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My 'Dangerous' Imaginary Childhood Friends
These Are A Few Of My Childhood Friends
Are you normal? I know this is a sensitive question, but I do have a legitimate reason for asking. As a child, did you have an imaginary friend? I sure did. Lots of them. And I am proud of it. I never hid this fact from anyone--parents, teachers, minister, or grandparents. Even at the young age of ten, I realized that there was no use in pretending that I didn’t have a gang of imaginary friends for I’d be lying to myself and disrespecting the feelings of my imaginary playmates.
By revealing this fact of having imaginary friends, I am not confessing a dark secret about myself such as my utter-dislike for AMT machines who mock me when I get a number wrong and it snidely remarks, “Would you, REALLY want to try again?” or how I literally love to watch (for hours on end) apples drying in the summer sun--an old southern tradition for making those delicious pies. I haven’t any taboo vices except maybe I like to watch Avon ads on television--for the pretty ladies, not the products. Sure glad that I squelched that rumor before it was born.
And I do believe that most animals in major zoo’s in America are conspiring behind my back to reek vengeance on me for not contributing more to saving whatever animal cause that was popular at the time. Other than that, I pride myself on being pretty much normal. Others who know me well may disagree. I can tell you first-hand, not to listen to my buddy, Barack Obama when he talks in gest about how I would make a good guinea pig for testing cosmetics. And he said this while we were chowing-down on Cheez Its in the Oval Office--enjoying a few classic Dragnet shows with Jack Webb and Harry Morgan. Please don’t tell anyone that I said that about our president.
Okay. Now let us talk about this subject, “Dangerous Imaginary Friends,” and see if I can give you the chance to establish whether or not that by having imaginary friends in my youth has directly-affected my teenage as well as adult life. I am serious. I would like to know myself. Those late-night dreams that I’ve been having since 1980, used to be fun, but in present time, they are beginning to disturb me.
Allow me the pleasure to share some cold, hard facts with you about my association with imaginary friends. If we can sift through these facts in an intelligent manner, then I think the question of whether I am normal or not will be easily answered.
* My parents, the now-late Austin and Mary Dean Avery and grandparents, James and Ida Belle Avery, all of Hamilton, all knew that I had imaginary friends. And never said one thing about this to me. Oh, they might have said a few whispered opinions among themselves when I wasn’t around, but never said a word to my face. I just assumed that it was fine to have invisible friends.
* Some of my earlier grade school teachers were aware of my imaginary friends, but now that I think back on this part of my life, I fully believe that these teachers all kept ‘kept their heads in the sand,’ in order to not have to deal with a young boy having imaginary friends sitting with me in my desk everyday. Maybe, hopefully, these teachers thought I was the next Einstein, who was a drop-out and thought to be mentally-challenged at a young age. Nope. Just some wishful-thinking on my part.
* My friends on the school bus that I rode were fully-aware that I talked with my imaginary friends constantly. Talked so convincingly that these fleshly friends thought I was talking to them. Those do-do’s. Thinking that I was talking to them when I was really having a good heart-to-heart with “Poko,” the pirate, one of my first imaginary friends.
At this juncture, let me tell you the names of a few of my imaginary friends. The list reads like a who’s who of childhood heroes. Cute names. Strong names and two imaginary friends that I didn’t have a name for, but I didn’t let that stop me from having them as friends. Maybe, I thought, that they were really sensitive and wanted to be kept obscure from the public.
There was “Poko,” the pirate; James Dean, the teen heart throb; Superman, of course; “Clark” the secret circus clown; “Jodie,” the country music singer; “Gus” the lonesome cowboy; “Flash” my football player invisible friend; “Bruiser” the old-fashioned gangster who smoked cigarettes with me--real cigarettes, not candy facsimile’s from the dime store; “Max” the lion tamer and the two who didn’t have names: an always-angry gorilla and a plain, lifeless statue.
