This blog is in honor of one of Charlie Brown’s favorite saying, “Good Grief!” It seems so timely this year during a year traveling through grief, loss, and mourning. While not certain if it is good grief, it is my grief. Charlie Brown and the Peanuts celebrated a milestone last week. Each year growing up, the Charlie Brown Christmas Special was a staple in our family. Before the various modes of recordings, our family hovered around the television each year for the annual showing. My mother’s infectious excitement for the holiday season presented every year religiously. Over time by pre teen and teenage years, my three siblings and I became less enthusiastic about the ritual. The story remained a staple in our family history passed along to our family’s next generation. The tradition took hold easily in our growing family. Today, my daughter is in her second year at college and son is 13 years old. The draw is less exciting and practical to watch as a family together not too different than when I was their ages.
Nevertheless, this year extra motivation was provided to continue carrying on my mother’s inspirational excitement with the milestone special honoring the 50th anniversary of Charles Schulz’s creation of a Charlie Brown Christmas. The search to find some holiday spirit this year was challenging and this extra boost helpful amongst the grief and loss of the last 2 years (death of my grandparents, close family friend, father-in-law, brother, and sister-in-law). With a little encouragement, my husband, son, and I shared time around the TV when it played live this year last Tuesday. The beautiful song performed by Kristen Chenoweth “Happiness” from the “Peanuts” Broadway hit truly resonated with me highlighting the simple moments in life. The Happiness song can be heard at twenty-eight and a half minutes into this link. This is where the best memories in life are created.
An example of the simple and beautiful moments occurred in the local pediatrician office last Wednesday evening. My son and I were in the waiting room watching and cheering on an adorable 18 month old who recently learned to climb in a chair and sit by herself. She climbed in the chair at least 5 times, sitting only a brief moment, and then climbed down in the short time we watched. The thrill of the adventure and challenge was more exciting than actually getting to the top of the chair, sitting, and enjoying the view. Sure the applause of bystanders was enjoyed, but the true joy was within herself and smile that flowed brilliantly as she reached the top.
This persistence and dedication to achieve small goals, be it climbing the chair in the waiting room, passing on family traditions watching the Charlie Brown Christmas, or kicking a football are critical in life. Going back to the Peanuts, anyone who knows Charlie Brown remembers his repeated attempts to kick the football from Lucy’s hands without falling flat on his back. This classic example highlights never giving up and keeping hope alive. Discouraged and frustrated just six months after my brother’s death and two months after my sister-in-law, the holiday time seemed to be full of doom and gloom and impossibilities to find joy. Holiday dread was in my mind. After all, how could we be happy and celebrate? Two dear loved ones were unkindly and unfairly ripped from our lives and left to make memories and moments without them being present in the scrapbooks of the future.
Taking a play from the Charlie Brown playbook, I persisted and tried to stay positive, persistent, find goodness, and joy in the holiday season. Traveling home from Thanksgiving at my parents, our family picked out a holiday tree at a new Christmas tree lot without much planning. We decided as a family that if we spotted a tree lot we would not pass it up. My daughter and I put the lights on before she left for college in Madison that evening. My daughter was not able to participate with ornament trimming due to exams and our holiday plans.
The ornaments sat in boxes most of the week with only a few coming out each day. So many memories of history through the years live in the ornaments that stopped the trimming process on numerous occasions for me with sadness and joy. Many ornaments were homemade as a child dating back as far as four decades ago. I remember fondly creating with my siblings the baby Jesus cribs out of nuts, knit mittens and hats, created felt ornament characters, and displayed our school pictures prominently in hand painted ceramic ornaments.
Every year, prayers that my personal favorite ornament of young childhood, made of dough baked and painted into a sad rendition of Big Bird from Sesame Street, would survive another year in storage. I promptly shared the image with my daughter who was pleased to see it was in good repair. Some years it would need some minor repair before getting placed on the tree. This year no repairs were needed.
The pickle ornament, a German tradition, evolved into our Steltzer family holiday celebrations. The memory of my father-in-law finding the pickle his last Christmas with us is so cherished. With his Santa suspenders on, his dementia was progressing fast and we had to “clue him in” on where it was hiding so that he could be the owner of the pickle present in 2012. With his passing this year, my son proudly carries the honor of wearing the Santa suspenders. Perhaps he will even win the pickle present this year.
The memories and joys in the holiday treasures are felt and now glowing on the tree. With the help of my son, the lights on the tree outside our home are lit, the Santa of their childhood is prominently displayed, and the holiday cheer is present. While the journey trimming the tree took a bit longer this year and took on a different twist, it was worth the adventure and challenge this year just like the cute little 18 month old who climbed the chair in the waiting room. A festive appearance unique to our family now radiates as we drive into the driveway. Inside the house, the healing music theme was a ray of hope that continued throughout this year even showed up on the tree via my mother. She found this lovely “Joy to the World” ribbon earlier this year. Until this week, I had no idea what I would do with it. The power of the Peanuts and Snoopy showed us that we all need to keep moving forward on our individual journeys in life to heal, grow, and enjoy the God given gift of life.
Thank you Charles Schulz for your wisdom. To all those no longer with us this year, (Bob Emerson, Greg Romenesko, and Nancy Romenesko) you are held very close to our hearts and not forgotten. Sending extra love to your family and friends. To Charles Schulz and all those who have traveled their journey in years past (Jim and Ida Peeters, Kathy VanGompel, and many others), you are cherished, remembered, and loved.