Monday, February 14, 2000

Farewell to a dreamer who kept trying

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For nearly 50 years, Charles Schulz taught millions to smile.

        Charlie Brown, his round-headed comic strip character, showed us how to manage a wrinkled grin after falling flat on your face. Or while hanging upside down from a kite-eating tree.

        Snoopy, that wise and whacky beagle, gave lessons on dancing with glee whenever life leaves you feeling tickled.

        Sunday, as news of Charles Schulz' death became known, smiles faded. Snoopy didn't feel like dancing. And, neither did I. With the cartoonist's passing, I feel the world has lost some of its innocence, sweetness and optimism.

        Charles Schulz died Saturday, 9:45 p.m. PST, at his home in Santa Rosa, Calif. He was 77 and, as the world knew, had colon cancer. The disease forced him to announce in December he was retiring his beloved comic strip, “Peanuts.” His announcement came 11 months shy of having his work appear on the funny pages, every day, for half a century.

        Like another timeless American humorist, Charles Schulz left this world on an ironic note. Mark Twain liked to joke that he was born and liable to die with the appearance of Halley's comet. And, he did.

        Charles Schulz left with his last comic strip. At the time of his death, 2,600 newspapers, including the Enquirer, were printing copies of their Sunday editions with the final installment of “Peanuts.”

        What a way to go. Making his last exit before taking the final bow. Leaving in peace before the last hurrah.

Indomitable spirit
        Charles Schulz was just as subtle in the comic pages. Charlie Brown's worries drove him to seek Lucy's advice at her sidewalk stand with signs announcing, “The doctor is "In'” and “Psychiatric help 5.”

        Underneath his character's angst, the cartoonist repeatedly delivered a message of deep, abiding optimism. Being a shy Midwesterner by birth, he did not hit his readers over the head with his theme of hope. He just let his characters lead by example.

        No matter how many times Lucy pulled the football away from Charlie Brown and made him land flat on his back, bonking his head on the ground, Charlie Brown kept coming back for more. His faith in the human spirit undimmed, he believed Lucy would one day be honest and he would kick that football.

        No matter how many baseball games he lost, no matter how many times Charlie Brown literally got his socks knocked off while on the mound, he kept pitching. He did not give up.

        Now, there will be no more baseball games, no more tussles with Lucy and that blasted football, no more dances with Snoopy.

One and the same
        As I read Sunday's last “Peanuts,” it occurred to me that Charlie Brown and Snoopy — the two characters featured in the opening panels of the final strip — were different parts of the same person, Charles Schulz.

        Snoopy was the dreamer in the cartoonist. Prone to great leaps of imagination, Snoopy sat atop his doghouse and became a World War I flying ace. Other times, he would become “the world-famous author” banging away at his typewriter, beginning every story with “It was a dark and stormy night.”

        While Snoopy dreamed, Charlie Brown was the determined optimist grounded in reality. The dog's dreams fueled the kid's hopes.

        As a boy, Charles Schulz dreamed of becoming a cartoonist. He became the best in the business.

        Now, both the cartoon and the cartoonist are gone.

        Tonight, when the light runs out on another day, I plan to do what Snoopy always did on Veteran's Day. He'd quaff a root beer and toast old soldiers.

        I'll drink to a veteran who has passed, a dreamer who kept trying.

        Before the mug is empty, I'll re-read the last words of his last comic strip: “Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy ... how can I ever forget them.”

        To that, I will add:

        Charles Schulz, we will always remember.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.