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'My wife used to do these things'


A Valentine's Day duty fulfilled despite her absence



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February 05, 2013 | 01:37 PM
My wife Beverly departed this life three days after Valentine's Day 2011. I sent birthday and anniversary cards to our progeny, all 16 of them, during 2011. I sent valentines to all of them a year ago, 2012.

This year I don't know what to do, except dredge up this piece written after Valentine's Day 2012. Maybe my editor will take pity and make a sort of "print valentine" for any reader, to say nothing about the 16 family members.

While the Peanuts strip deals in

psychology, social commentary and

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often bitter humor, its hallmark is

its perspective: all these issues

experienced, evaluated and ultimately

decided upon by children. This is

one of the things that made Charles

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Schulz so popular with the masses.

— a note on the back of a Valentine's card

Charles Schulz and Peanuts are an authentic study of the grand adventure that is life. Having observed comic strips for decades, I discovered that the Schulz scan and scrutiny of humankind is as mature and penetrating as the work of any artist in any field.

All you have to do is accept children and the multitude of metaphorical lessons that flow from them. The mere fact that Schulz used children to communicate with adults makes a curious linguistic stew.

I was in a Hallmark store three weeks before Valentine's Day (2012). The supply of Peanuts cards was as ample as I've ever seen. And new ones. Instantly I decided to find cards for my five children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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My wife usually did things like this. I tried to keep her card-giving birthday and anniversary observances going over the year. I did reasonably well, but standing before all that red in the Hallmark store and knowing the first anniversary of Beverly's passing was three days after Valentine's Day, I had a primal urge to purchase cards for all the family — that is, 16 Peanuts cards.

You ask, can you get that many different Peanuts' valentine's cards? I did. Or close to it. I bought enough cards for all, and repetition was at a minimum.

I thought about my family members, the nature of the observance and insights the various cards and characters conveyed, and voila! It became a matching game.

Every family member is different, just as every Peanuts thought, every metaphorical element, is different. Here's an example. The face of one card shows Charlie Brown, broad smile, closed eyes, holding out a card with a heart on it and exclaiming, "To get a Valentine from me, you'd have to be pretty special."

Another card is identical, except that it is an alert, bright-eyed Snoopy, sitting, card in mouth, delivering the following: "To get a Valentine from me you'd have to be pretty special..."

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What are the expectations when you open each of these cards? If you are a Peanuts person, you know members of the gang will stay in character. Yet you also understand the variety that can emit from each of them. That's why Schulz's work is so broad and penetrating. We have a group of perfect foils, our own selves. Every character affects us differently. That's the Charles Schulz magic, and he practiced it for more than 50 years.

Inside both cards was the following: "And you are! Happy Valentine's Day." Same words in both cards. Neither Charlie Brown nor Snoopy are to be seen inside the cards, just the words.

The difference between the two cards is based on expectations generated by the two characters. The predictable and borderline boring Charlie Brown, whose optimism cannot be counted on, even in a valentine. Yet you can't call him a pessimist. There is always hope.

Snoopy, on the other hand, is playful, unpredictable, optimistic. He has a habit of making us feel good.

Now it's up to you. Would you rather receive the Charlie Brown card or the Snoopy card? Metaphorical magic I call It.

I have to admit to having fun matching cards with family personalities. So for the second year since my wife's passing, I managed to reach each of my progeny. Now what about next year?

Bruce Johnson is a former teacher at Badger High School.

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