95 Charles Schulz and Peanuts biographer David Michaelis reveals much! PODCAST INTERVIEW

Today’s Guest: David Michaelis, author, Schulz and Peanuts

Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis, Mr. Media Interviews
Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis. Order your copy today by clicking on the book cover above!

Peanuts Treasury was the first hardcover book I remember getting as a kid, somewhere around 1968, 1969. I spent hours reading and re-reading it, losing myself in the comic misadventures of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, wishing I could be like Charles Schulz, the strip’s writer and artist. My first dog, acquired around that same time, was not coincidentally a beagle, like Snoopy, whom we named Peppy, and I loved that crazy dog. I was so fond of Peanuts Treasury that it’s one of the few prized possessions from my misspent youth that followed me through college, half a dozen adult relocations, and is now on my daughter’s bookshelf.

It’s hard to find anyone who has anything bad to say about “Peanuts” or Schulz. The strip’s creator lived and thrived in the pre-Internet age where the world didn’t demand every detail of a celebrity’s life be preserved and shared. For the most part, we knew only his good works and the enduring cartoon series based on them. In his new book, Schulz and Peanuts, biographer David Michaelis introduces readers to the real cartoonist behind the daily strip. Michaelis’ previous biographical work includes a history of painter N. C. Wyeth.

(Incidentally, the Schulz family – led by Sparky’s widow, Jean – has aggressively come out against the book they once authorized and with which they cooperated fully.)

BOB ANDELMAN/MR. MEDIA: You write in the book that different people called Charles Schulz by different names, depending, I guess, on their level of familiarity with him and his comfort level with them. What would you call him if you met him today?

DAVID MICHAELIS: In my dreams, and I do meet Sparky occasionally in my dreams, we’re on a first-name basis, meaning the time, as you know, you spend with a figure and you’re thinking about him and about his work and his life every day, you do occasionally meet up in a dream at night. And I’ve had a few where Sparky has called me “David” and I’ve called him “Sparky” and sometimes tried to judge his expressions. I’ve tried to make sense of what he thinks of all this, but in real life, I would call him “Mr. Schulz.” If I were opening the door of the Warm Puppy Coffee Shop at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena in Santa Rosa, I would walk in and walk up to his table and say, “Mr. Schulz, how do you do?” I think he had a certain level of formality and decency and a kind of calmness that inspired respect.

ANDELMAN: What was going on in your life professionally when this book came along, and how did it come along?

MICHAELIS: Well, I was two years away from a previous biography of an artist, N. C. Wyeth, and I felt very strongly when I saw that Charles Schulz had died that a piece of my childhood had just vanished. I was not unlike you in a very specific regard – I actually had a beagle, too. In fact, that dog came to us from the pound and was given to us as a dog named “Phooey,” and we thought that was a terrible name for a beagle, and so we renamed him “Pooey,” which is what stuck with us with this beagle.

I also had a Linus sweatshirt, and I was very much — in that moment in 1967, 1968 — of great self-identification with “Peanuts” characters. But actually, it was looking in these years of studying “Peanuts” as a biographer that I often came across one of Snoopy’s exclamations repeated frequently in the early years, “Phooey!” he would yell, and I figured that was probably why the previous owners had named our dog that.

I had a great, strong childhood feeling about “Peanuts”, and to find him now gone in the year 2000, which was in itself one of those years that people my age had been waiting for all our lives. The year 2000 was so far in the future and seemed so impossible that I wondered if I would even be alive. And to now find Charles Schulz gone within a month and a half of the turning of the millennium, it was a shock.

I remember thinking that when I saw “Peanuts” in its fullest accounting, in the New York Times, I remember there were small displays of the characters, small little introductions, sensing for the first time how these characters that I felt I knew so well might be connected to his work and to his life. And overall, my sense was, Gee, there is a moment here that maybe will close soon but in which Charles Schulz can be seen for the first time in the context of the times in which he grew up and in the times in which “Peanuts” was written and the times in which he himself changed and influenced through his work. I thought a big, full-length proper biography was not only due this American genius (but) I was still kind of mad at the Pulitzer Prize committee for not awarding Charles Schulz a Pulitzer Prize. He seemed not to ever have been undervalued as strongly as he felt he was, but I certainly felt he had been somehow overlooked in certain ways, and I thought if his life had been told perhaps in a more simplified way, then it might ultimately reveal greater complexity.