I told you about my parents, Austin and Mary Dean Avery, well, on Sundays, dad and mom would load me up and we would go visit his parents, James and Ida Belle Avery, two nice, but really old people, who, for some cosmic reason, didn’t complain about the open performances that I would give, for nothing, in their bedroom that had a really slick linoleum rug. It was always slick because my aunt Ludie, who never married, also lived with them, waxed and mopped this one floor--everyday, seven days a week. Year round. The rug was ideal for me to run and slide from side of the room to the other while squealing like a stuck pig. What big fun that was.
One of my all-time favorite performances involved me, as myself, a lonesome hobo, out on the cold, dark roads of rural America. I would narrate my show for my parents and grandparents as I went along so that my grandparents, as I have already told you were really old and I didn’t want to confuse them more than they already were, so I did them a favor and played a dual role as that of a lonesome hobo and narrator.
ME: Well, here I am on a forgotten, dark, desolate rural road in Vicksburg, Mississippi. It’s almost 12 midnight. I have been on the road for a week. I’m hungry, cold and lonesome. Huh? Who’s there?
“POKO,” pirate: Harrr-rrrr, who goes that me laddie? Me name is Poko. Me be a blood-thirsty pirate from the Pacific Ocean looking’ for a young ‘un like you to cook in me big, black iron pot on me ship, The Della Saint, and harrr-rrrr, would ye’ kindly put ye’ hands in the air? (NOTE: Poko was an unusual pirate for he was born in Ireland. Notice his Irish accent?)
ME: No, uh, sir. I have to be on my way. I am going to Texas to help my buddy, “W.L.” a ranch owner with his spring cattle round-up, so I will be seein’ ya, Mr. Poko.
“POKO”: nothing’ doin’ sonny boy. How about taking a look at this sharp sword and see if ye’ be changing’ ye’ mind?
ME: Listen, Mr.Poko, “W.L.” is a good friend of mine and I don’t want to be late, so let me go or you will make me mad and sir, that would be very bad!”
(at this point, James and Ida Belle would be staring at my mom and dad with looks of confusion on their faces and probably whispering, “What is your boy doing talking to himself and something that ain’t there? Can you tell me that, Austin?”)
At this point, I would do a television-related advertisement for my sponsor, Raid insect killer. Remember the original Raid commercials where the ‘bug’, after being sprayed by Raid, would say in a forlorn voice, “Raid just kills me . . .” Well, that was my sponsor. I did the voice of the announcer who urged people to ‘buy Raid for all your insect-killing needs, plus I did the shaky voice of the dying insect and then I would hit the floor like the deceased insect.
Then I would continue with my performance.
Then Poko would swing at me with his very-sharp sword and miss my head by inches. I would lay down on the slick linoleum floor to use my secret leg-drop to bring him to the ‘ground.’ It worked all the time. Like a charm. The floor was sometimes hard when I would fall down, but I was battling a dangerous pirate who just might hurt my parents and grandparents. And aunt Ludie’s pet dog, “Pudge.”
Poko, realizing that he ha met his match, ran off with fear and I would stand facing my parents and grandparents and take a professional bow just like they did on that show, The Hollywood Palace. I was sometimes hurt because neither my parents or grandparents offered any, “nice job’s”, “atta boy’s” or even applause. They just continued to talk leaving me standing on the slick linoleum rug looking very ignorant. That was fine. I was a professional. I could take it.
Now as for James Dean, the teen heart throb, I would sneak off when I was back at home, and grease my hair with daddy’s hair oil (Lucky Tiger, remember that?) and try my best to look like James Dean, the rebellious, fast-living movie star I had seen on the cover of my sister’s True Hollywood Story magazine.
