Before Linus, I’d already met a few of my childhood heroes, face to face.
Dave Brubeck, my favorite pianist, used crackle and pop on my parent’s Hi-Fi, while I sat on the floor building a Capsela robot-tank. Thirty years later, I saw him in concert, and then ran into him, after the show, as he left the men’s room. (I managed to stammer: Hey Dave! Keep swinging!”
In that case, Dave Goelz, the Muppets puppeteer, came to San Francisco to a teacher’s event. I won a raffle, which brought me to the front of the room where Gonzo sat (on Mr. Goeltz’s knee) and I received my gift card from the 3-fingered hand of The Great Gonzo himself.
(Gimme 5! I said. His reply: How about I give you three? Keep the change.)
So: I’ve met the real Dave Brubeck and the “real” Gonzo, but now, I was offered a chance to meet the man that a fictional character was based on. That doesn’t happen every day.
Linus Maurer. Cartoonist, illustrator, and friend to Charles Schultz, lived in a nursing home in Sonoma County. My friend Rebecca connected me to Linus’s longtime partner, Mary Jo. “He’s a really friendly guy,” she said, “he loves company and he loves to tell stories.”
Not long after, I opened the screen door of a quaint and quiet ranch house: the nursing home where I would meet the real Linus.
The “pretend Linus” was my favorite Peanuts character. He could be snippy, sure, but he was generally kind and patient and a bit of an introvert; at once childish (security blanket) and naive (the Great Pumpkin) and precocious (sound theology). He was a bit of a megalomaniac, and yet humble (sort of). He could impress others as an inventive-badass (blanket-whip) but most inspiring to me, he was Linus, the one and only — and no matter what his critics said about his eccentricities, Linus believes what he believes, and he loves what he loves.
The real Linus bore a key similarity to his pen-and-ink counterpart. He had a blanket. I don’t believe it was a security blanket, per se – just a cozy, gingham blanket, spread across his lap, though it was a warm Sonoma day. We sat and talked, side by side in reclining chairs, and he told me stories. Charles Schultz and he were friends in art school; Schultz had shown Linus a prototype drawing of a new character. Linus approved, and the India-ink neonate was named after him.
During our time together, Linus told me about landing jets on an aircraft carrier during the war (very difficult, he said, especially with high winds). He told me that he drew comic strips and cartoons for advertisements all his life, and he still drew cartoons, to this day. Then, Linus began to rise to his feet to fetch his sketchbook. He instructed me to steady him by the shoulder, a plan which went kablooey when the nursing home attendant caught our little escapade and scolded us: Linus for standing up, me for allowing him to stand in his frail condition.
Once seated, he showed me his latest scribbles. Then we talked about the Bible. He, like his fictional counterpart, was a lover of scripture, while I teach Biblical literature at a Jewish School. Then, we pontificated about what makes a good cartoon: a perfect blend of art, story, and humor – and despite this complex alchemy, it must be simple.
In this moment, though Linus had swung in and out of lucidity during our time together, his humor and his authority emerged full strength; simplicity isn’t just important, he said, “It’s the most important.”
Eventually, Linus became sleepy and I left him to dose. I departed the nursing home feeling honored and thankful. He’d shared with me the gift of his stories and his humor.
Last week, less than a year later after our visit, Rebecca sent me sad news: Linus had passed away. And though his fictional counterpart always had a special place in my heart, now, the real Linus has a place of his own.
The memory of that afternoon together will live on with me, secure in my grasp. Secure like a blanket.
Linus Maurer, 1926-2016.