October 29th, 2007
Charles Schulz
Good Ol' Charles Schulz

The following is excerpted from the biography Schulz and Peanuts by David Michaelis. In this passage, young Charles “Sparky” Schulz sets off to war.

Chapter One: Sparky

The great troop train, a quarter-mile of olive green carriages, rolled out of the depot and into the storm. Nearly a foot of snow had fallen on the Northwest through the day, and now, in the short winter afternoon, the blizzard veiled the domed heights of the State Capitol in St. Paul and the pyramid-capped Foshay Tower, tallest building in Minneapolis. Snow curtained the Twin Cities from one another, blurring everyday distances. Only the railroad and streetcar tracks cut clear black lines into the mounting white cover.

In the Pullman, Sparky kept to himself. No one yet knew him. At roll call he had come after “Schaust” and before “Sciortino,” but except for his place in the company roster he seemed to have no connection to the men and, as one of his seatmates was to recall, “no interest in joining in any conversation,” not even about the weather. The snowflakes swirling at the Pullman windows only contributed to his impression that he had been thrown among “wild people.”

To his fellow recruits he presented himself as nondescript: simple, bland, unassuming-just another face in the crowd. With his regular looks, he passed for ordinary so easily that most people believed him when he insisted, as he did so often in later years, that he was a “nothing,” a “nobody,” an “uncomplicated man with ordinary interests,” although anyone who could attract attention to himself by being so sensitive and insecure had to be complicated.

Don Schaust, then seated alongside Schulz in the Pullman, later recalled that, as they rumbled across the Twin Cities, his seatmate remained silent, “very quiet, very low . . . deep in his own misery,” and how he had asked himself, “What’s the matter with this guy?”

No matter what the others said or did, Sparky sat watching the snow sweep up to and pull away from the window, giving no sign that he had just come through the worst days of his life.

He would never discuss the actual kind of cancer that had struck his mother. Throughout his life, friends, business associates, and most of his relatives believed that Dena Schulz had been the victim of colorectal cancer. In fact, the primary site of his mother’s illness was the cervix, and she had been seriously ill since 1938. As early as his sophomore year in high school, Sparky had come home to a bedridden mother.

Some evenings she had been too ill to put food on the table; some nights he had been awakened by her cries of pain. But no one spoke directly about her affliction; only Sparky’s father and his mother’s trusted sister Marion knew its source, and they would not identify it as cancer in Sparky’s presence until after it had reached its fourth and final stage-in November 1942, the same month he was drafted.

On February 28, 1943, with a day pass from Fort Snelling, Sparky returned from his army barracks to his mother’s bedside, mounting the stairs to the second-floor apartment at the corner of Selby and North Snelling Avenues to which the Schulzes had moved so that his father, at work in his barbershop on Selby, and the druggist in his pharmacy around the corner, could race upstairs to administer morphine during the worst of Dena’s agonies.

That evening, before reporting back to barracks, Sparky went into his mother’s bedroom. She was turned away from him in her bed against the wall, opposite the windows that overlooked the street. He said he guessed it was time to go.

“Yes,” she said, “I suppose we should say good-bye.”

She turned her gaze as best she could. “Well,” she said, “good-bye, Sparky. We’ll probably never see each other again.”

Later he said, “I’ll never get over that scene as long as I live,” and indeed he could not, down to his own dying day. It was certainly the worst night of his life, the night of “my greatest tragedy”-which he repeatedly put into the terms of his passionate sense of unfulfillment that his mother “never had the opportunity to see me get anything published.”

He saw her always from a distance, and as the years went by, with each stoical retelling, the moment became more and more iconic. It was safely frozen in time-as puzzling a farewell in its quiet, coolheaded resolve as the lines spoken by the mother as she prepares to lose her son in Citizen Kane: “I’ve got his trunk all packed. I’ve had it packed for a week now.” Frequently, often publicly, Sparky laid out the terrible resigned pathos of what his mother had said to him that night. Only as he got older and experienced parenthood himself would he “understand the pain and fear she must have had, thinking about what was to become of me.”

The blizzard had brought everything to a halt. But the train drummed on across St. Paul, and landmarks familiar even in the snow slipped past his window, alerting him that his own neighborhood was approaching. Then there it was for all to see.

Mud-brown, two-storied brick buildings huddled along his snowbound street. From where the Great Northern Railway overpass crossed North Snelling he could see down to the Selby intersection two blocks to the south, where since Monday he had sleepwalked through funeral arrangements with his father in his family’s rented walk-up. Even before this week of calamities, he had considered this part of St. Paul the setting of “my most influential section of life as a child.”

