Once upon a time there was a little girl and her cat, named Toby. Toby arrived in the pocket of the girl’s father’s coat for her third birthday. Those are facts, but the adventures the pair experienced were pure fiction. Because she was an only child, the furry grey cat was her favorite playmate. Together they traveled far beyond the house and yard, all the way to fairy tale land.
There was a big red book of stories on the bedside table, and before going to sleep one of her parents read her at least one story. Her father would often fall asleep on the bed before the story was over, but she didn’t mind. She knew all the stories by heart (and soon she would actually be able to read by herself).
With the help of the fairy tales and the companionship of the cat, the girl created new adventures every day, especially on rainy days. They rode a Ferris wheel all the way to London to meet Puss and Boots and see the queen, and rowed a bright blue boat beside another boat (painted an ugly pea green) containing a cat along with an owl, eating delicious treats. They sang and danced and hid in closets when danger appeared. When neighborhood kids appeared, they turned them into trolls and said they had to live under the bridge across the street where giant snapping turtles swam.
Then came television and their new friend, Howdy Doody. They became members of the peanut gallery along with all the kids from around the neighborhood who came to watch on the new TV. Their games now reenacted Howdy’s show and Howdy’s friends became their friends, too. No more Ferris wheel rides or sailings.
Another generation comes along: two happy boys full of fun and laughter. Two cats become their pals. They have books and parents waiting to read them. They have television too and video games.
There are treasure hunts in the backyard with dinosaurs. There are Mad Hatter’s tea parties with their friends.
Still, there is enough imagination left for parents and children to travel together in boats, fly on planes, and make magical memories. Even when they travel to a real place, they invent people and adventures. They soak up the scenery, breathe in the fresh air, and find reasons to laugh and laugh and laugh.
Because the mom and dad were educators — a reading teacher and librarian — there was still time for imagination. Mom brought home stacks of books because she read to her students, too. George and Martha became friends with everyone, and soon all the kids were inventing new adventures. Old classics like the series by Thornton Burgess were rediscovered. His animals were the perfect blend of fact and fantasy. Old Mother Westwind was the champion of many volumes of stories. Equally beloved were Uncle Wiggly and Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy, created by the imagination of Howard Garis. Every time someone needed nursing, the provider was called Nurse Jane.
Now, I’m at the stage that my imagination veers toward solving mysteries. Barbara Pym and Lord Peter Whimsy are my old-time chums — I love all the old Brits. We sit out on the patio, sipping tea and speaking in our best British accent. We are often reminded of our trips to the United Kingdom and all the cream teas we ate at tearooms like the Apricot Meringue in Clitheroe, Yorkshire.
I also pretend I’m back in Ireland in the tiny town of Kilmihil, where my Granny Mary was christened, and stroll through the fields and chat with a donkey named Murphy.
I have a very full life, even if it’s only in my tiny little head.