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How ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ Inspired My New Novel

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Charlie Brown is right. He’s always been right.
By Wade Rouse

A Charlie Brown Christmas premiered in 1965, the year I was born.

I didn’t actually realize this until recently when I received a Zillow notification from a friend that my former childhood home was for sale. Responding to that simple cell phone ding spun me into a winter blizzard of memories and set me off in search of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I also realized the holiday classic no longer aired on regular TV— only on Apple TV, which had acquired its exclusive rights—and how quickly the world changes in what seems like the blink of an eye.

Growing up in the Missouri Ozarks, my grandma’s home was the focal point—the North Pole—of my life at the holidays. A working-class seamstress who never finished high school or learned to drive, she lived in a tiny, one-story cottage with a wraparound porch that was akin to Santa’s Workshop.

Every inch of her little home was decorated. Plastic blow molds of Santa and Rudolph lined her yard. Santa’s rump popped out of her chimney. Her roof, porch, and outdoor bushes were festooned with lights. A massive tree filled with Shiny Brite ornaments, drenched in acres of shimmering tinsel and topped by a blinking angel, filled her living room window.

When you walked inside the front door, her tree was wrapped in a skirt she sewed herself—felt appliqué with holiday scenes. A manger scene that had belonged to her mother was perched atop it.

My grandmother had bought and wrapped so many presents that she had to clear a path through them as though shoveling her sidewalk after a big snow. She was poor, but she scrimped and saved to make Christmas magical.

I spent nearly every weekend with her, as my mom and aunt joined to help her bake pies, cookies and cakes for Christmas. She had the best sugar cookie recipe, and we cut them out with her holiday cookie cutters and made frosting as they baked.

One of my earliest memories is sitting in her lap, eating frosted Santa cookies, sipping eggnog and watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I’ve never felt safer in my life.

I often felt as if I had a target on my back in my rural hometown. I realized I was gay at a young age, which made navigating daily life difficult for a boy who loved to read, write, wear little bow ties and horn-rimmed glasses.

I was belittled and bullied, but my grandmother swept me under her apron strings and loved me fiercely and unconditionally. She told me never to change, that only by being myself would I be able to change the world. My grandmother, in many respects, was like my Linus blanket, my protector.

Every year as a kid, my family went to the Ozarks Christmas tree farm to cut a tree for my grandma and one for my family. One year, however, when the trees were loaded atop our cars, my grandma walked me to the furthest reaches of the tree farm to find the saddest, loneliest, Charlie Brown-iest sapling, slumped over, looking for a home.

“Why?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” she said.

We dug it up, put it in a little pot with water, decorated it with a couple of ornaments, wrapped it in a blanket and placed it on her pink Formica table in the kitchen where it watched us bake cookies. After Christmas, we took it to my childhood home and planted it in my parents’ yard. My home was perched on five acres of land in the country, but it fronted a road.

“I thought this little tree might make the start of a nice border from the street one day,” she said, patting the damp earth.

When I received that Zillow notice that my family home was for sale, I opened the link and looked at the pictures: The little trees we dug up and planted for countless years were now a forest.

“Just watch,” I suddenly remembered my grandma telling me when we planted that first tree. “It’s amazing what can grow with a little love.”

Once I found it on Apple TV, I immediately subscribed.

I wept like a baby remembering those childhood Christmases. I never wanted them to end. But I knew—as I aged—that my grandma was preparing me to leave and forge a life of my own. I knew that, like so many of us, once I did, my holidays would likely never be the same again. Those I loved would age and, eventually, pass. Memories would fade. Traditions would change.

Every novel I write begins with a seminal memory from my life as well as questions that I’m wrestling with and believe readers are seeking to answer in their own lives.

The Wishing Bridge was no exception.

Can I—can any of us—ever feel as safe as we once did, especially in a world today that seemingly only grows darker and more perilous? Can we hold onto the memories and traditions that made us feel that way, especially at Christmas? Can we ever come home again?

“Life is as short as one blink of God’s eye,” my grandma used to tell me, “but we forget in that blink what matters most.”

The Wishing Bridge is meant to remind us what matters most: Each other.

We live in a tumultuous world where we too often focus on what divides rather than unites us.

I hope that doing some simple things this holiday season—be it watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, reading The Wishing Bridge, digging up a tiny tree, or making sugar cookies and frosting Santa’s beard as high as a snow drift—remind you to slow down, reconnect to tradition, appreciate what you have, and remember where you came from and where you’re going.

“This little green one here seems to need a home,” Charlie Brown tells a dubious Linus in the cartoon. “We’ll decorate it, and it’ll be just right. Besides, I think it needs me.”

Charlie Brown is right. He’s always been right. Which is why I will watch him pick out that same tree—just like I did with my grandma—again this year, and it will be just right

And, for a moment, I will be safe.

Wade Rouse is an internationally bestselling author of sixteen books, which have been translated into 21 languages and sold over a million copies around the world. Wade writes fiction under a deeply meaningful pen name, Viola Shipman, which was his grandmother’s name. He chose this pen name to honor the working poor Ozarks seamstress whose sacrifices changed his family’s life and whose memory inspires his fiction. Wade’s most recent Viola Shipman novel The Wishing Bridge is an instant national bestseller. His previous Viola Shipman novels include Famous in a Small Town, A Wish for Winter, The Edge of Summer, The Secret of Snow, The Summer Cottage, The Clover Girls, Charm Bracelet, The Hope Chest, The Recipe Box, and The Heirloom Garden. His writing has appeared in a diverse range of publications and media, including Coastal Living, Time, All Things Considered, People, Good Housekeeping, Parade, Salon, Forbes, Writer’s Digest, and Publisher’s Weekly. Wade earned his B.A. from Drury University and his master’s in journalism from Northwestern University. He divides his time between Saugatuck, Michigan, and Palm Springs, California, and is also an acclaimed writing teacher who has mentored numerous students to become published authors. Wade hosts the popular Facebook Live literary happy hour, “Wine & Words with Wade,” every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Viola Shipman author page where he talks writing, inspiration and welcomes bestselling authors and publishing insiders. For more, please visit www.waderouse.com or www.violashipman.com