I’m not even a huge Peanuts fan. Sure, I looked forward to It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown just like every other snot-nosed elementary school kid during Halloween. I adored Snoopy, abhorred Lucy and chuckled at the powdery wake swirling behind Pig Pen (never realizing I’d call dust-laden Arizona my home someday).
And Peppermint Patty … she was cool enough … “Sir.”
Yet I shunned her back in 1978 as she slid down the metal tongue of a toy vending machine into my young hands. When I saw a ‘stupid’ Peppermint Patty peering from under her suffocating plastic bubble container, my six-year-old self nearly chucked her across the theater lobby. In fact, I felt she’d ruined my euphoria at being in the Jordan Theater, a town relic closed for years that was re-opening (and is now, again, defunct).
Sullen – and yes, probably snot-nosed – I plopped down in my seat to watch the movie. The funny thing is that I can’t remember the flick. But I do recall what happened next: my Dad reaching through the darkness, palm open, for Peppermint Patty. Me uncrossing defiant arms, but happy to hand her over. Me trying to ignore my father, but seeing from the corner of my eye something bulbous jutting from his nose.
It turns out the tiny hole on the underside of Peppermint Patty creates some serious suction when her sides are squeezed together. I think I giggled the rest of the movie, and suddenly Peppermint Patty became the ultimate toy.
In fact, she traveled with me to school in fourth grade. As my teacher copied vocabulary words to the blackboard, I withdrew Peppermint Patty from the depths of my desk and quietly stuck her to the tip of my nose. The snickers throughout the classroom caused Mr. Hinderliter to spin around to the laughter of my shaking shoulders and Peppermint Patty bobbing from my nose. A grin spread across his face and the blackboard eraser sailed from his hands toward my head. (A jokester, himself, he welcomed tomfoolery from the class clown).
Peppermint Patty’s travels didn’t stop in Room 4B, though. She jumped from box to drawer, to plastic baggie, to the bottom of old check boxes, to desk, to filing cabinet abyss. She traveled with me to college, back to a job in my hometown, and all the way to the Sonoran Desert where she now sits on my desk (when the cats haven’t knocked her under a chair or filing cabinet).
How can it be that an object I once held with such disdain has traveled great distances with me? Her size? The alluring green of her outfit? Her portability? The memories wrapped up in her unassuming stance?
No. It’s more than that.
She’s a reminder of the valiant way my dad tried – and still does – to be happy despite a childhood soured by hurtful parents and a coming-of-age tainted by the atrocities of armed battle in Vietnam.
For just a moment, though, when I squeeze Peppermint Patty’s sides together and stick her to my nose, I feel the giggles of childhood ripple across my skin. I feel my Dad’s hope for me and my sister, see the smile on his face … and for that moment, his sadness disappears.