David Michaelis, author, Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, Mr. Media Interviews
David Michaelis, author, Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography

ANDELMAN: It’s one thing to have a thought in a vacuum that someone would make an interesting biography, and it’s another whole one to devote what, six, seven years of your life? How did you get the clearance early on to get the access to the people and the documents and everything else that you really needed to do something like this?

MICHAELIS: In thinking over Schulz, I put it aside thinking I had no business writing about Schulz, probably because I wasn’t known as or had not had adult professional training as a comics guy. I was not a writer about comics. I was a reader of comics but not a writer of them and never had written about comics in my professional life. But after I thought things over… As with some many of these things, I think the subject chooses you rather than you choosing the subject, two people came long in the next month or two after his death and said to me, apropos almost of nothing except it turned out my own inner doghouse thoughts, “Hey, did you know that Charles Schulz spent a good deal of his adult life wishing to meet Andrew Wyeth and hoping to know Andrew Wyeth or loved his work?” And I had just finished a biography of N. C. Wyeth and thought to myself, well, if there’s a connection to Andrew Wyeth, presumably there may be a connection to this whole world that I’ve just been living in of illustration, which was an undervalued art form in somewhat the same way that comics were.

I wrote to Charles Schulz’ widow, Jean Schulz and ten days later heard back, and Jean Schulz said that her husband, Sparky, she put it in the present tense, she said, “You’ll be glad to hear that my husband has your book, and it’s on the table beside the drawing table at home, and he was reading it in the last months of his life.”

It felt like not just a vote of confidence, but it almost had a “it was meant to be” feeling about it. I think Wyeth and Schulz are very different people, and there’s a very different story there, but to see this undervalued art form and relate it in some ways to comics was a starting point in some ways of understanding the comics of Schulz. But more than that, I felt strongly after looking into the images of Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, familiar images if you read those books and Scribner Illustrated Classics, and finding Wyeth’s life in them that this might be an approach to “Peanuts” and I felt strongly that there was more, there had to be more to “Peanuts” if it was as complex in nuance as it seemed to be, and it had to relate in some way to his life.

ANDELMAN: You heard back from Jean, and how much time went by before you actually got started?

MICHAELIS: I wrote to Jean in May, she wrote back, the month turned, and we were into June. We met in June, because I happened to be out in California at a wedding about two weeks later. She agreed to meet with me. We met. We spoke at length about the subject of a biography, and we both agreed to get started interviewing sooner than later, especially with the men who Schulz had known in the war. I think I learned recently from the Ken Burns documentary about WWII that now it’s up to 1,200 veterans a day dying off in 2007, so it was probably a slightly slower rate in 2000. But still, it was clear that to get to some of these men who knew him in the war, his neighborhood friends growing up, the folks who knew him at art instructioning would be a great thing for not only the book but also the archives of the Charles M. Schulz Museum, which was then pretty much still on the drawing board. I agreed that my notes and interview materials and research materials should all be placed into the research center at the Museum so that there would be a kind of nucleus in the archives there. I felt very strongly that that was a great thing to do and that it would be of some service to the whole idea of an archive.

I think that there was no question that people were still in grief about Schulz at the time, and my interviews began almost immediately. I still to this day wonder whether or not had I started a few years later, there might have emerged a different portrait. But people were really ready to talk to me about Sparky. I found in my earliest interviews that I almost couldn’t get a word in edgewise, and it’s true of interviewing, as you know; you go and see someone, and they have had a lifetime of experience with the person you are writing about, or they’ve had half a lifetime or anyway a long relationship usually, and there’s a lot to say. You really don’t need to say a thing. They want to tell their story.

Schulz had such a profound impact not only on all of us readers but those in his life, too, and that was the first awareness I had of some of Schulz’s, the nuances, the subtleties of Schulz’s character, but also, as I began to read the comic strip now in earnest, there was, to me, a whole world that was embedded and now was beginning to correspond to the things I was hearing about in his life. And then to go to his correspondence and his business papers with the syndicate, opening up those, there was a richness suddenly, a kind of three-dimensional — I don’t know if you played it, but I remember as a kid, suddenly chess was played on Lucite on three, or checkers, in three levels at the same time. I always felt it was a little like that with the interviewing and the papers and the strip itself.

ANDELMAN: I suspect that a lot of the people that you interviewed, particularly the older people, found it easier to talk about Schulz shortly after his death than when he was alive, because he was very private, right?

