Sense and Nonsense: Just Call Me “Sam”

William Burleigh at Scripps-Howard in Cincinnati happily manages each year to give me a copy of the latest paperbound collection of Peanuts. Bill says simply, “Schulz is a genius.” He is right, of course.

This year’s collection is entitled, “If Beagles Could Fly.” Actually, I do not like the animal characters in Peanuts, particularly Snoopy. I realize that probably makes me totally abnormal. I compensate for this blind spot in what is otherwise, in its owner’s view, a perfectly normal personality by greatly liking —along with his sister Sally and Linus and, of course, Lucy—the sundry little friends like Marcie and Peppermint Patty whom Charlie Brown runs into in school.

In this latest series there is a new little girl sitting behind Charlie in class. Charlie wants to send her a Christmas card, but he does not know her name. When he asks her for her name and address, with some shock she responds to Charlie, “Aren’t you kind of old for me?” This answer naturally infuriates Charlie, who yells at her: “I’M NOT ASKING YOU TO MARRY ME, I JUST WANT TO SEND YOU A CARD!”

Before the series is over, the little girl first tells a thoroughly confused Charlie that her name is Lydia. The next time he asks her, she tells him it is Rebecca, then Rachel, Jezebel, Susan, and Sarah. Even though Charlie is sharp enough to catch the distinctly biblical overtones of these names, especially Jezebel, he finds, when his card is returned from the post office, that she also has given him the wrong address. And when Lucy asks Charlie why he bothers with her, he replies hopelessly, “She fascinates me.”

The sequence in this collection that especially delighted me, however, showed Charlie sitting in a comfortable chair reading. His little sister Sally comes up behind him with a pencil and notebook to inform him, “I’m making out my Christmas list.” Then quite seriously she asks Charlie, “How do you spell your name?” Charlie, taken aback by the metaphysical implications of her question, turns around in his chair to confront her, “I’m your brother, and you don’t even know how to spell my name?” Finally, in front of a dazed Charlie who is slumped in his chair, she is seen walking away, remarking out loud to herself, “I’ll put down ‘Sam’… I know how to spell that.”

Lydia, for that was apparently her real name, is capable of calling herself anything from Rebecca to Jezebel, who, as Charlie explained to the unimpressed Lydia, “was the evil wife of King Ahab in the Old Testament. In II Kings it says that her servants threw her out of the window and she landed on her head.” After receiving this erudite information, Lydia calmly announced, “Today my name is Susan.”

Knowing Schulz, one probably ought to look up “Lydia” in the New Testament. I recently came across in the Acts of the Apostles a Lydia who appears in chapter 16. Paul has just arrived in Philippi in Macedonia, which was at the time a Roman colony. It was the Sabbath. Paul and Silas went outside the city gates by the river to find a place of prayer. Instead they sat down to talk to the women gathered there. One of these ladies happened to be this Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from Thyatira. She was “a believer in God.” She listened to the conversation, “and the Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul said.” She was then and there baptized with her whole household. Next she said to Paul and Silas, “If you have judged me to be a believer in the Lord, I beg you to come to stay in my home.” The text concludes simply, “And she insisted on our going.”

There is, indeed, something rather fascinating about both the Lydia that Paul and Silas visited and the Lydia who sat behind Charlie in class.

In the meantime, his sister calls Charlie Brown “Sam.” Charlie, alias “Sam,” simply cannot believe that she cannot spell his name, since he is her brother. Charlie naturally considered that, due to his importance in her life—he is her older brother, after all—one of the first things she should learn to spell is, his name, “Charlie.” But no, rather than learn to spell “Charlie,” Sally prefers to change his name to “Sam.” Yet we should remember that Sally is going to get her brother “Sam” a Christmas present even though she cannot spell his name.

Charlie Brown is fascinated by Lydia, but cannot figure out whether that is her real name or where she lives. The card Charlie sends to Lydia is returned to him, address unknown. Meantime, Lydia sends a shocked but pleased Charlie a Christmas card. She knows his name and address. Sally, for her part, wants to give her older brother a present, but figures that “Charlie” is too difficult to spell. So she calls him “Sam,” which she can spell.

Lydia, the dealer in purple cloth, happened to hear Paul and Silas by the river outside of Philippi. They made sense to her, so she believed and was baptized. But she insisted that her hospitality be accepted. We can bet that Paul and Silas did accept.

The Lydias and Sallys of this world, thank goodness, have a way about them. We suspect that had Schulz, like Sally, been unable to spell “Charlie,” a “Sam” Brown never would have made it. And Lydia was right, on finding out who the real Jezebel was, to change her name to Susan.

“I’m your brother and you don’t even know how to spell my name?”

“I’ll put down ‘Sam’… I know how to spell that.”


  • Fr. James V. Schall

    The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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