Only a few measures of music and I am there – those syncopated eighth notes running in the bass clef, the familiarity of the sound and rhythm taking me back 50 years. Through memories fuzzy but insistent, I am a child sitting in front of our walnut television console. I meet the angst of Charlie Brown. I hear “Linus and Lucy.” Musician Vince Guaraldi leads me to Christmas.
Great storytelling imbeds certain characters into our imagination, enabling us to recognize curious parts of ourselves from a less threatening distance.
I have always been a Lucy. Maybe I’m not the tease that yanks the football, but if you would ask those who’ve known me for a long time, they’d agree: There would be no point for me to set up shop and charge a nickel for my advice. I’d dole it out for free.
Over a lifetime, many characters have burrowed under my skin. Laura Ingalls Wilder modeled a kind of pluck and fortitude I greatly admired as a child. While I read about her family surviving severe hunger and cold in “The Long Winter,” I wondered if I could ever be as resilient.
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As I approached adolescence, Betty and Veronica delivered their coquettish experience through the comic books I read. Seemingly, I was more Betty than Veronica, although the breadth of their personalities was of secondary importance as I stood atop my bed, looking into my dresser mirror. With a turn and flash of my legs, I hiked up my practical plaid, doing my best to mimic the allure of their colorful miniskirts.
Reading Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” in high school, I was first exposed to the depths of mental illness. Confused by the darkness, I tried to imagine it.
I read Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying” a few years later. While I didn’t ascribe to the proclivities of Isadora Wing, I was similarly disgusted and fascinated that such a hedonistic world could exist.
There will always be protagonists with whom we seem to have nothing in common. The same characters can present absorbing lessons in the human condition.
In the late 1980s, I read the tale of Art Bechstein, a young fellow who found himself in love with both a man and a woman in Michael Chabon’s “The Mysteries of Pittsburg.” No shared experience there. Then again, maybe I could relate. I was living and working as a nurse in post-AIDS America, a time when all kinds of assumptions were changing.
As a single woman in the 1990s, I laughed when Bridget Jones showed up with her diary. Many of the challenges in her life were similar to mine – despite the fact that she was English and had a penchant for granny panties.
Around the time I turned 40, I read Edith Wharton’s “Summer” and visited her former estate, “The Mount.” I pondered how it must have felt to have been an accomplished female writer in the early 20th century.
Classic literature stands the test of time. Popular literature tends to greet us during particular periods in our lives. I can tell you all about Charlie Brown and his friends. I know virtually nothing about Harry Potter.
When I was in the sixth grade, my class performed a play based on the Peanuts gang. We must have written the script ourselves, and it must have been unremarkable, because I have no recollection of the plot. I do remember the 3-foot-tall handmade cardboard replicas of each character that we used as set decorations.
The work of Charles Schulz was so popular in 1970 that our theme became small-town news. A photographer from The Selma Enterprise took our picture as we posed with the painted cutouts.
An old friend who stood next to me in that photograph came to town recently. We made a point to see “The Peanuts Movie.”
Familiar characters had been packaged for the children of today. Nuance had been traded for a splash to the senses. The bright backdrops couldn’t compare to the lovely watercolors of the early television specials – the pumpkin patch, the ice skating rink.
Yet that afternoon, our emotions rested in the sacred space between our smiles and the movie screen. Charlie Brown was still Everyman. Lucy was still annoying. Snoopy was still a flying ace, zooming over the French countryside. He was us. We were him. Imagination soaring.
Danielle R. Shapazian is a nurse and writer who lives in Fresno. She can be reached at Danielle.Shapazian@sbcglobal.net.