I grew up an only child. Not by my parents’ choice, but it’s just how it was. We lived just outside the town limits of my little hometown, with not a lot of neighbors, especially ones with children my age, nearby.
I had the opportunity to play with other kids, at church, or when my mom would have lunch with some of her friends who had children close to my age, but a lot of the first years of my life was spent doing things with my mother. She was a stay at home mom, like most of the mothers were then, so we spent a lot of time together, playing, reading, and of course her letting me “help” her in the kitchen. Which is a whole other story, for another day!
And like many children who grew up without brothers or sisters, I missed out on having that special person close to my age to play with, to share stories with, and of course to blame when something went wrong!
So along came Herbie. Now I have no idea where Herbie came from, or even where the name came from. But Herbie quickly became my very best friend in the world. And obviously Herbie moved in with us at some point.
We’d play dolls together, and have tea parties. We’d build things with blocks, and sometimes Herbie would knock them over, and then my friend would really get scolded by me. Which meant Herbie would have to pick them up and rebuild our creation as I directed where every block was to be put!
My mother had to set a place at the table for Herbie as well. In fact, one time my dad accidentally sat on Herbie when we all sat down to eat, and poor Herbie was quite upset! Now Herbie didn’t eat what we ate, but there was certainly imaginary food for Herbie on those plates, because I’d have to fuss at my friend to make sure that plate was cleaned, or else no dessert! And I meant it, too!
Of course Herbie went almost everywhere I did, and several times when we went shopping, Herbie would almost get stepped on by one of the salespeople in the department store, and I’d have to set them straight, so it wouldn’t happen again. After all, Herbie could’ve gotten hurt.
Herbie even slept with me, and when I had to have a stuffed toy to sleep with, well, you guessed it…so did Herbie! Of course, when my mother read me a story, Herbie had to have one too, and of course Mom had to sing each of us a different lullaby every night before we could go to sleep.
Herbie didn’t stay around forever though. Once I started school my friend just sort of faded away, replaced by school friends and cousins. Gradually the memory of Herbie was sort of lost, at least to me.
But my mother remembered it all, and told me stories about Herbie and me on many different occasions. She even wondered if my daughter Ashley, also an only child, would have a friend like Herbie. (She didn’t; Herbie was one of a kind.)
Because, you see, Herbie was my imaginary friend, who lived for several years in my child’s very active imagination. I don’t know what my friend looked like. I don’t even know if Herbie was a boy or a girl. I guess I never even told my mother, or else it really wasn’t important to me, because at that age, a friend is a friend, and it really didn’t matter.
Children are quite imaginative. They can create the most wonderful stories, because children aren’t limited by conventional adult thought processes. To them, unicorns really do exist. Animals can talk, and we can carry on conversations with them. Birds can swim, and fish can fly. You really can catch a falling star and put it in your pocket. And dreams really do come true.
As I got older, the imaginative side of me faded, and went dormant. The animals stopped talking, the stars stayed in the sky. And my dreams were but a distant memory.
Like I had done many years before, I had said goodbye to Herbie.
But I know Herbie is still around. The Herbies of the world don’t ever really go away. We just stop paying attention to them, stop talking to them. We ignore them until they go away and find someone else who’ll appreciate them, who’ll nourish them and keep them alive.
Although I said goodbye to Herbie years ago, I’m sure my friend is still around, and most likely still living somewhere in my hometown, probably still in the attic at my mother’s former house, and hopefully Herbie has already befriended the kids who live there now.
And one day, I hope my friend is able to find me once again and come back for a visit. We’ll have a tea party, and talk to the animals, and catch a falling star or two.
I’ll enjoy saying hello to Herbie again.