What is imaginary? Except for distorted stories, embellished lies, and mathematical impossibilities, imagination is a loneliness changer. When I was growing up in the verdant hills of Oklahoma, I had a lot of time to think alone and invent playmates.
There was no television set, radio, or big city lights. I did have a younger brother who was my shadow. He followed me around and we studied snakes, insects, farm animals, and people. Life was exciting when we let our imaginations take over.
We played marbles, climbed trees, invented implements of destruction, captured crawdads, knocked down wasp nests, and read. Sometimes I thought my brother was the lucky one because he was two years younger. Because of his age some of our neighbors thought he was entitled to life’s little extras.
One neighbor, Mrs. Olson, lived alone in the house next door. Once or twice a week I would go to her house and draw ten to fifteen buckets of water from her well for her cooking water and her bath water. While I worked, she would read to Billy. Often she would get out her family pictures and show Billy places she had traveled. I was envious that Billy got to use her viewer because the pictures were 3D. Although I was irritated, I also noticed he was given cookies and ice cream. I believed in fairness and this was not fair!
We moved every two or three years as my dad got a new job. There were always new neighbors and new friends and new things to discover. I was in the habit of picking up little sacks which had been thrown on the ground. The sacks originally contained bubble gum and were always empty. On a string looped at the top of the bag was a small cardboard circle. When I pulled on a circle the bag would tighten and the contents remained inside. My intentions were to keep my steelies, cats eyes, boulders, and other marbles in a bag without losing them.
But one day when my imagination was running wild, and I was bored, I told Billy he could collect ten of those circles and the people at the store would exchange them for an ice cream cone. I watched him rushing around gathering the circles, pleased with myself for playing such a prank. After ten circles were in his possession, he went into the store. I expected Billy to come out of the store mad or crying. Instead, he was carrying and eating a huge ice cream cone.
“How did you get that cone?” I asked.
“Just like you said. I traded the circles for the ice cream. Thanks for telling me!”
My mouth fell open. Then I raced around picking up circles. When I went inside the clerk said, “Sorry. That was the last ice cream given away. Maybe next week.” I was disappointed but forever hopeful as week after week I stopped at the store looking for my ice cream.
My world was small and yet it was filled with ghost stories, constellations, woodland animals, insects, and warm gingerbread. I did not have to imagine family love. It was always there.
June 3, 2017