An imaginary friend finally shows her face

Miss Buddiacco wears muumuus, carries a ukulele, and is both unpredictable and unfazed.

Although Miss Buddiacco (Buddy-ocko) has been a member of our family for some 10 years, it wasn't until this week that I knew what she looked like. Imaginary friends, at least in our family, tend to get by on name alone for a long while. Looks are secondary in importance. And perhaps it's de rigueur for imaginary friends to remain figments by avoiding concrete incarnation? Miss B, at any rate, keeps her options open.

I suppose it was Mrs. Mayonnaise who came first in our family. All we know about her for sure is that 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, though her name certainly gives a prompt to my imagination. I knew he loved mayonnaise, so what other purpose did she serve? Her name sounds plain, domestic, smooth, someone proper and orderly and perhaps a little prim for an imaginary friend. She is, in Churchill's words, "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

I do not remember having my own imaginary friend, but my brother had one whose name had slightly sinister overtones: Sewer the Wolf. I think back to the dark, heavy storm drains in our suburban childhood neighborhood, and the foreboding my brother and I certainly shared about losing a baseball down those ominous clefts in the curb. My, what big teeth you had, Sewer! Sewer comes closer to my sense of what an imaginary friend should be - part explanation, part mischievous boggart.

At first blush, Miss Buddiacco, too, might seem a little sedate. She arrived quite 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 humming along through the unfamiliar landscape, so barren and monotonous to us forest-dwellers, Miss B seemed to hitch a ride out of nowhere. A little voice from the back of the minivan announced her arrival. Our youngest daughter, Ariel, let it be known that Miss Buddiacco was now a fellow traveler.

First, we rolled her name on our tongues. "Buddiacco" had such bounce and resonance that we instantly started playing around, filling in her character and origin. It took quite a while to decide on an appropriate spelling. Ultimately, we went with the faux-Italianate-phonetic version.

As to character, she became 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 and history. Ariel thought she was a wrinkled older woman in a muumuu who liked her elevenses with finger sandwiches. We all concurred. She was definitely a literary character. She speaks with an indeterminate foreign accent, is unpredictable and unfazed. She is kind, but knowing. She wears hats and carries large handbags.

The titles of her stories followed: Miss Buddiacco Goes to Lunch, Miss Buddiacco Goes to the Beach, Miss Buddiacco Holds a Yard Sale, Miss Buddiacco Meets Sewer the Wolf.

Soon the question "What would Miss Buddiacco do?" became the litmus test for analyzing unfamiliar situations, novel approaches to new situations, responses to people, or predicaments that stretched our sense of action.

She has been with us from that day forth, and even now crops up on odd and helpful occasions. Miss Buddiacco, we imagine, can say things that we couldn't get away with. She is a lens, another point of view through which we can intuit a way of coping that gives us inspiration or pleasure. Perhaps she is an alter ego of sorts, our inner Harriet, Lily, or Wonder Woman. She may even be a way of talking to ourselves, about ourselves, as someone familiar, but other. Miss Buddiacco helps us keep our options open.

So when Ariel came home from school the other day to introduce us, finally, to Miss Buddiacco, we were eager to see if her appearance matched our fantasy. In her eighth-grade art class, Ariel had been making a sculpture of Miss B - and her dog, Pierre. Now, there she was in three dimensions, a plaster figurine, traveling in a custom-sized box, dolled-up and ready for action.

This was a revelation: She was more than the sum of her imaginary parts.

Miss Buddiacco is dressed in a colorful batik toga, a large red orchid pinned to her shoulder, an enigmatic smile on her face. Her long, black, stringy hair cascades from beneath a broad-brimmed gaucho hat. She carries an enormous red handbag, of course, and holds a ukulele under one arm.

It's good to finally see her, and I'm certain that it'll be a lot of fun imagining what she totes around in that bag, the story behind the ukulele, and exactly how Pierre came to join her - our - menagerie. Who knows? Perhaps she has some information about Mrs. Mayonnaise.

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