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Learning sweet truths from Peppermint Patty

Yes, I'm a real mom
shelley column pic
The background story of Peppermint Patty

When I was a little girl I loved taking part in school plays. My debut was playing a plum. Yes, a plum. A bunch of us were dressed up as various fruits and vegetables urging the lead character to chose us for his grocery store.

By high school the productions were bigger and involved the entire school, not just individual classrooms. I was in a couple of those including playing a charwoman in A Christmas Carol.

The following year I was bested by a girl named Kathleen during auditions and she got the role I wanted. But the director asked if I would be interested in playing the piano for scene transitions and mood music. I said yes, and when it comes to live theatre I’ve been at the piano pretty much ever since.

The last few weeks though, I’ve been in rehearsal with a great cast getting ready for Equinox Theatre’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, where I play Peppermint Patty.

Patty (whose full name by the way is Patricia Reichardt), is a bit of a tomboy who always wears open-toed sandals. She is less philosophical than her friends and tends to get caught up in the smaller things of life. Did I mention her insistence on open-toed sandals?

The character was inspired by a favorite cousin of Charles M. Schulz who he named after noticing a dish of peppermint patties and felt it was too good a name to pass up. Patty has never been the centre of attention in a TV special, but that is about to change, thanks to a development that happened 50 years ago.

The storyline got its beginning when Patty is called into the school office and told she can’t wear her iconic sandals because they violate the dress code. The sandals are a gift from her dad and Patty cries at the thought of giving them up because they mean so much to her. Then it is revealed that Patty didn’t have a mother, which makes keeping her dad’s gift close at hand…or at least on her feet…all the more poignant. What happened to her mother was never explained, but fans speculate she passed away, since Schulz lost his own mother when he was in his teens.

A new TV special premiering this weekend will feature some of Peppermint Patty’s story. The Peanuts gang is excited about celebrating Mother’s Day—everyone but Patty. She feels left out because she doesn’t have a mom.

We have seen movements try to do away with acknowledging Mother’s and Father’s Day. Advocates say that for children who don’t have one or both parents it can be painful when so much focus is on what they don’t have.

 I had a long talk with my oldest daughter last week who is currently enrolled in a nursing program. Her class was talking about pregnancy and childbirth and the conversation turned to the topic of adoption and the feelings of the parents involved at the time of birth.

Someone in the class described adoption as a “last resort” that no one really wants, just accepts. My daughter shared a bit about her experience since was adopted internationally, becoming part of our family as a 3-year-old. But she said, “Some just didn’t get it and that hurts.”

I know. Over the years I heard some crazy and rather painful comments about “real moms” from people who didn’t understand why we did what we did. But that’s okay. What mattered to us was that a beautiful pathway to building a family opened up to us and brought two amazing girls into our lives. That made me a mom. It wasn’t the typical pathway, but it was not one bit a lesser expression of motherhood.

Mother’s Day can mean all kinds of different things and there’s no question it raises a flood of emotions. But no matter what anyone’s individual circumstance might be, there are people in their life who deserve to be celebrated.

According to the promos for the new TV special, the Peanuts characters come to understand that not everyone has a mom, but Mother’s Day is the chance to “thank that special person in your life who means the most to you.”

We need to be showing more gratitude--not less—and resist clawing back any opportunity to do so; not just in May but in January and August and October and…you get the picture.

Whether Sunday brings tinges of sadness or celebration, take some time to think about those who have had the biggest impact on your life. Thank them for the lessons they taught, the love they shared, and the gifts they gave…especially when you realize they knew you well enough to give you exactly what you needed…even if that means open-toed shoes. That’s my outlook.