Tag Archives: Peanuts

The Little Red-Haired Girl

It’s Jeanne’s birthday today–she’s away at a conference and I’m missing her. It is my blog custom on her birthday to post a reflection on how we met and how lucky I am. Some of you have read this one–if so, enjoy it again! If not, meet my beautiful partner! Please join me in celebrating my favorite person’s natal day!

A staple of my early years was the “Peanuts” comic strip. That doesn’t make me unusual—I don’t recall anyone in my circle of family and friends unaware of what Charlie Brown and company were up to on a daily or at least weekly basis. Depending on my mood and what was going on in my life, I resonated either with tumblr_l8pnbvbVeh1qdz4kto1_500[1]Linus, with whom I shared a host of insecurities; Schroeder, with whom I shared budding virtuosity on the piano; Snoopy, who was the epitome of coolness and could communicate volumes without saying a word; or Charlie Brown himself, whose endearing ineptitude in all aspects of his life was uncomfortably familiar.

I was a hopeless romantic, generally falling in love and making silent wedding plans any time a girl would make eye contact with me. Because of this, the most poignant story line in Charlie Brown’s escapades for me was his unrequited love for the never-seen little red-haired girl. nye3[1]Although she does make a couple of appearances in later, non-canonical television “Peanuts” cartoons, she is never seen in the print comic strip, nor do we learn her name. Charlie Brown most often notices the little red-haired girl while eating lunch outdoors on the playground, often trying to muster up the courage to speak to her, but always in vain. Anything touched by her or associated with her is precious to him. Many strips concerning the little red-haired girl end with a classic Charlie Brown “SIGH.”tumblr_lwy627YD7t1r1g3g0o1_500[1]

I understood Charlie’s struggles because in first and second grade there was a little red-haired girl in my class. Her name was Laura, her hair was carrot red, and since her last name also started with an “M” she sat in the seat in front of me. No one knew that I was enamored of Laura, certainly not her, but one day the secret was out. She unexpectedly handed a note back to me—it said “Can I borrow a pencil?”—someone observed the note transfer, assumptions were made, and during the next playground session it was “Vance and Laura, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.” As Charlie Brown would have said, “Good Grief.” Laura set things straight from her end by pointing out that everyone knew that she liked David, not me, but my failure to immediately deny my admiration of Laura confirmed everyone’s suspicions. Word spread fast, and my brother three grades ahead of me announced at dinner that evening to my parents that I was in love with a girl who didn’t like me.

Time passed, we moved away, and the little red-haired girl faded into the mists of memory. Life happened, and I ended up getting married to the first person I had a serious relationship with, my girlfriend during my last two years of high school (she had brown hair). Over the next decade two sons were born, things fell apart, and at age thirty-one I found myself divorced, living in the same town as my ex, finishing a Master’s degree and making plans to get into a doctoral program.Trudy and Bruce June 1982 My parents invited me along with my sons—ages eight and five—to their place five hundred miles away for Thanksgiving. And oh yeah—they were inviting their friend Jeanne for Thanksgiving as well.

I had heard about Jeanne before—my parents had known her for a number of years. When she came up in conversation, my mother always mentioned her beautiful singing voice and her beautiful red hair. Jeanne and I had even talked on the phone once a couple of years earlier, when she called me out of the blue just to tell me that she had been accepted into st_johns_college_logo[1]St. John’s College, where I had done my bachelor’s degree in the seventies. Jeanne only knew about it because my parents had spoken of it in glowing terms based on my experience. She thought—correctly—that only someone who had been there would know how big a deal it was to get into St. John’s.

So now this person who I knew only through second-hand stories from my mother and a voice on the phone was going to be at my parents’ for Thanksgiving. I’m not big on meeting new people, but figured this was safe because I would have my parents as a buffer.

Those few days over Thanksgiving changed several lives. Although the last thing I was looking for was a relationship six months after my divorce had ended eleven years of unhappy marriage, it was immediately clear that there was something going on between the two of us. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Thanksgiving morning I sat on the sofa in the small living room of my parents’ condo observing Jeanne chatting with my mother who was puttering around in her little kitchen. Leaning with her back up against the wall as she talked, Jeanne struck a seductive pose (or so it seemed to me) and I thought “she’s the little red-haired girl, all grown up!” A few days later, I inexplicably had tears in my eyes as I started the long drive home. In some deep place I knew I was driving away from my soul mate. But after a month of nightly phone calls of more than an hour each, she joined me for Christmas and we were together for good. And the rest is twenty-eight-plus years and counting of history still being written.

