The Great Pumpkin and the Good Candy

This time of year I always think I should blog about Halloween—its history, which is a little muddled depending on what source you look at, and its bizarre traditions. But every year I think I end up writing about how I don’t care much for this particular holiday. I do enjoy seeing all my cutest little neighbors dressed up like princesses and super heroes (with extra padding because it’s super cold and almost always raining) and smiling at me because I just gave them the good candy. Yes, we are that house. We consider it a responsibility.

halloween-candy-1014629__340
There’s no candy corn or weird black and orange taffy at this house. Public Domain, via Pixabay.

But I don’t like haunted houses, or gruesome decorations, or scary movies. I mean, sure, a good psychological thriller might be in my wheelhouse, but very rarely have demon nuns, possessed dolls, or chainsaw-wielding maniacs amounted to a good cinematic experience in my book. And you might disagree with me, but you’re wrong if you do, that no one in the history of the universe has ever actually enjoyed a jump scare.

greatpumpkin
I don’t typically decorate much for Halloween, but this I could get behind. It would go well with all the creepy goblins and grave stones in my neighbors’ yards. Public Domain, via Pixabay

I guess what I’m saying is that media entertainment is not my friend at this time of year. I’ll catch it on the other side, when the cheery holiday movies start up and the scariest thing I might see while flipping through channels is the ghost of Christmas-yet-to-come.

I do, however, make one exception to my television and movie hiatus, because once a year, ABC airs the classic It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Actually, ABC has only had the rights to the show since 2000. Before that the holiday classic had been a CBS exclusive since it debuted in on October 27, 1966.

I wasn’t watching then, but I’ve seen it most years as far back as I can remember. And I did watch it this week when it was on. With my youngest son. While eating a caramel apple. Because some Halloween traditions just make sense.

For example, the Great Pumpkin, the belief in which has young Linus van Pelt, with his signature blue blanket, waiting on Halloween night in the most sincere pumpkin patch he can find just to catch a glimpse. The Great Pumpkin, according to Linus, travels around on Halloween night bringing gifts to good boys and girls.

cutepumpkin
Looks like a pretty great pumpkin to me. Public Domain, via Pixabay

In all the years I’ve been watching the special, the Great Pumpkin has never appeared. Instead, Linus falls asleep shivering in the pumpkin patch and it’s up to his big sister Lucy to bring him home and tuck him into bed with dreams of trying again next year.

It’s not so silly, is it? According to Charles Schulz, a number of scholars thought it wasn’t, and even approached him to ask about the origin of the Great Pumpkin mythology. Schulz joked that he told them they’d be better off asking Linus.

The myth, of course, began with the cartoonist himself. Not entirely comfortable with promoting a childhood belief in Santa Claus, he introduced Linus’s widely mocked belief in the Great Pumpkin in 1959 in the Peanuts comic strip as a kind of humorous social commentary. And there may have been a light jab at organized religion in there as well, as Linus explains that Charlie Brown’s bizarre belief in Santa Claus is an expression of “denominational differences.” It might even include a plea for civil discourse as Linus says, “There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

I’m assuming most of you don’t wait up all Halloween night in the sincerest pumpkin patch you can find just to catch a glimpse of the Great Pumpkin yourself, but I do hope you’ve seen the special. I might even recommend that you watch it every year, while eating a caramel apple. It’s a sweet little cartoon, beloved by generations of children, many of whom for years sent boxes and boxes of Halloween candy to Charles Schulz to give to Charlie Brown who had only received rocks in his trick-or-treating bag. He should have come to our house. We’d have given him the good candy.

Like Sands Through the Hourglass

In 1930, radio station WGN in Chicago approached new employee and former speech teacher Irma Philips to create a show targeted at women and the sponsors who wished to reach them. Debuting on October 20 of that year, Painted Dreams aired every weekday in a fifteen-minute time slot to tell (in highly dramatic fashion) the story of the Irish-American Moynihan family, consisting of a widow and her unmarried daughters.

tv
Television added so much to the genre—like the long, poignant gaze off camera in the middle of a conversation.

The new genre took off and the sponsorships rolled in from companies producing products of particular interest to the primary demographic—housewives. The American press dubbed the shows “Soap Operas.” By the start of World War II, there were sixty-four such programs available on American radio.

In the early fifties, after a few failed attempts to adapt the form to television, the Soap Opera became king there as well, and by 1960 the radio soap opera was a thing of the past. In more recent decades the once wildly popular genre has taken a hit as more and more American women work outside the home, but there are still a few of these silly shows going strong.

Days_of_Our_Lives_cast_1971
Days of Our Lives cast members from 1971. This was a good twenty years before I started watching, yet I know who these characters are. By NBC Television – Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

And they do seem a little silly. With open plots that go on and on, some of them seemingly indefinitely, and the long, drawn-out dialogue that can make a single scene last often more than a week, the remaining viewership is made up of a loyal bunch of extremely patient people. And let’s not forget about the crazy plots that occasionally feature amnesia, evil doppelgangers, babies switched at birth, mind control, faked deaths, faked pregnancies, faked births, and real alien abductions. To name a few.

The acting leaves something to be desired as well, because in the process of filming a daily television show, probably quite talented actors are given very little time to memorize lines, let alone rehearse a scene in which a previously demon-possessed woman transforms into a leopard, but turns out to be fine because the leopard woman is actually just a twin sister no one knew about who’d been brainwashed to think she was someone else. It’s no wonder the genre has also produced so many comedy spoofs.

