Be sure to thank people who mean something to you

I took the Charles Schulz quiz this week, and I either failed it miserably or passed it with flying colors depending on how you look at it.

Schulz is the beloved creator of the Peanuts comic strip featuring Charlie Brown and his dog Snoopy. Wikipedia says he died in 2000, but I swear I’ve been to museums that have some of his old cartoons drawn on papyrus paper with charcoal, and I’m pretty sure there’s a cave somewhere with a stick-figure rendition of Lucy pulling a football-shaped rock away from a loincloth-wearing Charlie Brown before he can kick it, probably at a mastodon. Schulze drew the Peanuts comic strip for 50 years. Newspapers continue to re-run the comic strips today, and they are as fresh and sweet and funny now as they were when they first appeared.

Besides entertaining and enlightening us for decades, Schulz also devised a test to help us determine who the most important people in our lives are. The test is a simple two-part exercise. First, name the five wealthiest people in the world, the last five Heisman trophy winners, the last five winners of the Miss America pageant, 10 people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize, the last half-dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress, and the last 10 World Series champions.

How did you do?

I got Bob Dylan and the Texas Rangers.

For the second part of the test, consider the following thought exercises: List a few teachers who aided you in your journey through school. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.

Did you do better or worse on the second set of questions?

In my case, I remembered the name of every teacher I had from kindergarten through sixth grade, as well as the names of many of my high school teachers and college professors. Hank Primanti was my sixth-grade teacher, the first male teacher I had ever had. His enthusiasm for learning new things was infectious and genuine and made me appreciate what a noble calling teaching is. Irma Hughes taught a high school English class and fueled my love of books and reading, often suggesting new books she thought I might enjoy or that might challenge me. I took a class in 19th century British fiction from professor Alan Casson in college that made me become an English major, and later took a Law School Admission Test preparation class from him that I know significantly boosted my LSAT score and got me into a good law school, admittedly something that will be seen by many people as a mixed blessing.

I had no problem at all populating the answers to the rest of Schulz’s Part Two questions. The surprise was how often the same names appeared in the different categories.

Schulz’s point in offering up his little test is to remind us how quickly we all forget the headliners of yesterday. At some point, the applause dies for even the highest achievers in society, awards tarnish, achievements are forgotten, and accolades and certificates are buried with their owners. In the end, the people who make a real difference in our lives life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, the most awards or the biggest mouths. They are simply the ones who care the most about us.

Taking the Schulz test provided another lesson for me. While it was all too easy to remember the people who had taught me something worthwhile, helped me through a difficult time, or made me feel loved and appreciated, it was not nearly as easy for me to remember if I ever adequately thanked all of those people, or even let them know how much their words and actions and friendships meant to me.

Well, the good news is that it’s almost never too late to return a favor or acknowledge a gift. And let me start here by acknowledging and thanking the person who sent me Schulz’s test, whose name is first in every list and category that matters to me.

Tom Tyner of Bainbridge Island writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper.