Imaginary friends are like books. We're created, we're enjoyed, we're dog-eared and creased, and then we're tucked away until we're needed again.
Crenshaw is my second favorite story about an imaginary friend. My first is about my Uncle Scott’s make-believe dog, Afro. (His imagination was by no means politically correct, but it was big—there is that.) He was just a skinny boy of seven. Afro was good company: he laughed at Scott’s jokes, he was fiercely loyal and equally obedient. The two were a match made in pet heaven.
One day Scott walked in with Afro and stood next to his brother who also happens to be my father—the kindest man you’ll ever meet. Ask Rachel about Craig, she’ll confirm. But boys will be boys. I’m not sure what prompted my dad to ask Scott where Afro was. Probably testosterone. At any rate, when Scott pointed out where his invisible friend sat, my dad stomped on him. Stomped and then twisted his foot for crushing emphasis. Scott crumbled to the floor. He bawled uncontrollably. His sobs shuddered and his body convulsed. I think it was at that moment that my grandma Dorcas said, “You’ll need to bury Afro.” Aghast, my father exclaimed, “He’s not real!” Dorcas gave my dad a matter-of-fact look, and explained, “He is to him.” I can clearly see my teenage father begrudgingly digging a shallow grave for an imaginary dog. It makes me chuckle every time.
Are imaginary friends as important as real ones? Katherine Applegate thinks they are—at least the kind like Crenshaw. He’s extra large, opinionated, and loyal. Crenshaw appears when Jackson and his family fall on tough times. Because Jackson is now a fifth grader and admittedly an “old soul,” he fights the idea of an imaginary friend. He’s the kind of kid who likes facts, a real scientist in the making. But Crenshaw is hard to resist. He’s a black-n-white, San Francisco baseball cap-wearing cat. Pretty easy going. In fact, he doesn’t mind riding on top of the mini-van, especially if he has a few purple jellybeans in tow. Honestly, Crenshaw won me (and my boys) over. If I didn’t have Rae, I’d probably need a giant cat that skateboards and takes bubble baths to walk me through the hard days. Maybe Applegate wants all of us to understand that friends matter. Period. Real or imagined will work.