Then, when my mom, dad, and sister were not suspecting it, I would slowly walk into the room and try to look just like James Dean--with my eyebrows arching, lips pouting and acting like I was smoking an unfiltered Camel cigarette. And the finishing touch to my Dean image, my shirt collar was turned up. My parents and sister would hold themselves and laugh like horses. That doesn’t do anything for a kid who really talks with James Dean out in the yard when dark would come in the evening. My parents and sister thought they knew everything. The only other response I got was an angry, “Where did you get that hair oil?” from my dad and I would have to go immediately and wash it out. All this time, James Dean would be outside looking through our living room window watching me be humiliated and unappreciated. The next evening at dark, I would confess to Dean just how much I liked him and wanted to be like him. He would say, “Kid, you got a good head on your shoulders. Use what the Good Lord has given you and be YOU, not me or anybody else,” and slowly fade into the darkness. Oh, he would come back to talk to me anytime I needed him. What a friend I had in James Dean.
Now me playing with Superman was a bit dangerous. Sometimes Superman would test me to see if I was really his fan by daring me to jump off of our porch in the back of the house. I would say, “Mister Superman, that might hurt me. Are you sure you want me to jump?” He would wink, fold his arms and wait for me to follow through on his dare for me to ‘fly’ like he did when I left the porch. I tried many times, even when mom would look out of the door and ask me, “Kenny, are you just trying to kill yourself?” I would have to waste valuable time telling her, “But, mama, Superman, right here, say hello to my mom, Superman, told me to jump and I can’t say no to him,” and with that being said, I would sail off the porch only to land on my head or shoulders and talk about pain. I was in pain as Superman just shook his head and said as he flew off to fight crime somewhere, “Nice try, Kenny. Maybe next time.” You would never know that Superman had a mean streak did you?
When “Clark, the Secret Circus Clown,” would visit me, he would be dressed in his professional, full-blown clown make up and wardrobe. So the honorable thing to do was join him by using my mom or sister’s lipstick that made great red circles around my eyes and their face powder gave me the appearance of really being a clown. I would mess up my hair and get one of my dad’s Sunday felt hats and join “Clark” for lively conversation and some clown-like antics such as scaring my mom when she was occupied cooking a meal or ironing. Mom was not a really angry lady. She had great emotional discipline, but this one time, when “Clark” and I, well, I, jumped out on her, she flew off the handle and said, “Kenny! That fool clown has got to go! And get that stuff off of your face before your dad gets home or he will beat you,” and I would obey instantly. What a way to talk to a future movie or television star. And how she hurt “Clark.” He never returned for his feelings were crushed. Anyone knows that a clown, of all people, has the most-sensitive feelings.
“Jodie” the country singer and “Gus,” the Arizona Cowboy, would always stay in the closet of my bedroom and when my family were all asleep, these two would appear and “Jodie” would let me help him sing songs such as, “Casey Jones and Cattle Call,” that my dad swore he had heard on the Grand Ole Opry from Nashville the weekend before on his Wizard radio he had bought at our local Western Auto store in Hamilton, Alabama. “Gus,” would tell me stories about the range and how he took care of the bad guys who love to rustle cattle. Yes, my impatient dad would hear me singing with “Jodie,” or talking to “Gus,” and shout, “Would you PLEASE be quiet and go to sleep! I got to get up at 5 and go to work,” Many is the night that I cried in silence while “Jodie” and “Gus” just stood there and didn’t lift a finger to help me. I still liked them anyway. Guess they had bigger, more important things to do besides help a young boy with his impatient dad.
When dad would be home on Saturdays and after his outside chores were done, he would listen to a football game on our Wizard radio because we didn’t have a television, and I would allow my buddy, “Flash” Taylor, a Heisman Trophy winner from Iowa to enjoy the game with dad and me. Sometimes dad would overhear me talking to “Flash” about his latest game and how he broke three tackles on his way to score a touchdown. Dad would get impatient with me, again, and send me outside so as to not disturb his football game. That was fine by “Flash” and me. We spent time in our yard throwing my made-up football, pieces of rags that mama had thrown out when she would do her sewing and have the best time. “Flash” told me one time that I did show some talent in being a football player, but as he put it mildly, “Son, you have to weigh more than 52 pounds to be a football player like me.” “Flash” cared for me and I cared for him. Every football season, even through the age of 10, I would see “Flash” standing in my front yard waiting on me to come out and play a game or two of pass with him. Funny thing. When I reached my teen years, “Flash” never showed up again. I always wondered if I had hurt his feelings or something. I miss “Flash” even today.
