From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 18, 1999

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / December 18, 1999

Come Jan. 3, newspapers will be a lot less funny, a lot less joyous.On that day, Charles Schulz will retire, ending an American institution that has spanned for almost half a century. His Peanuts cartoon hasentertained generations of adults and children alike, from the World War II generation to the Class of 2000.

It all began in 1947, when Schultz took a strip called Li’l Folks to the St.

Paul Pioneer Press. Three years later, the strip was renamed Peanuts.Today, it is read daily by over 355 million readers in more than 2,600 publications in 75 countries and 21 languages. It has inspired over 1,400books, 50 animated television specials, a Broadway play and countless toys and dolls. How many lives it has touched on a daily basis cannot becounted.

The characters have become American icons – perennial underdog Charlie Brown and his dog Snoopy; Lucy and blanket-toting Linus; Snoopy’s faithful friend, Woodstock; piano-playing Schroeder; Pig Pen, and Peppermint Patty.

Schulz’s retirement was front page news in almost every daily newspaper Wednesday. It was even discussed on the Morning Show on ESPN Radio. Turnon the television and there is Snoopy selling MetLife Insurance. And whocan ever forget Schroeder banging out Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” while the other characters dance in the annual Christmas special? This writer would check the sports section first and then go right to Peanuts. What crazy adventure would Snoopy be getting into today? Wouldhe finally get the Red Baron while flying as a World War I flying ace in his Sopworth Camel (still one of my favorite airplanes of any generation)? Would Charlie Brown get to kiss the little red-haired girl? Would Linus get to see the Great Pumpkin? I especially always looked forward to the cartoons on the anniversaries of World War II events. My all-time favorite had Snoopy looking over thebeaches of D-Day with the caption “To Remember.” Try to look at that onewithout a lump coming to your throat.

What does Peanuts have to do with sports you might ask. Everything.Schulz’s characters played in everything from football to thumb wrestling (remember Snoopy going to the championships in Pomano, California?).

There was Charlie Brown, standing on the pitcher’s mound, suffering defeat after defeat until that memorable day when he hit the game- winning home run. There he was, trying to kick a football while Lucy slylypulls it away from him, causing him to do a flip with the accompanying “aaugh!”. But you know what, he always came back to try again. There was Snoopy on the courts of Wimbledon or playing a match with Molly Volley. Hitting the ball on the links of Augusta. Or on the ice, eitherplaying hockey or preparing to compete in the figure skating competition in the Olympics. And of course, on the baseball diamond, grabbinggrounders in his mouth and spitting them out to Linus to turn the double play. Charlie Brown and Snoopy were the embodiment of the dreamer in allof us, fantasizing about being a hero. And who among us has not had a herolike Joe Shlabotnik? In one of the television specials, the gang visits sites of the world wars in France. At the end, Linus and Charlie Brown are standing at a wall whenLinus asks “What have we learned, Charlie Brown?” Thanks to Charles Schulz, the answer is a lot. We’ve learned that no matter how many timesthat football is pulled away from us, we need to keep believing that we will one day kick it. That no matter how many games we lose, there isalways another game, another season. In short, we’ve learned a lot aboutourselves.

So, thank you, Mr. Schulz. Thank you for the years of learning, joy andlaughter your characters have brought us. Thank you for the opportunityfor at least a few moments every day to be able to see the world through the innocent eyes of children.

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