MICHAELIS: Absolutely.

ANDELMAN: Did not want people talking about him, so they probably had decades of things that they wanted to tell.

MICHAELIS: Absolutely. Exactly. I think one of the complications that came up, the words I would hear about Sparky were that he was a wonderful man, as you and I would imagine, and that he was shy and that he was humble and that he was unchanged from his earlier days, usually, that he was generous and that he was fun and funny and had a sharp, edgy wit at times. There was always a moment in which someone would say, “But you know, there was more to it.” That’s all true, and there would be anecdotes and material presented along those lines and very warmly and very appreciatively.

ANDELMAN: Before we turned on the tape, we were talking, and I was telling you that I had done this biography of Will Eisner, another comics legend. And in doing that, I can still remember sitting at the dinner table with him one night when he started telling me about his children, something that he had never talked about before, and finding out — I don’t want to make this about my book or Eisner — at that moment that a lot of what had happened to him in the last thirty years had to do with the loss of his daughter as a teenager. I knew at that moment that that was going to be the electrifying moment of the book, and what I wondered about, was there a similar kind of an “a-ha” moment in researching Schulz and learning about Schulz, or was it a lot of things?

MICHAELIS: I think it was an accumulation, without question, but I had moment after moment where I was surprised to learn that Schulz was more complicated than I could have guessed and that I really was with everybody else, I expected a very specific kind of person, and my sympathies or my feelings about him grew and I became far more engaged with him as a man, as a person, than I had been before, because I found it fascinating. I found what I was hearing about him fascinating.

The whole theme of love, for instance. He had a very difficult time throughout his life, to hear the story told by those nearest him, to hear himself tell the story. Another great source for me was the interviews he had given to American newspapers over the years. He considered the newspaper his employer. He considered the managing editor of any newspaper who sent him a reporter to do an interview, he considered that person to be part of his job to respond to, so over the years, he made an account of his life. Sometimes it was day by day, week by week, and you could chart some of the changes in his views and his thinking as those went on.

Let me back up. I remember my first interview with Cathy GuisewGaryite (“Cathy”), the cartoonist, and I remember as I was leaving her office, she said, “You know, this is going to be fascinating for you because you are going to find out something right away. You are going to find out that Sparky is incredibly big and incredibly small at the same time.” Cathy, who had given a eulogy for Sparky some months earlier at his memorial service in Santa Rosa and clearly understood him and clearly was a trusted and beloved member of his. I’m not sure if inner circle is the right term, but she was a close friend and knew him. It wasn’t somebody looking in from the outside, she had known him, and I remember her saying to me in that first interview, “You know, he always wanted to know if he was loved. He would test you. He would test you to see whether you really loved him, and he wasn’t quite sure even then once you had made your declaration, even kiddingly, or even light-heartedly or even passionately or even with great depth of feeling, ‘I love you, Sparky.’” She wasn’t sure even then whether he could hear it.

I remember just before that seeing that last interview with Al Roker in which he, having had a stroke, in the context of his illness he was very vulnerable. The vulnerability of Charles Schulz was suddenly very much there for the whole world to see and that sense of vulnerability in which he was able to say, “I can’t believe that what I did, they loved what I did. I can’t believe that what I did, that they thought it was so good.” That even now, at the end, after all, wondering whether his work had been loved truly, whether he had been seen and understood, whether it was understood, that whole process that he had gone through in his entire life of becoming an artist, triumphing over doubts of all kinds in his background; his parents not thinking that a cartoonist would ever amount to very much; supporting him, trying to be the loving parents of an aspiring artist; his cousins being a little more cruel to him, saying, “You’re never going to make it. You’re never going to amount to anything,” but that he fulfilled expectations, that he exceeded all expectations and fulfilled himself but still could doubt whether or not what he had done was good. He would say to Gary Groth, the editor of The Comics Journal, very comprehensive interview at the end of his life, you know, “Have I had success? Do you think so?” and mean it. He wasn’t just jesting, he wasn’t being ironic, he really meant it. You hear it over and over again, Schulz doubting whether he’s loved, whether he’s seen clearly, whether he’s understood.

