Sunday, July 10, 2011
Many of you will immediately recognize the above cartoon, Family Circus, and think of its creator, Bil Keane. Do you remember the ghost pictured here, named "Not Me"? "Not Me" was often accompanied by his partners, "I Don't Know," and "Nobody." One of these three ghosts were always present at the site of broken vases, spilled juice, or alongside footprints of mud that had been tracked into the house.
As a child, around the age of eight, I'd read Family Circus in the comic section of the Sunday paper. The bright colors of the strip, along with the guaranteed quick read in a few sentences always caught my eye, but each time I'd read it, I'd think, "Lame. lame lame lame lame. Lame." I'd then announce to the closest person, sometimes just to the air, "Family Circus is so dumb." Heavy emphasis on the last letter "m," followed by an eye roll.
Last week, while on our weekly trip to the library, our youngest son came across the Family Circus Treasury, what you could call the bible of Bil Keane's work. He had found the book on the shelf, while looking for the cooler, hipper comics, like Foxtrot, and Calvin and Hobbes. The cool hip stuff was out, like much of the rest of cool hip stuff in life usually is. In their stead, our son picked up the Family Circus, drawn to it by its' simple glossy white cover and large bold sketches outlined in black. He had never heard of it. We took it home.
Feet up on the coffee table, relaxed on the sofa, he flipped through the large volume quickly. At book's end, he pronounced it, "lame-o, lame-o, lame-o." It fell to the side of the coffee table.
Later that day, I picked the heavy book up from the floor while cleaning. I leafed through it. I began laughing. Like hard laughing. It had been at least ten years since I had looked at Bil Keane. I called to my husband, "you have to see this, remember?" He recognized the trademark "family in a circle," and reminisced, "Oh, yeah, him. I always thought that cartoon was so dumb."
We sat together and read. We sat together and read in a new light, no longer as little children. And we laughed. Family Circus was wasted on the foolish youth we were. Oh, you sophisticated wit, Bil Keane. We have matured into an appreciation for Family Circus. How we now hang our heads in shame -- you were light years ahead of us, Bil, you wrote your comics in preparation for the parents we have now become.
While cleaning up the kitchen tonight, my bare feet landed on sticky ketchup that had been left on the floor, right in front of the refrigerator, the red splotch visible to anyone. Anyone. "Who spilled ketchup all over the floor?!," I shouted, expecting no answer back. I had become the crop cut dark- haired Mom on Family Circus. All three of our boys came running, and right on cue, they began down the line, from tallest to shortest. "Not me," said the oldest, blaming Not Me, straight out of one of Bil Keane's panels. '"I Don't Know," is who middlest placed the blame with. "Nobody," was accused by the youngest.
Bil Keane, consider this my public apology here to you, today, in front of all who read this. Bil Keane, you were not lame! As a matter of fact, you rocked at this parenting gig. You handled it with humor, grace, and joy.
And to Family Circus, to quote the Na'vi in Avatar, "I see you! I see you!"
*Bill Keane is now 87 years old, and happily living in Arizona, enjoying the heck out of the children of his five children. I emailed him a copy of this post, and his family graciously accepted my humble apology, on his behalf.
This blast from the past originally ran here May 2010. I should check up on Bil, see how he's doing.