A Childhood in Four Acts

  For Charles M. Schulz, our savior

End of October,
days recede
quickly into night. Leaves
fall in slow motion.
It’s Halloween.

We rummage
for a mask
to hide behind, a personality
to turn into or become.
Grief has made mother
her own strange bandit.
There are wars that must be won.

The beauty with luminescent
turquoise eyes drapes herself in mother’s
pink negligee, short fur sleeping coat.
Dons a crown of plastic flowers. Princess of our desires.

The jester who makes us laugh
if mother is late getting home
paints her face white,
pulls on a stocking cap,
draws a smile turned upside down.

Draped in a white bedsheet,
cut holes for my eyes,
I get my wish.
I’m finally invisible, a ghost of myself.

We are daughters of the night,
dreaming of battles
and good deeds to perform
to trick the gods to release our
father and restore our home.

Following the train of children,
in store-bought Spider-Man, Batman,
Casper the Friendly Ghost,
we trek down the block,
walk up to stoops donned
with creepy hanging bats, skeletons,
ghoully jack-o’-lanterns.

Oh no, the dark spook house.
Do we really have to dip
our hands into ketchup blood
and cold spaghetti guts?

Warned of razors
planted in apples, poisoned unwrapped candy,
not to be lulled into a stranger’s car:
there are men that might snatch
and kill us, suddenly the world
has turned painfully dark.

The sky cracks. Thunder.
Wind rips the trees
and it rains like no other.

Leafless trees twist and rattle,
the moon weirdly orange.
Pumpkins on porch steps smashed.
Hooligans have begun to egg the windows.
It’s time to go home.

Rushing past the house deemed
to belong to witches, dark all year round,
one of our brown shopping trick-or-treat bags,
weakened by rain, loses bottom.

The witch’s door screeches open.
What is evil if not fear? What is childhood
if not preparation for adulthood? We run.

A monument of greed,
of longing, of desire
to hoard and not squander,
those coveted candies,
left behind and glittering on the walk,
each piece a token of all we desire
and all that will ruin us.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Lucy is the bossy older sister.
She always knows the answers.
I am Linus, the hopeful one, waiting
for the Great Pumpkin to rise.
Maybe he is god, maybe
someone to believe in. Maybe he will save us
from our desires and humiliations.
The youngest is Snoopy,
the World War Bomber fighting the Red Baron.
The girl who climbs to the top of the clubhouse
and beats her chest.
And the boy I love at school,
reincarnated into Schroeder, a beau savant,
soulful and unattainable,
deep into his piano.
Or maybe I’m Charlie Brown,
who can’t believe he’s gotten an invitation
to Violet’s party, who cuts too many holes
in his white ghost sheet, having had trouble
with the scissors, and ends up with rocks in his bag.
Why is it that one failure leads to another?
Or perhaps I’m Sally, in love with Linus.
I know I’m not Pig-Pen. Nor
as forthright as Peppermint Patty.
I don’t have ringlets like the Girl with Naturally
Curly Hair. Maybe we’re all misfits?
Charlie Brown’s raking the leaves.
Snoopy dives in. There’s Charlie Brown
waiting to kick the football, snatched away
just as he’s about to kick,
head in the clouds.
And Linus in the pumpkin patch,
shivering, sucking his thumb,
blanket in one hand, waiting
for the Great Pumpkin
to rise over the pumpkin patch,
like our long-lost father,
hoping he will
finally reveal himself to us.

The day before Christmas
we string popcorn and cranberry.
Hook red and green glass
bulbs and gingerbread decorations
until branches droop under the weight

of our greed for beauty and transformation.
No matter. Who gets to crown the tree
with the satin angel, a jeweled tiara, or golden star?
Look. The sun comes through the clouded windows.
Maybe there will be a miracle.

We ride the rapid transit
from the suburbs to downtown’s
Terminal Tower to see Mr. Jingaling
and visit the Twigbee shop
where boys and girls line
up to buy gifts. No parents allowed.

Poor Santa. He looks sad. His beard is
drooping. Not one of us
wants to sit on his knee
to ask for what we really want.
To want is to tempt ridicule.
Still, it’s better to believe.

On the rapid home
our wrapped candle and soaps
suddenly outside the fanciful shop
look pitiful in our laps.

The spectacle of houses
decorated with colored lights flashes past.
Each one grander than the other.
It’s growing dark.
Snow is slowly covering the lawns
in a white protective
blanket. We are shivering and cold.

Home. We put out our plate of cookies,
glass of milk, and ascend
to our rooms to wait.
One of us searches the sky.
Can reindeers fly?

Charlie Brown is depressed.
No one has sent him a Christmas card.
What is the meaning of Christmas?
Linus begins his soliloquy:
“And there were in the same country shepherds
abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,
and the glory of the Lord shone round about them,
and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them,
‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy
which will be to all people.
For unto you is born this day
in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you.
Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes
lying in the manger.’ And suddenly,
there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,
praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest,
and on Earth peace, good will toward men.’ ”
Charlie Brown is skeptical.
Lucy has commanded he direct
the school play and buy a Christmas tree.
Does compassion make him choose the saddest;
are we all bound by our own peculiar fate,
minor victories and wish for ballast?
Trimmed with one red bulb
from Snoopy’s decorated doghouse,
the branch with barely a needle left
droops to the ground and falls over.
I really am a blockhead, says Charlie Brown.
It is a good tree, Linus says.
All it needs is a little love.
We are all that which we might yet
become. Daughters of the night,
commanders of our own legends.
And lo and behold, the gang swaps out the tree
for a better one and hark the angels sing.

From The Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life, edited by Andrew Blauner (Library of America, October 22, 2019). Copyright © 2019 by Jill Bialosky. Used by permission.