Above the buildings to his right, a Greek-pedimented entrance marked the huge elementary school he had attended. He could see Dayton Avenue, a sidestreet among whose small, somber dwellings Carl and Dena had lived in 1921, during the first year of their marriage, and, next door, the roof under which his father had sheltered the family during the Great Depression, some of the lonelier years of Sparky’s childhood, and the scanty backyard where the kooky puppy Spike, living in his own world, had gobbled up some glass. There, on the corner of Selby and Snelling, was their streetcar stop, whence came, among his earliest memories, the image of himself getting aboard with his mother, a small boy on a stiff cane seat, off to the department stores…

HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright 2007.

  • Jim Dudley

    Can I purchase this episode on DVD?

  • Nick

    I am also interested in buying this episode on DVD. I don’t see it in the online store. Someone please respond.

  • sheila

    When is this episode going to be available on DVD? very soon I hope!

  • Serena

    Yes, please let us know when this will be on DVD for purchase.

  • kyle

    I just watched the PBS document American Masters with Charles Schulz-Good Ol Charles Schulz. I would love to purchase a DVD. Thanks, Kyle.

  • kristen

    Could someone please answer the question as to where we can buy this episode??????????? If its not for sale…. WHY?

  • andy

    wow, I’d love to purchase it as well…has anyone received a response? where can we get the DVD? “Hellooo in there…RATS!”

  • Lauren Massie

    Why can we not purchase this as a DVD? There are so many people who grew up with this man and his cartoons. Why can we not buy the best presentation of why we loved this man and his complex work?

  • Tom

    As an American taxpayer (and therefore the owner of PBS) I DEMAND that a DVD be issued post-haste!

  • Jay Kennedy

    I too would love to purchase this DVD.

  • Noah Reid, Jr

    would like a copy of this episode. Is it possible?

  • Erick Westlake

    I am signing on this petition to release a dvd of “Good Ol’ Charles Schultz” so I can buy one.

  • JJ Emanuel

    Put my name on this petition. Thi episode was terrific! Hurry up PBS! What’s the hold up??!!

  • Lisa

    Yes… Dvd Release Please. Thank you!

  • Robb Wheeler

    There’s a little Charlie Brown in all of us… I, too, would like to purchase the episode aired on PBS. Charlie Brown is my life all right. Sparky got it right. The world was a little less rich, when he passed on. I miss him & all the characters he created.

  • hello people

    do u have an image of donna wold available??????

  • XxemopuppyxX

    you guys need a life ya it is good to talk about stuff but come on be fun and all you losers get out some more and find a girlfriend jk jk i love you all byz \(O_O)/ O_O ^.^

  • hcdooley

    I was told that this episode was removed by the family of Charles M. Schlutz is this true? This was so sad. I really felt sorry for CHarlie Brown and had a new aspect of the cartoon. It kind of broke the illusion I have had my entire life.

  • KEVIN B. PETITTE

    I WOULD LOVE TO PURCHASE A COPY OF THE DVD.

  • Bill Bruno

    When will this episode, Good Ol’ Charles Schulz, be aired next?

  • phil saindon

    I, too, have been hoping that a DVD of the Charles Schulz bio would be made available on DVD.

  • Jo Williams

    How about some answers? Where would they appear?

  • guy

    Does anybody know where I could find a picture of the Peanuts strip, “Who reassures the reassurer?”, or at least the year and date it came out on? Please help! Thanks!

  • Will

    It appears that this will re-air on December 20th and December 28th, at least in Alabama.

    http://www.aptv.org/Schedule/showinfo.asp?ID=249121

  • joseph christopher previtire

    I heard about this episode and i haven’t even seen it, but i want to buy it also,i’m avid collector of anything charlie brown,snoopy and the peanutsgang.CHARLES SCHULZ is one of the greatest heroes of our time!

  • Evelyn Long

    Is the program about Charles Schultz shown today (!/12/10) on WUSF available, and if so, what is the price and where can I find it? Thank You, Evelyn

  • Fran

    I just watched this episode of Charles Schulz. It was wonderful. Can this be purchased on DVD?

  • zach

    Charles Schulz ROCKS!!!!!!

  • Gretchen

    Can someone at the local or national PBS please answer our requests for purchasing copies of the DVD on this wonderful show? I have a feeling, fellow Charles Schulz and Peanuts lovers, that the family of Charles Schulz has not given permission for this to happen. As one whose family spent holidays together with the Schulz family (when he was married to his first wife Joyce Halverson in MN and then moved to CA), I’m almost certain it has to do with either family or copyright reasons. I would suggest that all of us, myself included, email the Charles Schulz Museum in CA at the following URL: http://schulzmuseum.org/

    Hope we can get someone to answer our sincere requests. Charlie Brown must live on, and a DVD on his creator would certainly help this along.

  • Gretchen

    kOOkyShroom, VHS players have gone the way of the dinosaur, if you haven’t figured out. Besides, all of us respect the Schulz family enough to know that we don’t want to do anything “illegal”, which you obviously don’t care much about.