It goes back into some deep childhood stuff where he even said back at one point something the way Linus would be sent by Charlie Brown to talk to a little red-haired girl on the playground. I discovered that he had asked this Pudge Geduldig, stellar golfer on the St. Paul Central High golf team, to go back and talk to a girl that Charles Schulz, little Sparky Schulz, had been in love with, had a crush on on the Lake Street streetcar, and he just wanted Pudge to go back to St. Paul and ask her, “Did you notice him? Did you see him? Were you aware that there was this boy who had a crush on you?” Of course, this by then was the early 1970s, Charles Schulz, world-famous Charles Schulz could have picked up the phone and called Lila Bischoff and said “Hi, Lila, this is Charles Schulz. You probably don’t remember me. Ha, ha, ha, but gosh, I write the comic strip ‘“Peanuts”,’ and I just want to talk to you about the old days.” He would never have done that, and the whole feeling of being unseen and overlooked remained in his life. I felt very strongly, as I kept finding this out, as I kept learning, how he didn’t really want to free himself from a lifetime of yearning, longing, unfulfillment on the one hand, anxieties, fears, worries, in addition….

ANDELMAN: One of the things that struck me was that he never really matured in some ways. Sometimes, we have these feelings when we’re a kid, we have them when we’re a teenager, that we don’t belong, that we don’t fit in, that no one understands us, but most of us sort of grow out of that, and by oh, I don’t know, 47, my age, you kind of feel like you are starting to get the hang of things, but I get the sense that he never did. He had children, and I am sure he loved his children, and he certainly loved his second wife, but as a member of greater society that maybe he just never did quite get it, he never did feel a part of things.

MICHAELIS: I think he was continuously aware that he didn’t quite fit in. I remember a quote that I used as an epigraph where he said, “Cartoonists don’t live anywhere.” I think he had a sense of disconnection from the world and from the world around him, and he was in such an odd place after a certain point in his life with the kind of success that “Peanuts” had, with the kind of really quite unique place that “Peanuts” was in the culture. As a cartoonist, he almost had to explain himself after a certain point because he was so much more than a cartoonist, and he kept things real for himself by living what he felt was… Well, he would live on his own terms, and he would live in an ordinary way.

I remember Clark Gesner saying this to me very early on. Clark Gesner was the fellow who did You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, who wrote the lyrics and composed the music and eventually was part of the team that put that musical into the theater in the 1960s. He had visited with Schulz and knew him to some extent, and he said, “You know, this is going to baffle you for the entire time you are working on it, because Sparky presented himself to the world as ordinary. He resisted being treated as extraordinary even though he knew he was.” Even though he knew he had this talent, and even though he knew it could project him and his work into extraordinary stratospheres undreamt of by a boy from Snelling and Selby Avenues in St. Paul, still he kept resisting anything like fame or celebrity, and he lived a life where he had to insist on being ordinary, and it put pressure on him. It put a lot of pressure on him because at the same time he yearned for recognition.

ANDELMAN: I think once one of your characters is a balloon in the Macy’s Day Parade, I think you have pretty well established some measure of success. A lot of the early headlines related to your book have had to do with that there is this darker side of him, that he had perhaps some psychological issues. Are you uncomfortable with that emerging so quickly and maybe that defining the book?

MICHAELIS: I am hoping, as all writers do, that the book itself is read and is read as carefully as the blogs and the stories about the book, because I think that in some ways this whole debate misses the point of why biography, which is to understand Charles Schulz as Schulz understood himself, not as his children understood him or as the world understood him but as he saw his life. That’s certainly the point of view from which I was trying to approach his life, both finding it through “Peanuts”, which is a more abstracted way of understanding how Charles Schulz knew the world, but how he in his own words understood.

If you take simply the issue of his melancholy, which is the word he used to describe the daily sense or weekly sense of angst and dread and strong feeling of doubt and, in some cases, even doom, this was the language he used to describe himself. There was never a diagnosis given by a doctor that was then embraced by Schulz and others about his condition, if you want to call it that, or his situation. But he himself understood himself to be doubtful, insecure, uncertain, fearful, worried. I could keep going, but it would all be too much all of a sudden to hear all of this without saying, as well, yes, “Did he enjoy life?” Well, you know, you couldn’t be literally a victim of clinical depression and be as productive as he was. There’s not a chance. You wouldn’t have found Charles Schulz doing what Charles Schulz did, which was to live with and overcome these things. In a real sense, he was Charlie Brown because the central quality of his life was fortitude. It was getting up every day and trying again.

