By Todd R. Nelson
Although Miss Buddiacco (Buddy-Ocko) had been a member of our family for ages, it was not until my daughter turned her into an art project that I knew what she looked like. Imaginary friends, at least in our family, tend to get by on name alone. Looks are of secondary importance. And perhaps it’s de rigeuer for imaginary friends to remain figments by avoiding concrete incarnation?
Mrs. Mayonnaise came first. She was a figment of my father’s childhood imagination. His age when they became acquainted, and the background or foreground for their relationship, remains obscure. I already knew he loved mayonnaise, so what other purpose might she serve? Her name sounds plain, domestic, smooth, someone proper and orderly and perhaps a little prim for an imaginary friend. She is, therefore, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” sandwich.
I had no imaginary friend. My brother did: Sewer the Wolf. There’s a mythic overtone to Sewer. I think back to the dark, heavy storm drains in our suburban childhood neighborhood, and the foreboding we certainly shared about losing a baseball down that ominous cleft in the curb. My, what big teeth you had, Sewer. He embodies all that an imaginary friend should be—part phenomenological explanation, part mischievous boggart.
Miss Buddiacco too might seem a little sedate, but we believe she was traveling incognito when she came to us. She arrived spontaneously—and once she was present and accounted for it was as if we’d always known her. We were driving across Nevada during our one and only Great American Family Car Trip. While cruising the unfamiliar landscape, so barren and monotonous to us forest-dwellers, Miss B. hitched a ride out of nowhere. A little voice from the back of the minivan announced her arrival. Ariel let it be known that Miss Buddiacco was now a fellow traveler.
We rolled her name on our tongues. “Buddiacco” had such fabulous bounce and mirthful resonance. We instantly started filling in her character and narrative. It took quite a while just to decide on an appropriate spelling. Ultimately, we went with the faux-Italianate-phonetic.
She was a cross between Miss Marple and Amelia Bedelia, with a touch of Harriet the Spy, Lily Tomlin and Wonder Woman thrown in. In other words, the reading level of each of the five people in the car that day informed some aspect of Miss Buddiacco’s persona. Ariel thought she was a wrinkled older woman in a muumuu who liked her “elevensies” with finger sandwiches. We all concurred: definitely a literary character. She speaks with an indeterminate foreign accent. She is unpredictable, and unfazed. She is kind, but knowing. She wears hats and carries large handbags.
As the titles of her stories followed, I noted them in my journal from the trip: Miss Buddiacco Goes to Lunch, Miss Buddiacco Goes to the Beach, Miss Buddiacco Rides the Purple Sage, Miss Buddiacco Holds a Yard Sale, Miss Buddiacco Saves Sewer the Wolf.
Soon the question, “What would Miss Buddiacco do?” tested our approaches to new situations. Even now, years later, she crops up on odd and helpful occasions. Miss Buddiacco, we imagine, can say things that we won’t get away with. She is a lens for inspiration or pleasure, perhaps even an alter ego, our inner Harriet, Lily or Wonder Woman. Or Sewer. She may even be a way of talking to ourselves, about ourselves—someone familiar, but other. Imaginary friends are secret agents…with foreign accents we can imitate.
When Ariel came home from eighth-grade art class to finally introduce us to three-dimentional Miss Buddiacco, we compared her appearance to our fantasy. Ariel had been making a sculpture of Miss B.—and her dog, Pierre. Now, there she was, a plaster figurine, traveling in a custom-sized box, dolled-up and ready for action. She had been given complete costume, physical stature, detail and style. She was more than the sum of her imaginary parts.
Miss Buddiacco dressed in a batik toga, a red orchid pinned to her shoulder, an enigmatic smile on her face. Her long, black hair cascaded from beneath a broad brimmed gaucho hat. She carried an enormous red handbag, of course, and had a ukulele tucked under one arm.
It was good to finally see her. It’s been a lot of fun imagining what it is she totes around in that bag, the story behind the ukulele and Pierre’s addition to her—menagerie. Who knows, perhaps she even has some information about Mrs. Mayonnaise? I’ll ask her. She resides on my bookcase, in the mystery section.
Todd R. Nelson is a retired educator. He lives in Penobscot.