Thursday, December 11, 2014
12/11: Bill Roorbach on A Charlie Brown Christmas
The girls worked on their hair with curling irons and spray, the boys winced under makeup from the volunteer moms, Pig Pen happily getting dusted with cornstarch. Charlie Brown’s shirt was briefly lost, but there it was under Schroeder’s toy piano, the familiar zig-zag sewn on tight. The kid playing Chuck was perfect, pulled the shirt over his head, instant cartoon. The toilet backed up.
I was the dad with the video cam assuring everyone I’d make DVDs for one and all, setting up my tripod by the light booth in back, where I’d be sure to catch everything under the spots run by the dreadlocked grandma we all knew from pre-school pick-ups forward. My daughter, taller than everyone else at 14, was Sally, and she and I had studied Sally’s hair quite a bit, that flip in front, the standing wave in back. “I won’t be me, and I won’t quite be her,” Elysia said. “It’s a third person, that’s who you’ll see.”
Such real people, encapsulated as types—that was the genius of Charles Schulz, just as it was the genius of Shakespeare.
And my daughter was right—fresh beings emerged. Peppermint Patty was nothing like the freckle-faced hoyden of the strip, and neither was she like the kid playing her. But who can tell the dancer from the dance? Snoopy was a feckless four-year-old in long ears who blew his lines adorably and made entrances whenever it suited him, crossing the stage in front of nearly every scene. Some of the other kids started saying his lines for him so the jokes would make sense. And the audience, including me, finally got the jokes and roared.
Full credit to Snoopy.
I loved the milling afterwards, watching parents congratulate kids, and brothers and sisters offer high fives. Uncles and aunts, grandparents, ministers, teachers: connect the dots. And those pencil lines will extend into daily life now—suddenly the oil delivery guy and I have Peanuts in common. Suddenly I realize the Irish guy has six kids under 12 years old. The families, the resemblances, the range, the diversity, a study in morphology: the bigs, the smalls, the slenders, the fireplugs, the willows, the oaks.
All thrown together for six weeks of brief rehearsals and four long performances at a little decommissioned church near my home here in western Maine, rural territory, make that rural-rural, poverty rural, a town called Industry, an outpost called Week’s Mills, once all bustling farms, and mills of all kinds (fulling, wood, grist), now but one farm left, only hints at mills, a great bolt sticking from a rock here, the remains of a dam there, no industry left.
Some brilliant congregant thought of turning the tiny and unsellable church into a theater, and for the last several years kids and adults alike have shone like stars up there on the simple stage amid simple plywood sets, thrift-shop props.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” this season, roles for an expandable number of children, from Snoopy to Violet to Re-Run to The Little Red-Haired Girl, and many more, fulsome reminder of the depth of the old classic comic. I just came from the final performance, where I bought cookies and raffle tickets and of course admission, quite an investment over four days, an investment in community.
Which Peanuts was always all about.
Now to put together the best of my recordings, make the kids a keepsake, remembering that there are no adults in Peanuts, no adults at all.
Bill Roorbach is the author of many books, notably the novels Life Among Giants and The Remedy for Love, Temple Stream (winner of the Maine Prize for nonfiction), Into Woods: Essays, the romantic memoir Summers with Juliet, and the craft book Writing Life Stories: Making Memories into Memoir, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature. As of April 2009, Bill writes full time. He lives in Maine with his family.