If being a romantic means being someone who believes that “Love is all you need” or that “Love is the answer,” I’m not a romantic any more. One thing we’ve learned over the past twenty-eight years is that love is not enough. A couple of weeks ago the text at church was the fruit of the spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness, Temperance. We have needed every one of these many times in order to keep going, in addition to the tenth, unmentioned fruit—humor. Each of us considered and even tried walking away from the whole thing more than once. But here we are, twenty-eight years in, stronger and more connected than we have ever been. Of the list above, the first three are in the ascendant. Love—because like fine wine and single malt scotch love gets better as it ages. Peace—of the sort that only comes with having spent almost half of your life in love with your best friend. And Joy–because unlike Chuck in the “Peanuts” strip, I got the little red-haired girl.WIN_20160522_16_29_13_Pro

The Little Red-Haired Girl

Today is my lovely Jeanne’s birthday–please join me in celebrating my favorite person’s natal day! This essay was first posted on our twenty-fifth anniversary last July.

A staple of my early years was the “Peanuts” comic strip. That doesn’t make me unusual—I don’t recall anyone in my circle of family and friends unaware of what Charlie Brown and company were up to on a daily or at least weekly basis. Depending on my mood and what was going on in my life, I resonated either with tumblr_l8pnbvbVeh1qdz4kto1_500[1]Linus, with whom I shared a host of insecurities; Schroeder, with whom I shared budding virtuosity on the piano; Snoopy, who was the epitome of coolness and could communicate volumes without saying a word; or Charlie Brown himself, whose endearing ineptitude in all aspects of his life was uncomfortably familiar.

I was a hopeless romantic, generally falling in love and making silent wedding plans any time a girl would make eye contact with me. Because of this, the most poignant story line in Charlie Brown’s escapades for me was his unrequited love for the never-seen little red-haired girl. nye3[1]Although she does make a couple of appearances in later, non-canonical television “Peanuts” cartoons, she is never seen in the print comic strip, nor do we learn her name. Charlie Brown most often notices the little red-haired girl while eating lunch outdoors on the playground, often trying to muster up the courage to speak to her, but always in vain. Anything touched by her or associated with her is precious to him. Many strips concerning the little red-haired girl end with a classic Charlie Brown “SIGH.”tumblr_lwy627YD7t1r1g3g0o1_500[1]

I understood Charlie’s struggles because in first and second grade there was a little red-haired girl in my class. Her name was Laura, her hair was carrot red, and since her last name also started with an “M” she sat in the seat in front of me. No one knew that I was enamored of Laura, certainly not her, but one day the secret was out. She unexpectedly handed a note back to me—it said “Can I borrow a pencil?”—someone observed the note transfer, assumptions were made, and during the next playground session it was “Vance and Laura, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.” As Charlie Brown would have said, “Good Grief.” Laura set things straight from her end by pointing out that everyone knew that she liked David, not me, but my failure to immediately deny my admiration of Laura confirmed everyone’s suspicions. Word spread fast, and my brother three grades ahead of me announced at dinner that evening to my parents that I was in love with a girl who didn’t like me.

Time passed, we moved away, and the little red-haired girl faded into the mists of memory. Life happened, and I ended up getting married to the first person I had a serious relationship with, my girlfriend during my last two years of high school (she had brown hair). Over the next decade two sons were born, things fell apart, and at age thirty-one I found myself divorced, living in the same town as my ex, finishing a Master’s degree and making plans to get into a doctoral program.Trudy and Bruce June 1982 My parents invited me along with my sons—ages eight and five—to their place five hundred miles away for Thanksgiving. And oh yeah—they were inviting their friend Jeanne for Thanksgiving as well.

I had heard about Jeanne before—my parents had known her for a number of years. When she came up in conversation, my mother always mentioned her beautiful singing voice and her beautiful red hair. Jeanne and I had even talked on the phone once a couple of years earlier, when she called me out of the blue just to tell me that she had been accepted into st_johns_college_logo[1]St. John’s College, where I had done my bachelor’s degree in the seventies. Jeanne only knew about it because my parents had spoken of it in glowing terms based on my experience. She thought—correctly—that only someone who had been there would know how big a deal it was to get into St. John’s.