So why, despite falling ratings, do many viewers still tune in to watch? I started watching my soap of choice, Days of Our Lives, when I was in junior high, mostly because it came on pretty much as soon as I walked in the door from school. I kept watching in part because I couldn’t believe my mother let me, and also because she started watching it, too. Turns out she had been in recovery for several years since becoming a working mom without much spare time on her hands, but she’d been addicted to the same “soap” in its early days.

It wasn’t long before we’d pulled my sister in, too. For years we all watched and laughed together at the ridiculous plot twists, reminiscing about how far the characters, or their evil twin counterparts, had come, and appreciating that no matter how twisted up our lives might seem, it was nothing compared to the dysfunction playing out in what my mother referred to as “the story.”

hourglass
For years I listened to the introduction to Days of Our Lives and I still don’t get it. Does it mean our days go by fast? Or slow? Maybe it’s that we don’t get them back once they’re gone? Or maybe it just means that if our story isn’t working out we just flip everything on its head, give everybody amnesia, and start fresh.

I finally stopped watching sometime in my early twenties when life got busier. By then my sister had also given up on it. As far as I know, my mom still catches an episode now and then.

My memories of the show are fond ones and when I saw that today marks the anniversary of its first airing, 53 years ago, my heart swelled a little. There aren’t as many soap operas available to watch anymore, but I’m glad to know this one is still plugging away.

When I occasionally glimpse an episode in the background at a store display (or my mom’s house), there are now a lot of faces I don’t recognize, which I assume means the characters I know have all had face transplants. Or it could mean that even a slowly moving plot eventually moves forward. After all, “like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”

BOOM! Aliens: A Detour Through Crazy Town

In 1553, Spanish conquistador Pedro Cieza de León included in the first part of his Crónicas del Perú, a description of what he assumed were trail markers, basically a series of shallow trenches stretching across the plateaus of the Nazca Desert. Then in 1940, historian Paul Kosok flew over the trenches and saw in their patterns the very clear shape of a bird.

Eventually the Nazca lines were discovered to include several hundred animal and human figures of varying sizes covering nearly 200 square miles. Experts determined the lines were pretty simple to make with only very limited ancient trenching tools similar to what non-experts might call “sticks.” Many of these very technical tools have been found near the trenches and have helped scientists to date the designs to between 500 BC and 500 AD.

20160629_194120
It’s completely irrational to assume the Nazca people could have had access to such advanced technology. To my mind, this is definitive proof of Extraterrestrial visitation to Ancient Earth.

But no one has been able to come up with a completely satisfactory explanation of why the designs were put there in the first place. It’s been suggested by archaeologists that the trenches may be related to irrigation. Some astronomers think the designs may point out important heavenly bodies or mirror the constellations. Many anthropologists think the designs might be a type of offering to the gods who had the power to either bless or curse crops in the arid land. And one art historian even suggested the lines might be giant ancient textile patterns.

But the most delightful explanation comes from the field of Ancient Astronaut Theory, or as it is more commonly known among professional circles, Crazy Town. What Crazy Town suggests is that the lines and shapes were constructed to commemorate a visit to Earth from aliens, and that they were perhaps even created by the alien visitors themselves.

Because research is tedious and slow and, you know, aliens.

Ancient Astronaut Theorists have enjoyed a certain degree of seeming legitimacy for the last few years because of the History Channel show, Ancient Aliens, which premiered in 2009. Now, I know what you’re thinking. A channel that purports to focus on history while mostly providing reality shows about pawn brokers and monster hunters, parallels pretty nicely a blog that claims to be about history, but winds up being more about my dog.

I like the History Channel, at least some of it. When it started out, its list of programs mostly included thoughtful and well-produced documentaries about World War II. Even today you can occasionally find thoughtful and well-produced documentaries featuring the commentary of actual experts in their respective, non-crazy fields of study. Which is why the History Channel, much like this blog, can still lull you into thinking that it’s a reliable source of solid information.

696px-Nazca-lineas-perro-c01
As the Nazca people obviously could not have had access to a picture of my dog, this, to my mind, is definitive proof of Extraterrestrial visitation to Ancient Earth. via Wikimedia Commons

Because even Ancient Aliens tends to start out sounding pretty legit. The camera swoops in on an ancient landscape. A voice with an unmistakable authoritative ring begins to ask serious, thought-provoking questions. The author of Great Adventures in Crazy Town, sounding more or less like an academic, sums up the conventional archaeological explanation of what you’re seeing. Then, just when they have you thinking that you’re being spoon-fed all the important details that will make you sound brilliant at your next cocktail party: BOOM! Aliens.

20160613_111334
Maybe not my best work, but the fact that five minutes at a craft store and a little hot glue yields this is, to my mind, definitive proof of Extraterrestrial visitation to Ancient Earth. And at least I didn’t end up writing about my dog.

It’s a little disconcerting when a trusted authoritative source takes a detour through Crazy Town. And I imagine that’s how my oldest son felt when he came to me a couple weeks ago with a problem. We were about to leave on a long road trip through the northeast, and I was busy working my way through the packing process so, really, I was in Crazy Town already. He reminded me, a trusted reliable source of all things crafty and motherly, that he needed a space-themed costume for the camp he was scheduled to go to the day after we were due back from vacation.

And motherly craft magic is tedious and slow, and you know, aliens.

BOOM!

 

 

Don’t forget to sign up to receive updates and bonus materials related to my forthcoming historical novel, which is not about my dog. You can sign up here: http://eepurl.com/b3olY1