Game of Herb


Jenny's sister Jana on the left, me in the middle, and Jenny on the right

I was six and Jenny was five. It was our first year in different schools, and I hated being apart from her every day. So we spent our weekends together. One night, she informed me she had met a ghost. His name was Herb, and he lived in my house. Herb communicated with us via the First McGuffey Reader. Yes, that McGuffey Reader. My mother had scads of old books, and Jenny and I were precocious.

I’ll never forget the hard brown cover or the black ink picture of children sitting under a leafy bower. Paging through the text, we would recognize words that felt out of kilter and interpret Herb’s instructions to us. I remember one sentence precisely:  “The sun has set, and the pond is still.” We were to go down to Jenny’s pond at sunset. I don’t remember if we actually went then (though we often did go), but I remember the feeling of grave portent that hung over the whole affair.

In my memory, it went on for months, but it was probably only a few weeks. Then, one day, while we were sitting in Jenny’s living room, probably watching Voltron, she said, “Herb was never real, you know. I made him up. I used my Dad’s boss’s name.”

And I might have been outraged, because I truly believed in him the whole time, but instead, I was fascinated. She made this up and stretched it along, and yet I also found things that fit perfectly with the fantasy and advanced the story. McGuffey outlined an entire world, made us realize that where mysticism was involved, you could prove anything with any text, given the right amount of credulity. It was far from my first step towards agnosticism, but it was certainly a large one. More than that, playing Jenny’s game of Herb taught me what it meant to tell a story, to wield the power of words. And it cemented our friendship.

She was my first friend. She is my best friend. I still hate being so far apart from her.


I’m hooking up with  RemembeRed‘s Pranks and Punchlines linky. This was surely a prank that spiralled into something more. It started out as a silly little thing, but it ended up epic. Love you, Jenny.


About jesterqueen:
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.


Game of Herb — 22 Comments

  1. I think it is so cool you are still friends with her. I have a friend I’ve known since kindergarten and I hope to be friends with her until I die 🙂
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  2. It’s so awesome that you have this relationship in your life.

    I learned to read on a McGuffey Reader. I still have a fondness for those fusty books. 🙂 Thanks for that memory.
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  3. Isn’t it great to remember old pranks played by old friends?
    This story made me go back in time my childhood friends and our antics. Thanks for the details of your “invisible” ghost.

  4. What a great story! I have a friend from 4th grade who’s still my BFF! We don’t live close but can pick right up where we left off!

    • I only have three friends like that, where it doesn’t matter how long or what’s happened, we see each other and no time at all has passed.

  5. Oh Jess! I love you! I remember it the same way. Herb mostly lived in the picture of a wolf that hung in your living room. Yes, he would send us on adventures around your property and mine that would normally be wrapped up in time for dinner. He haunted us, in his very friendly way, at night when we had the hide-a-bed pulled out and were staying up late to giggle and tell stories. Herb was a fun game, but only one of many epic fantasy games that we made-up.
    Neighboring cottages, either in my woodsy Canada or your sandy Florida beach, is where the rest of the world will find us after retirement. Love You!

    • I know! The space game, the Voltron spinoff (and lemme tell you, our plots were better, because the princess ALWAYS saved the day), the one involving your pool. Epic. We’ll winter in Florida, summer in Canada, and our men can bond over our shared weirdness.

  6. It is so wonderful that you’re still friends, and I appreciate so much the amount of imagination it must have taken her to weave the story for weeks and weeks. Some people are truly natural storytellers.
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  7. What a great story! It took me back to elementary school when Ella Jamison told me that dead people lived in the boys bathroom, that they walked around in there and talked, and that you never wanted to go near there at night because they would eat you for dinner.
    Thanks for a lovely stroll back. And for sharing your amazing way with words. Nice work.

  8. I’d almost forgotten the kinds of things kids that age do! Makes me remember my own childhood best friend. We grew apart some years ago in ways that would make a close adult friendship difficult, but I still remember her with great fondness.
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    • I’m sad you’ve lost each other. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I didn’t have Jenny still in my heart. But I’m glad you have your memories and they haven’t been clouded by the things that have come between you and your friend as adults.