Monday, September 15, 2014

Highland PEANUTS

Two weekends ago, I went down to the Los Angeles area for my grandmother's memorial service. But through sad times like this can come beautiful memories and family re-connections, and I think that would make Grandma Asher happy.

Every couple of years during trips to the L.A. area, I like to take time and revisit important locations from my childhood in Arcadia, which is where my family lived until I was almost 13 years old. A good chunk of those memories came from my elementary school, Highland Oaks.

Walking across the fields and past the classrooms twists my heart and warms my soul in so many fun, painful, and interesting ways. To compare how I viewed life then and now, and how I viewed myself then and now, is probably a healthy exercise for a writer. Or maybe not! Either way, I do it.

And even if I don't look the same as back then, the oak tree in the middle of the "older kid" playground does!

I drove by my old home, as well, which also looks much the same. In that bay window, I spent many sunny and rainy days reading in a comfy chair, facing the San Gabriel Mountains, and the round porthole-like window was at one end of my bedroom. My mom recently told me that when we lived there, a previous owner stopped by to walk through the place to have his own nostalgia trip. I'm trying to gain the guts to do that myself.

Last weekend, I went the other direction in California to Santa Rosa for my sister-in-law's engagement party. I knew I would also be making my second visit to the Charles M. Schulz Museum. If you've seen me speak about my journey as a writer, or have known me for some time, you know Mr. Schulz was a huge influence on me creatively. One of my most shared blog posts begins with a Peanuts strip, and if I ever get a tattoo there will be a recognizable Peanuts element to it (something else I need to gain the guts to do).

On this second visit to the museum, I was even more excited than the first time (and I could feel my inner Highland Oaksian absolutely freaking out!). This time, I was going to meet Jean Schulz, the widow of Charles Schulz. How did that awesomeness come about? This summer, I ran into Mo Willems at the American Library Association conference. During our conversation with a few other authors, I apparently let it be known what a huge Blockhead (major Peanuts fan) I am. It turns out that he's a friend of Ms. Schulz, and said the next time I went to the museum, he'll see if he can arrange a meeting. Shortly after, I learned a trip to Santa Rosa was going to happen. So I contacted him through our mutual publisher, Penguin, and... I am with Ms. Schulz (or Jeannie, as I now call her!!!).

She was way above the sweetness I'd hoped for, and was so generous with her time. She shared personal thoughts about some of the strips currently on display, and showed me design elements of the museum that were her ideas. She even signed a copy of Happiness is a Warm Puppy, the first Peanuts book, to my son and me.

I also spent a few hours on my own in the museum. They have documentaries and cartoons you can watch, a recreation of the artist's studio (using the actual items and furniture he worked on and near), and memorabilia from his life.  The pull for many fans is seeing the actual strips he drew, which are much larger than what appear in newspapers. These strips rotate several times a year, so repeat visits are necessary. And it is a real treat to see his ink lines up close.

Just like Charlie Brown's dad in the strip, Mr. Schulz's dad owned a barbershop, which I've been fortunate enough to visit (actually, it's a bar now, but the bar recognizes its historical significance!). Apparently, just like me, Mr. Schulz liked to revisit places from his childhood. On a trip back to Minnesota in the 90s, he saw that his father's barber pole was still posted outside the building even though there was no longer a barbershop there. So he brought it back to California.

So maybe one day I'll move the oak tree from Highland Oaks and replant it in my backyard!

But I'm sure there's a slightly better chance I'll get a tattoo before that ever happens.

1 comment:

Sabrina Steyling said...

Jay, I'm sorry about your grandma. But what great memories! Meeting Jean Just wow! :)