Imaginary Friends Versus Imaginary Sparkles


Rainbow of lights

When I was little, I wanted an imaginary friend. I had a Little Golden Book about a lamb who had an imaginary friend, and I thought this would be very handy when I was stuck playing by myself. But try as I might, I never did develop a convincing invisible companion.

My daughter and son both had imaginary friends. Kerry, around the age of three, had a husband named Jonah and 10 kids, most of whom were named Stinky, but one was named Salty. They lived in San Francisco for a while, then they moved to San Jose and Jonah opened a sandwich shop. Jonah suffered an unfortunate death from pneumonia when Kerry developed a crush on a three-year-old named Brian. At the age of two, Sean had Dahlilly. Dahlilly was a very tall angel with orange wings and hair and blue eyes. His favorite food was Chicken McNuggets. Dahlilly eventually turned into a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and disappeared soon after, presumably due to personality disorder.

I may not have had an imaginary friend, but I did have imaginary sparkles. Like many kids, I was afraid of the dark, so I kept my door open halfway so that the hall light would dispel the monsters. When the sparkles began I was about six years old. I was lying in bed when I noticed some sort of dust drifting slowly and gently through the half-open bedroom door and spreading throughout my darkened room. In the light from the hallway, they looked like dust motes in a sunbeam. As these motes floated into the darker areas of my room, they looked like infinitesimal points of colored light. Soon, my room was filled with tiny sparkles swimming lazily around my room on unseen currents of air. They were as silent as the stars.

I was alarmed. I had never seen this before, I had never heard anyone talk about anything like this, and I was seriously frightened. I ran downstairs to see my parents, who, predictably, told me I had been having a nightmare.

It was not a nightmare; I had been wide awake. But even at the tender age of six, I intuitively knew that insisting otherwise was a waste of my time. So I trudged back upstairs to my bedroom to face whatever fate awaited me, and was relieved to find that the sparkles had disappeared.

As soon as I went to bed and turned out the light, they drifted in again, tumbling in slow motion and twinkling like incredibly tiny Christmas tree lights—thousands upon thousands of them filling my entire room. That night, I hid my head under the covers, which was my best and only defense against the unknown.

The sparkles came back every night after that. I decided they were benign and friendly things. Maybe it was fairy dust, or the sand that the sandman brought. Or perhaps the sparkles were fairies themselves. I didn’t understand what they were, but I grew to welcome them and looked forward to seeing them every night. The cloud of little lights felt like a magical protection. I never mentioned them to my parents again. I think I casually asked one or two friends if they saw sparkles at night to see if I was the only one. I was the only one.

My parents sent me to boarding school when I was 14. I wondered if the sparkles would follow me to the school. They didn’t. When I came home for Thanksgiving, no sparkles drifted into my room, that night or any other.

I missed them. Perhaps I had outgrown my need for their magical defense. Perhaps it was a function of change in a growing brain. I don’t know.

I suppose the sparkles were a recurring hallucination. Perhaps they were a way to cope with growing up in a difficult family situation. However imaginary they may have been, they were real to me, a mystical defense, a security blanket, a pretty light show that soothed me to sleep.

I still wish the sparkles would come back. They were better than any old imaginary friend.





Releasing Cranberry Sauce into the Wild

This is a picture of cranberries filling a fountain in Vancouver, Canada, BC. No, I haven't the faintest idea.

This is a picture of cranberries filling a fountain in Vancouver, Canada, BC. No, I haven’t the faintest idea.

Well, here it is November again. At exactly midnight on Hallowe’en night, a giant cosmic switch clicks somewhere in the universe, and the retail locations that have been playing “Monster Mash” and “Thriller” immediately begin broadcasting Christmas carols. Down come the bats and cats, and up go the twinkly lights and Santas.

Somehow Thanksgiving, sandwiched between Hallowe’en and Christmas, has become the loser in the cold weather holiday popularity contest. There aren’t a lot of Thanksgiving songs. (I remember “We Gather Together” from long-ago church services, but that’s a hymn, and doesn’t enjoy the bouncy appeal of “Frosty the Snowman,” for example.) We may have our little Thanksgiving traditions (turkey, Aunt Letty’s sweet potato pudding with miniature marshmallows, football), but nothing like the avalanche of rituals, gifts, goodies and decorations that make the Christmas season so stressful—I mean, fun.

But I’m thinking about Thanksgiving now. Back in the day when I was helping my mother prepare Thanksgiving dinner, it was quite an elaborate occasion. My mother got out her white linen tablecloth, spread it over a pad on top of the dining room table, and ironed it in situ. She would ask me to create a centerpiece for the table. We usually had dried gourds and Indian corn squirreled away for this purpose, to which I added colorful fall leaves. (If I could find any by that time. We had a shortage of colorful fall leaves in Southern California.)

Then I set the table with my mother’s best flatware, laying soft, white damask napkins at each place. All the good serving pieces came out, and the carving knife and fork were laid at the head of the table for my father.

I had various duties in the kitchen as well—basting the turkey and so forth. One of my duties (or my sister’s) was to put cranberry sauce in a serving bowl. Cranberry sauce at my house came out of a can. The first time I was assigned this awesome responsibility, I carefully opened the can at both ends and ooshed the red jelly into my mother’s silver serving bowl, where it sat jiggling, perfectly retaining the form of the inside of the can. I popped a spoon in with it and bore it toward the table.

My mother stopped me. “Chop it up a little bit so that it doesn’t look like it just came out of a can,” she said. I dutifully stirred up the jelly until no trace of can could be seen, but I was puzzled. Everyone knew that cranberry sauce came out of a can, so why try to pretend that it didn’t?

I hated that cranberry sauce. I never ate it as a kid. I continued to loathe it as an adult, but I wondered if cranberry sauce made from fresh berries might be better? Many years ago, I heard Susan Stamberg talking on NPR about her mother-in-law’s Thanksgiving cranberry sauce. It sounded easy, and Ms. Stamberg seemed to like it, so I copied down the recipe and made it for Thanksgiving that year.

“Mrs. Stamberg’s Cranberry Sauce” turned out to be absolutely delicious. I will admit it is a rather alarming shade of Pepto-Bismol pink, but don’t let that put you off. It is sweet—but not too sweet—tart, and refreshing. It’s made with fresh cranberries and is simple to prepare.

The only problem is that my family refuses to eat it. They all think of cranberry sauce as the red jelly stuff that comes out of a can, and are dead-set against anything that calls itself cranberry sauce. I made a batch at Thanksgiving for a few years, but no one but me ever ate any of it and I had to throw the rest out, which seemed wasteful. So I stopped making it.

I have decided to release the recipe back into the wild, in the hopes that someone out there will try it and like it. You can find the recipe online by Googling “Mrs. Stamberg’s Cranberry Sauce,” but here it is:

Mrs. Stamberg’s Cranberry Sauce (thanks to Susan Stamberg)


2 cups fresh cranberries

1 small onion

½ cup sugar

¾ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons horseradish

Grind berries and onion together in the food processor. Add remaining ingredients and blend to a pleasing consistency.

That’s it! Five minutes to the best cranberry sauce you will ever taste. Mrs. Stamberg and I say so. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!