I loved Charles Schulz’ Peanuts comic strip and his Charlie Brown and Snoopy books growing up. From the time I turned seven all the way through sixth grade, they helped expand my mind and world beyond 616 East Lincoln Avenue, apartment number A32 and Mount Vernon, New York. So much so that when I had read all of the books available to me through Mount Vernon Public Library, I took the idea of Charlie Brown
to heart. I saw myself as the Black version of the lonely misfit of a kid, who could almost grab the brass ring but couldn’t quite hold on to it, who had some friends, but not close ones.
World Book Encyclopedia literally changed my life between December ’78 and April ’79. And with that change came my ability to use Charles Schulz’ Peanuts as the image in my mind’s eye for understanding it all. It was after running away from home to get away from my new stepfather, the now-and-forever abuser and idiot Maurice Washington, whom had married my mother in October ’78. Because my stepfather had pissed me off with another one of his rules, and because I knew that my guardians had already started to argue about money, I ran away from home. I packed two days’ worth of clothing and walked out with the plan that I would get to New Rochelle, find a boat, stowaway and eventually get to Europe or France. There, I could be free.
The Pelham Manor Police found me three-and-a-half hours later, having lured me into the squad car with the promise of hot dogs and orange soda. My mother gave me the belt-ass-whuppin’ of my life at the time, as it seemed to last forever, with her screaming, “You do this again, you won’t be around to cry about it!” I was on lockdown in me and my older brother Darren’s bedroom for six weeks afterward.
It was during those six weeks of no TV and no going outside that I decided to punish my mother and stepfather by ignoring them with books. I cracked open the “A” volume of the ’78 edition of The World Book Encyclopedia and began reading. And reading. And reading. “I’ll show them!,” I thought. Pretty soon I didn’t miss TV. I didn’t have lots of friends, so going out to play became less and less of a hardship. So I kept reading.
By the time I decided to go outside again, it was April ’79, well past my six-week grounding. But going
outside to play for the first time in four months felt more alien to me that what I had been doing after reading sections of World Book Encyclopedia. I’d taken what I’d learned about city government, taxes, urban planning, population density, and created what I called “Peanuts Town” in our bedroom. Charlie Brown was the mayor, and Lucy Van Pelt was his wife. Snoopy, of course, was the deputy mayor and in charge of law enforcement. Once my father Jimme came back into our lives, I’d buy Matchbox cars to drive around the city, and created a restaurant and entertainment row of the city that included a McDonald’s Big Mac and Burger King fries containers as restaurants.
By the end of fifth grade in June ’80, my encyclopedic world view had expanded to include national and international issues, including history and World War II. And not just through World Book Encyclopedia, as I cruised through Ebony’s four-volume Pictorial History of Black America collection that spring also. I made “Peanuts Town” the capital of “Peanuts Land,” and Charlie Brown was the president. By this time, Charlie and Lucy had kids, just like I had a younger baby brother in Maurice.
I made up maps of this country, including its natural resources and its naval bases. I’d make ships out of aluminum foil, stamped into shapes using the old, heavy wooden frame windows we had in our bedroom. I had made at least fifty battleships, aircraft carriers and cruisers, preparing for the Soviet threat. All without the prospect of nuclear war.
As I kept reading and using my imagination, my SRA tests for fourth and fifth grade confirmed that all of this deep thinking was paying off. I had raised my reading score from 3.9 (just barely at the fourth grade level) to a 7.4 (the equivalent of an above average seventh grader) by the end of fourth grade, and to an 11.0 by the end of fifth. A story of irony, imagination and naivete, the story of my young life, a boy at the window. One of success, of living, of wisdom and love and understand, of self-discovery, of all the things that makes one human.