There was those dark and hurtful times when my mom or dad would hurt my feelings when I would ask, what I thought to be a sensible question, only to have them snap at me and tell me to go away or play while they did their work. I would always count on my gangster-friend, “Bruiser,” from Chicago, of course. “Bruiser,” stood six-foot tall. And dressed very nice. He didn’t do much talking, but he was a great listener as I unloaded on him how my parents didn’t want me around. He would halfway smile (because real gangsters cannot smile all the way for fear that people might take advantage of them), wink at me and tell me to get him another unfiltered Camel cigarette for he was out. Funny thing about “Bruiser,” he and my dad smoked the very same brand of cigarette. He would sometimes ask me to smoke with him. I would do that gladly for I was in no position to make “Bruiser” angry. And I thought that he wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone. That was a busted bubble for one time, my dad, who had smelled cigarette smoke, came to where I was sitting underneath our porch, talking to “Bruiser” smoking with him and almost gave me a heart attack at his shrill voice, “You are so dumb, Kenny! That cigarette will make you sick and I hope it does! Put that out!” What did he want, me to finish the cigarette, get sick or put it out? “Bruiser,” like “Jodie,” and “Gus,” left like a fleeting shadow leaving me to face my dad who was red in the face with anger at me for smoking.
When I was at peace with myself, which was very rare, I would simply walk through the house and growl as loudly as I could to show mom and dad that I was growing into a confident boy. “Why the growling? Are you a dog now?” mom would ask not looking up from her sewing or some other household task. “No, I am an angry gorilla…GRRRR--RRRRR,” I would yell, beat my chest and she was not in the least afraid of me. I felt unwanted in the Animal Kingdom.
I found out that when things were quiet at our house, that I could do a fantastic job of playing a marble statue from Rome. I would pick out a good place in the house and just stand--barely breathing and not moving at all. This imaginary friend, who only wanted to be called, statue, was proud of me. We would sometimes talk about what life was like in ancient Rome and I would ask things like, “Were you there when Jesus was alive?” Statue would laugh quietly and then leave when my arms would grow tired and I would have to rest. Get that? Rest from doing nothing as a statue?
“Max” the lion tamer was, I guess, my favorite imaginary friend. He came from a poor family in Italy and joined the circus at age nine and trained to be the world’s best lion tamer. He was sorry for how I was being treated at home, so he told me that he would teach me the fine art of lion-taming to take my mind off of my hurt feelings and sadness. “Max” didn’t know it, but we didn’t own any lions, but I improvised with my pet dogs, “Frank” and “Button,” who made terrific lions. Well, “Button” didn’t really take to the idea of me snapping a piece of rope at him like a whip, so one time he bit my arm while “Frank,” my other “lion” just looked on. “Max” would always laugh when things like this happened. Then pat me on the back and hit the road for another tour with the circus.
I am now the broken-down age of 57. I confess to you in front of God and everyone, that as I grew older, I realized that all of my imaginary friends were just that. Imaginary. Not real. Just childish figments of an over-active imagination. I feel very stupid for even thinking that these characters that I called my friends ever existed. What was I thinking anyway?
And maybe my imaginary friends were somewhat strange, selfish, self-centered, and most times, got me into lots of trouble, but I can attest to the fact that I don’t know how I would have survived my childhood without them.
Honestly, I don’t.
This is “Poko” saying hello to everyone and thanks for reading Kenneth’s story.