated to the United States when I was 6 months old, and my family still retained the teachings and belief systems of the old culture. That meant a strict upbringing, which left me alone for much of my childhood.
The “Peanuts” characters became my interpreters. They weren’t drawn with the elaborate artistry of a comic book hero, but their deceptive simplicity was all the more amazing, considering their range of emotions. Their concerns were not of political and social turbulence around them, but the simple, hilarious outrages of being a child. What did the nutritional content of lunch matter, when peanut butter stuck in your throat at the sight of your unrequited love? The characters weren’t afraid to explore their insecurities, and their problems weren’t always resolved in a punchline in the final panel, but could take days, even weeks.
Perhaps unwisely, Lucy became my role model with her fuss-budget, forthright ways, dispensing blunt advice whether it was solicited at her psychiatric booth or not. Linus’ gentle spirituality and quiet wisdom was a perfect foil for his sister. As for Charlie Brown, I could share his anguish over failure, his loneliness and his longing for friendship. I intentionally integrated the expression “rats!” into my vernacular.
The “Peanuts” gang helped me live my childhood, and I’ve remained loyal to these friends for years. For my first major sixth-grade English class research project, I bypassed presidential figures and explorers for Charles Monroe Schulz. I found out his father, like Charlie Brown’s, was a barber, how Schulz almost accepted a job lettering gravestones and how drawing the strip every day helped him stave off clinical depression.
Despite an enviable heap of toys, I hardly owned any “Peanuts” items as a child. I didn’t mind; after all, the “Peanuts” gang wasn’t even really that cute, in their wide-eyed, apple-cheeked fashion (even Frieda’s naturally curly hair appeared a bit on the frizzy side). A Schroeder doll made the blond piano prodigy seem, well, inanimate, not the living, breathing boy who carried signs announcing how many shopping days till Beethoven’s birthday, who guiltily gave a recycled valentine to Charlie Brown (who gave Schroeder his instrument to begin with) and who couldn’t believe how much he missed Lucy when she moved away.
No, the books were what was important. There I read the mock-tragedy when Snoopy lost his Van Gogh in the doghouse fire (and presumably his pool table, where the birds hung out); the heartfelt drama when Charlie Brown felt betrayed by Linus because the little red-haired girl became interested in the younger boy; and the inflationary measure of the times when Lucy briefly raised her prices at the psychiatric booth to 35 cents (she later lowered her rates back to 5 cents).
I didn’t start buying the merchandise until I was older. A frequenter of flea markets and thrift stores, I’d stumble across pieces such as a music box showing Charlie Brown desperately trying to get his kite aloft, or Snoopy popping out jack-in-the-box style from a tin. This was during the ’80s, when Disney and Warner Brothers merchandising had started to inundate the nation. Finding the older “Peanuts” products was more fun, and I was, in my peculiar way, protesting against the Disneyfication of America.
These occasional purchases gradually grew into a collection never very big, and never very expensive. But the fact that I didn’t care if the item was dinged or that a child’s pen had marked Woodstock’s feathers may be the sign that I’m a true collector.
When I moved in October, the three-plus shelves of “Peanuts” merchandise went into boxes. I unpacked them, but the lunch boxes, dolls and Snoopy banks didn’t quite match in my new surroundings, so I stowed them away again. I learned of Schulz’s illness and retirement just a few weeks later.
I haven’t outgrown my collection, even though it’s now out of sight. It’s more that I know the items are there, just as I know my old baby photos are in the fabric-bound photo album and letters from old friends and lovers are in the wicker suitcase. I am not a blindly obsessive fan – I feel the creative brilliance of “Peanuts” peaked in the late ’70s, which is still an incredible run for any artist.
For me, these are my old friends who helped me through difficult times by welcoming me to witness their own pains and joys. Charlie Brown hated goodbyes, but I think even he knew that when you grow up, saying goodbye doesn’t mean abandonment.
Besides, you can’t really say goodbye to something that will never leave you.
You can reach Vera H-C Chan by calling 925-977-8428 or you can e-mail her at vchan@