So now this person who I knew only through second-hand stories from my mother and a voice on the phone was going to be at my parents’ for Thanksgiving. I’m not big on meeting new people, but figured this was safe because I would have my parents as a buffer.

Those few days over Thanksgiving changed several lives. Although the last thing I was looking for was a relationship six months after my divorce had ended eleven years of unhappy marriage, it was immediately clear that there was something going on between the two of us. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Thanksgiving morning I sat on the sofa in the small living room of my parents’ condo observing Jeanne chatting with my mother who was puttering around in her little kitchen. Leaning with her back up against the wall as she talked, Jeanne struck a seductive pose (or so it seemed to me) and I thought “she’s the little red-haired girl, all grown up!” A few days later, I inexplicably had tears in my eyes as I started the long drive home. In some deep place I knew I was driving away from my soul mate. But after a month of nightly phone calls of more than an hour each, she joined me for Christmas and we were together for good. And the rest is twenty-five years and counting of history still being written.

If being a romantic means being someone who believes that “Love is all you need” or that “Love is the answer,” I’m not a romantic any more. One thing we’ve learned over the past twenty-five years is that love is not enough. A couple of weeks ago the text at church was the fruit of the spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness, Temperance. We have needed every one of these many times in order to keep going, in addition to the tenth, unmentioned fruit—humor. Each of us considered and even tried walking away from the whole thing more than once. But here we are, twenty-five years in, stronger and more connected than we have ever been. Of the list above, the first three are in the ascendant. Love—because like fine wine and single malt scotch love gets better as it ages. Peace—of the sort that only comes with having spent almost half of your life in love with your best friend. And Joy–because unlike Chuck in the “Peanuts” strip, I got the little red-haired girl.The lovely couple

Being Schroeder

Regular or even occasional readers of this blog know that one of my guilty passions is various personality tests that are available on the Internet. Most recently I have found out that if I was a classical composer, I would be Johann Sebastian Bach (great news) and that my personality is most suited to living in Montana (total bullshit). A little while ago, thanks to my colleague Sandra who often shares these sorts of tests with her Facebook friends, I learned that if I was a Peanuts character, I would be Schroeder.Schroeder-peanuts-239733_172_250[1]

http://www.brainfall.com/quizzes/which-peanuts-character-are-you/

My Schroeder description reads as follows:

You are Schroeder. You are brilliant, ambitious, and brooding; you tackle tasks with extreme focus. People don’t always interest you as much as other pursuits, though; you can come off as aloof.

Upon reading this description to Jeanne, she affirmed that my Schroeder description (except perhaps for the “brilliant” part), for better or worse is completely accurate. She’s Charlie Brown, by the way. Until taking these personality tests I did not realize I was in a same-sex marriage, but I’m adjusting.

The one characteristic of being Schroeder not included in the above description, of course, is that Schroeder is most often seen in the Peanuts comic strip seated at his toy piano, playing exquisite Beethoven sonatas while Lucy swoons with unrequited love. Schroeder actually seems to be relatively well-adjusted, fine-tuning his piano virtuosity, fending off Lucy’s uninvited advances, imagesCANEV2RXcatching  on Charlie Brown’s woeful baseball team (I played first base very poorly on a little league team almost as bad as Chuck’s team), and along with Linus being Charlie’s most faithful friend. I suspect that between the strips Schroeder had some less positive experiences—or at least I did.

A bit over four years ago, a couple of months after returning home from a life-changing sabbatical semester, I travelled to Nashville to participate in a three-day workshop called thepp_logo300[1] “Pen and Path Spiritual Writer’s Conference.” I suspected at Friday evening’s opening get together that this was not going to be my cup of tea, as we started with group sharing. This, when strangers are involved, is in a virtual tie with sticking a fork in my eye on my list of favorite things to do. I survived that (barely), then the guy up front said “time for an exercise—focus on an object in the room and write.”  I looked in the corner of the room, and this came out:

imagesCA6H40CUWho knew that a mundane-shaped thing, a box,

could contain all the music there is?

At home, this was my best friend, my solace, my comfort.

But it became my enemy, raising the expectations to a level that could not be satisfied.

I’d like to make friends again.