ANDELMAN: I was going to ask you, were there periods in his life where he could not get up and produce?

MICHAELIS: No, that’s just it. You see, this is why his children quite rightly object to a world that’s saying, “Charles Schulz was an unhappy man, universally categorically across the board.” I think my book is a very sympathetic portrait of a guy overcoming and dealing with his worries. The central story of the book is the achievement of “Peanuts”, the achievement of creating this comic strip that became the world over beloved and embraced, and he became the most popular visual artist of the 20th Century. You couldn’t do that and be a depressed person, but you also couldn’t do that and be a normal person. We’re talking about an artist. We’re talking about a complicated artist, a guy whose complications were the stuff of his art, where he made conscious and deliberate choices not to get help for his struggles but to continue to tap into them and use them as the sources of his art.

ANDELMAN: One of the great devices in the book, I hope you don’t mind the term device, but one of the great devices in the book is that as you are reading, there are “Peanuts” comic strips that are dropped in that, among other things, besides being entertaining, they start putting his life and the things that he felt and the way he did things in context. I wanted to ask you, which came first, the anecdotes or the strip? Did you tailor the strips to match up with the anecdotes or vice versa? How did that all come about, and that must have been very time-consuming in and of itself.

MICHAELIS: The uncovering of the life, the revealing of the life in the slow, steady process or actually sometimes very sudden leaps that one makes at the beginning came first. In other words, as I spoke to people, as I gained some understanding from papers and documents and records of how Schulz had lived his life, how he saw the world, how he interacted with people, how he did and didn’t change at first glance from boyhood to adulthood, it was suddenly the big themes of unrequited love, the big themes of Schroeder’s devotion to art as something that will be making absolutely oblivious to this overpowering girl at the end of the piano asking for his attention, the longing for a little red-haired girl. You begin to see the big themes emerge in broad strokes, but then some little pieces of the puzzle float up, and suddenly there I am looking into a drawer and oh, there’s a picture of a girl, an attractive girl in probably the 1940s to judge from the dress and light and quality of the photograph, and then there’s the next time I’m in Minnesota asking one of his art instruction colleagues, “You know, there was this photograph, did you know…” “Oh, that’s Naomi Cohn. Everyone was in love with her.” “Sparky probably had a crush….” “Oh yeah, Sparky did have a crush on her. I remember…” suddenly emerging a figure of Naomi Cohn, and then suddenly I’m finding Sparky talking about her in several interviews now that hadn’t been out before, and suddenly a portrait is emerging, and because of the United Media database, the comic strip library, I could now go and type in Naomi, and then suddenly up would come, oh suddenly here in 1992, here’s Charles Schulz putting Naomi Cohn into a strip, and oh, yes, in fact, this character Naomi in “Peanuts” is wearing a beret, and that turns out to have been a characteristic of Naomi, the aspiring artist in Minnesota in the 1940s. Sometimes it was as simple as that, and sometimes it added complexity and richness to find something from his life in the strip either chronologically or thematically.

ANDELMAN: I thought about this a lot, but when my dad died a few years ago, I went through his personal affects and uncovered a number of things that disturbed me in a variety of ways. As someone who also writes biography, I have to admit I would never want someone picking through the bones of my life and discovering and magnifying as we do, I mean, that’s what we do for a profession, my mistakes and idiosyncrasies. I don’t want my wife to have to read, “Oh, well, all of his friends remember that he had this unrequited affection for Andrea Passer in high school, and 30 years later, he still thought of her.” Does that kind of stuff ever cross your mind when doing this kind of work? Do you ever have that moment of a little wince, maybe Sparky wouldn’t really like me writing about this, and maybe I shouldn’t? Maybe this I should set aside.

MICHAELIS: Clearly, the choices that led to a book that’s only, and I say, really mean only, 533 pages long, it shows how much I did have to leave out. It shows how severe the selection process is when the first draft of my thorough full-length manuscript was about 1,800 pages long, so to cover a life in a thorough way is by itself a kind of trick, and it is a distortion, and it’s an imperfect instrument for re-creating a life.