  • Sandy P

    Hope we can get someone to answer our sincere requests. Charlie Brown must live on, and a DVD on his creator would certainly help this along.

    My husband and I watched that laying on our stomachs, feet up like kids. tears, laughter , discussion on “Remember when”. Charlie Brown was a PART of our lives, our growing up, our comfort zone. Though it was not and is not an obsession it’s a part of history that should belived on and I have been looking for that DVD since we watched it.

    PBS…Why can’t you address these questions? Your supported by public funds look at all the public support your missing. Bring us on…Not sure why the family wouldn’t want it shown…He is a legend and his story showed he was human. I LOVE Charlie Brown and Peanuts! Please let us know if there are plans for a DVD or another showing and when?
    PBS..your committed to excellence We LOVE PBS -I LOVE PBS fill us in….LOL

  • Nicky N.

    I, too, would love to have a copy of this program on DVD, or would simply like to see it again on PBS!

  • Joe

    I’m like the rest of you–would just like to get some information from PBS about this.
    Frustrating to not be able to get any word.

  • Rachel

    I echo the requests to purchase this episode somehow!

  • Sara

    @Gretchen – Many people still record on VHS tapes, and if not, they’ll record on their DVR machines. Recording a program for your own personal use is not illegal.

  • sergio

    3 years since the airing and I am still looking for the DVD!!
    Get your act together PBS!!

  • In the Know

    This is in response to Gretchen’s post on February 14, 2010 at 11:34 pm. I called the Charles M. Schulz museum. They said they are not responsible for the release of this DVD or any copyright related matters. They said I should check back every so often to see if they are selling the DVD on their website. I guess they are waiting for this to be released by PBS as well. So it’s back to PBS!

  • Anthony

    PBS. I have waited 3 years. I want this on DVD or at least a date when it will be available…

  • Matt

    It’s very sad that this still isn’t released on dvd. Such a great american masters. Bummer.

  • Amy

    Please, oh please, PBS, release this on DVD, I beg of you!

  • Tony

    What’s the hold up, PBS? Clearly the demand is high! If only Sparky could see how many people still love him and his work today…*sigh*

  • Mark

    I got a DVD copy of “Good Ol’ Charles Schulz” by contacting the filmmaker directly and he was very helpful. He asked me to spread the word.
    David Van Taylor
    Lumiere Productions
    26 W. 17th Street, Ste 803
    New York, NY 10011
    212/807-0796

  • http://sz750n.info Bank

    There are various different solutions in forex trading software. The software can vary

  • kathleen

    I, too, have been searching for years for a DVD to be able to see this program. PBS does a very poor job of responding to the people who support it. I tried the filmmaker but the email came back. I have contacted my local station several times, only to receive a clueless reply that they have no idea how to answer the question of either availability to purchase or scheduling this program again. It really gets frustrating. PBS PLEASE READ YOUR ViEWER EMAILS AND GET WITH IT. Somebody in your organization should know the answers, or, if not, you should be investigating why not.

  • gladys

    I remember watching this episode years back on pbs and loved it! I would also want to purchase !

  • Jerry

    Unfortunately, I’m told that this DVD is just not available for distribution at this time.

  • Robert Alvarez

    I along with everyone else on this list would greatly appreciate if PBS would release this episode on DVD. I along with many of the other people on this list have been searching for this episode for some time. I have been working in the animation industry for 44 years and this is the type of documentary that I enjoy watching while I work. Schulz has a large collection of fans in animation. We all would love to have a copy of the episode. Please release this show as soon as possible. At least tell the fans why it is not available if there is a good reason.

  • LEADER DESSLOK

    I don’t know why PBS doesn’t make its AMERICAN MASTERS series (among others) available for direct download purchase. I’ve been searching everywhere for STARRING…NATALIE WOOD which hasn’t been broadcast since 1988! I’ve even searched for it on the PBS site and come up “snake eyes”.

    I realize that PBS is public television (and radio) but I think they are missing so many opportunities to generate income. I am an avid comic book fan and I find it astonishing that although the first “Tradepaperback” (a softcover compilation roughly 8.5″x11″ in size, containing several stories\chapters in one volume) had been around since 1980, the major comic book publishers didn’t take full advantage of reprinting the classic stories within their catalogues until the 2000s! Leaving thousands, if not millions of dollars off the table! Mindboggling!

    Another documentary that PBS featured was Rick Burns’ THE WAY WEST– did I find it on PBS? Nope. I got it from that Grand Ol’ Webslinger–Amazon! C’mon,PBS–direct download–think about it. Oh, and wha’ happened to PBS Classic Cinema? Is it only a summertime thing?

  • Stefani Lias

    Chris, Not sure to be honest, I just tested it and it worked ok for me, But I might not have the same profile settigns as you.

Salinger

Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2014 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.