“Whoa,” I thought, “where did that come from?” Actually I knew very well where it had come from, from a closed internal room that had been closed for so long that I could for long periods of time pretend that I didn’t know about it. But on sabbatical I had started exploring some long-untouched places in writing, and apparently it was time for this one. I typed the rough poem into my laptop that evening in my room and filed it in the “unfinished essay” file, where it has sat untouched for the past four-plus years. Finding out that I am Schroeder reminded of that room and poem once again. hands-keys-music-piano-play-Favim.com-57134_large[1]There is more in that room that could be rummaged through in a dozen essays, but it’s time to start.

My love affair with the piano began at four or five years of age. My older brother had started lessons a couple of years earlier, but never took to the instrument as I did as soon as my parents gave into my impassioned petitions and let me start lessons  a couple of years earlier than they were planning. From the beginning I knew I had met my soul mate. Our piano was an old upright painted a horrible yellow, so old that the blind piano tuner who came once per year was only able to tune it a whole step lower than where it should have been. But I loved it more than if it had been a Steinway. Once school years started I went directly to the piano as soon as I got home, often needing the familiar feel of the keys and sound of the notes to soothe and center me after a bad day. My mother never had to remind me to practice; rather, she had to remind me that there is more to life, even for a seven or eight year old, than sitting by oneself wrapped up in a private world where things made sense.

And I was good enough to become a minor celebrity, not only in my family but also at the churches and schools I attended during my growing up years. I was the regular evening entertainment when family and friends gathered either at our house or at my grandparents’ homesteads which also had old pianos. I was accompanying the church choir and playing for church services by the time I turned ten years old, and was the go-to person for imagesCAM5A96XChristmas pageant accompaniment and solos from the same age at school. I had two piano teachers between when I started and when I graduated from high school—both placed me either at the beginning or end of their yearly student recitals, the privileged positions reserved for students guaranteed both to impress the audience and not to embarrass the teacher by screwing up. In later recital years, I was often afforded the even greater privilege of playing a four hands, two piano duet with my teacher as the closing performance of the recital. My teachers, family and friends helped stoke the internal fire had burned brighter and brighter for years. I was going to be a concert pianist.

It was not easy being Schroeder, though. First of all, Lucy’s infatuation in the Peanuts cartoon with Schroeder notwithstanding, being Schroeder does not make one a chick+magnet_4c006c_4245799[1]chick magnet, even for crabby chicks like Lucy. In my case, the piano provided me with a regular and welcome escape from the normal social awkwardness and challenges that all children and adolescents struggle with. Being Schroeder also, together with my academic success, lack of sports prowess and skinny physique, caused many of my male colleagues in school at all grade levels to regularly wonder whether my testosterone levels were at the appropriate value. I came to believe that I was most acceptable when my musical abilities or academic prowess was required and pretty much unacceptable the rest of the time.

I was well into my high school years before I fully realized that although I was good, I wasn’t that good. I clearly remember when the first seeds of doubt were planted. At age ten or eleven I had just finished perfecting my first Chopin nocturne. Chopin is the Olympics of solo piano performance, and I was thoroughly impressed with myself. hqdefault[1]Then a missionary family making the rounds through Baptist churches in New England stopped by our church for a Sunday. These folks were missionaries to Korea, and with them had a four-year old Korean orphan girl whom they had adopted. After the morning service, she sat down at the old upright piano in our church and from memory played the very Chopin nocturne I had struggled mightily for weeks on end to master. And hearing her play it as effortlessly as breathing, I realized I had not mastered it at all. Not only would I never be Mozart—I never was even going to be this little girl.

But dreams die hard, and with the loving but entirely biased support of my family, friends, and piano teachers, I sustained the hope of concert halls and world travel for many years longer. I don’t remember a specific event that finally slammed the door on my hopes and dreams, but I am glad no one said “when God closes a door He always opens a window.” I would have replied, along with Nadia Bolz-Weber in Pastrix, “please show me where that window is so I can push Him the fuck out of it.” Decades later, I have only begun over the past few years to make peace with the loss of my best friend who literally kept me centered and sane. I don’t know iimages[4]f Schroeder took his toy piano on concert tour, but my bet is that he married Lucy and has made a life for himself doing something he never would have expected. So it goes. I am far happier and more blessed than any human being deserves; my music has even come back in unexpected ways over the last two or three years. But every once in a while, Psalm 90 appears in the daily cycle of Psalms that I read every morning. When reading its closing lines, “May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us; prosper the work of our hands,” I always wistfully think for a brief moment of how the piano keys used to feel under my hands.large_SchroederLucy[1]