But I do believe that there is a way of looking at biography in the context of an artist’s life that makes it valid to do what I did, which is to present the life and the work together. I can tell you, absolutely, that if someone wrote a book about my father and said anything critical, I’d be unhappy, too. I well understand this, but I also believe, and it just jumped into my head, I actually haven’t even thought of this before now, this country embraced a story called The Bridges of Madison County, and in that story, a love affair is related to children who discover a trunk full of the evidence of this love affair in their mother’s life after she’s gone. It enhances the discovery, painful as it is, that she had this relationship during her marriage enhances their sympathy and understanding for what she went through as a person and for who she really was, and the truth hurts. Sometimes along with the hurt that goes with truth is a greater sympathy and a greater feeling of love for someone because you now know more of who they were rather than less.

If what I’ve written about Charles Schulz makes people who love him uncomfortable, I have to believe that if you read it carefully and think it through, that there is enough there to love him the more for who he was despite himself and despite the world that he was trying to grow out of. We all have limitations, and one of the things I kept bumping up against with Schulz was the sense that he had triumphed over limitations, and his limitations were always visible to him, indeed down to the very last strip of ““Peanuts”.” The very last daily strip is Snoopy pondering a snowball while a snowball fight is going on behind him that he can’t participate in because, as the caption says — and it’s not a thought balloon — it was a caption, the dog realized that his father hadn’t taught him how to make a snowball. That’s the last statement of ““Peanuts”.” It’s a statement about limitations. It’s about being alone with who you really are and what you were taught and what you were given, and I think it’s very important, if you’re going to try to understand Schulz at all or you want to believe that you know who he was, to know where he came from and how he dealt with the world that he grew up in and how he brought it into his adult life and what he did and didn’t understand of his own life is very important to see.

ANDELMAN: Just a couple more minutes, David. You’ve been very patient about this, and particularly you brought up his last strip, and I wanted to ask you about that. The coincidence that his last strip appeared the day that he died is too much for some skeptics. One comic fan I spoke to in preparing to talk to you insisted that I ask you this: Is there any chance that either his passing was withheld from announcement to coincide with that last strip because the two were so close? And he insisted that I ask you this, is there any chance that Schulz either so to speak pulled the plug himself or had a family member do it so that he and the strip went out together?

MICHAELIS: It is a completely valid question, and I was asked it frequently by the reporters, such as Steve Kroft from “60 Minutes” who had seen Schulz before his death, in the year before his death. Reporters and smart, engaged thinking people who interacted with Schulz understood one of the simplest and basic facts about him, which he himself had put out there for years, which is that he always said, “When I die, the strip dies.” He also always said, “I would feel very empty without this strip.” And in one case, he had joked around saying, “If I didn’t have the strip, I’d be dead.”

He had time and time again showed how fused he believed his life and the strip were. And in the dismay and upset of the months that followed his stroke in November of 1999, in the dismay of realizing he was not going to be carrying on ““Peanuts”,” he was profoundly shaken, and you see it in the interviews he gave at the time. And there’s ample evidence to understand how completely baffled he was about how he was going to go on and what life meant now. So that to find some way to end his life as the strip ends would be logical.

I have to say that in every way I looked at this, without going into a full-scale Congressional investigation into it, I had to believe that no, he did not, or no, he was not, or no, there was no assistance. It would be inconsistent with everything I found to believe that that was true.

However, I do think that as I understand it to myself, I think he somehow witch-doctored himself to that point. One hears about it all the time, the giving up of life, the giving up. Whatever your belief system is, it can engage in this question, whether he gave himself up or whatever. However you see it. But the medical terminology given to me to understand this by his family, by his doctor, is just vague enough still to make one wonder, and there’s no question that the question is valid, but I think I would have to conclude myself from everything that I could find at the time that no, he went by natural causes.

ANDELMAN: Last question: were there any other parts of this Charles Schulz puzzle that you were unable to solve after all these years?

MICHAELIS: Well, I wished from the beginning — and I still wish — that the clear evidence of his relationship with his mother had been left on paper more than by the hearsay and very considered evidence left by people who knew her and given in interviews. I wish there were her letters I wish she had written to him. I wish there was on paper some way of seeing how she and Sparky had lived their life, the life of his boyhood, and whether or not there’s any chance to understand his parents remains to be seen. There may yet come some moment where out of a shoebox comes all sorts of letters from his early life. I felt that was a puzzle that I could only guess at or only become closer to understanding through the interview process and through a lot of legwork in historical societies turning out. Just seeing her death certificate and understanding that her death was a death by cervical cancer and not from colon cancer led through numerous channels of research and interviewing to new ideas about why Schulz had had the kind of experience that he had in high school during her illness and so forth.

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