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Letter to P.L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins

Elissa Grace Todd
White Station High School
Memphis
9th - 12th Grade
2nd


Dear Ms. P.L. Travers,

I was first introduced to Mary Poppins when I was a very little girl. She soared through the window in the first room on the right, second floor, at my grandmother's house when I was about the same age as my new best friends, Jane and Michael Banks. Mary Poppins did not make sense. Her crisp no-nonsense attitude coupled with her extraordinary quirks such as sliding up banisters and gluing paper stars to the sky in the dead of night made my imagination run wild. She puzzled but captivated me. I found myself returning to visit her time and time again, sometimes visiting the Birthday Party at the zoo or listening to her tell of the Dancing Cow forever looking for another star, another adventure. 

You see, Ms. Travers, my house was a sort of American version of the Banks house at No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane. My father, like Mr. Banks, works for a bank where the stress is high but never too high for him to forget his beautiful wife and his four rambunctious children. At the time I first read Mary Poppins, my mother had paused in her work as a nurse with the arrivals of four children. I was the eldest, followed by my sister two years later and then another two years later my boisterous twin brothers who, at the time of my first introduction to Mary Poppins, were infants of the same age as John and Barbara. All of this paralleled interestingly with the Banks family, not to mention that we lived and currently live on East Cherry Circle. As Michael would say, "How very peculiar."

I have always been an imaginative child. My favorite people were, nine times out of ten, other children I had met in books. Until you introduced me to Mary Poppins, I had never wanted a grown-up to come out of the books and be my friend. That was what was different about Mary Poppins. Not only did I ever so desperately want her to leave the pages and come with me (or perhaps I wanted to leap into the pages and join her) but I did not want to be her friend at all. I thought Mary Poppins to be a very peculiar and quite unfriendly person. However, she attracted all sorts of adventures that you simply didn't run into in the everyday world so, naturally, Mary Poppins had to become my companion.

The little girl eagerly turning the pages of your book in her grandmother's house, although immediately recognizing the importance of keeping Mary Poppins close to her heart, did not and could not have foreseen the extent to which Mary Poppins's stories and adventures would impact her forever. Mary Poppins in her smart outfits walked into my life that day and never walked back out, teaching me new lessons every time I revisited her between the pages of your book.

Mary Poppins was, and still is, an enigma. And I loved her. Mary Poppins taught me that the world has thousands of secrets to unlock, you just have to look for them and train your imagination to find them. I learned that nothing was too extraordinary and that most certainly nothing was impossible. After all, Mary Poppins is a Grown Up! And yet she can talk to birds and can travel all around the world in just a few seconds with her animal companions! How many Grown Ups can do that? To my little mind, Mary Poppins was a paradox contradicting herself at every turn and yet the most remarkable being I had ever met. I couldn't understand her but she opened my eyes to greater understandings than I had ever had or ever would have again. 

The little girl on the bed grew, Ms. Travers, as little girls tend to do. Mary Poppins picked up her carpet bag and retired to the back of my mind to make way for more practical things like multiplication tables and the diagramming of sentences. Upon being picked up out of the small all-girls private school I had attended since preschool and dropped into a gigantic public school when I was twelve years old, I discovered that this "real" world seemed to be no place for an adventurous and imaginative girl. I disappeared underneath the four hundred children in my grade and even after months of school half of my teachers still didn't know my name. It was in this disappearance from my world that I found myself all the way back in the recesses of my mind that had been home to Mary Poppins since her retreat. 

The story was quite different this time when I revisited the pages of Mary Poppins. Although the words were the same, the meaning had changed quite dramatically. This time, you see, I was a girl who was all alone and confused at how harsh the world outside the bubble of her old school could be. Mary Poppins had watered my imagination when I was young, and now she watered my spirit. Short phrases Mary Poppins told the Banks children stuck with me and echoed through my head that year as I struggled to make new friends and be noticed. I began to see the lessons Mary Poppins taught Jane and Michael when the adventures were over. 

Everybody's got a Fairyland of their own, to use her own words. This was a twofold lesson for me. In one simple phrase, Mary Poppins reminded the Banks children and me that everyone is different. What is beautiful and magnificent to one person might be torturous and horrible to another. At the same time she showed us that no Fairyland is better than another. Celebrate who you are and what you love and do not be ashamed of who you are. Never let someone else's idea of Fairyland change how you believe yours should be. That message rings true now more than ever to me. Being a seventeen year old in high school, there is a "right" or "wrong" way to do everything whether it is how to wear your socks or what you believe. Mary Poppins taught me to never stop searching for my Fairyland and that my search for it would take me down a different path than everyone else. But that's okay. Because it's mine

The world isn't going to drop its adventures on my lap, Mary Poppins explained, as I sit safely at home. I have to take chances, go on adventures, push my luck and stretch my comfort zone to find what makes me happy, to find what makes me who I am. Like Mary Poppins told in the story, it might not always be easy and sometimes I might want to turn around and go back home where things were easier, quieter, and calmer. But what's the use of a life like that?

The mark that Mary Poppins made in my life will never fade. Neither, I believe, will her uncanny ability to arrive when the wind changes. In the times when I least expect her to arrive and do not know that I needed her, and then departing before I feel that I am ready for her to leave. But she always comes back, just as the wind will always be changing. 

Thank you,
Elissa Grace Todd

2014