On Valentines day my honey and I walked hand in hand through the chilly New York wind, over to the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, where we gobbled up a delicious theatrical treat; Mary Poppins. It was Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! The show is closing next week, so we seized the moment while we were in town. It made me feel like a kid again, though the sweet little lullaby Stay Awake was not in the stage version and I missed it. But there was Bert on the chimney tops dancing with his fellow chimney sweeps, steppin’ in time; and Mary turning everything into magic; the Banks family; and the blind woman feeding the birds at the steps of the cathedral.
During intermission we moved back to the concession stand and I snapped this picture to send to my sister:
“Does AM still have her Mary Poppins Barbie?” I asked Lib. If she didn’t, then I was going to buy it for her. By the time I got a response the show had ended and we had left the theatre, but we went back a few days later and picked one up.
When we were small my mom put three little dolls under the Christmas tree one year. The controversial dolls were not the typical baby dolls people were used to. These ones had figures – thus, the controversy. How we loved our Barbie’s! Mom’s three little girls had the same hair colors as the dolls: I had the blond Barbie with the Camelot outfit. And Libby’s was the red head, of course, with a sleek black glittery dress you might see in White Christmas. Ann Marie had the brunette, and she got the Mary Poppins outfit, complete with the hat, carpet bag, and the parrot topped umbrella. Of course we had many outfits for our Barbie’s, some of them hand knitted by people I can’t recall. We loved them all: the people and the dresses. And the Barbie’s. Little girls have a lot of love to give and dolls are so accommodating. I was reminded, when I looked at the tiny brimmed hat she wore, with the flowers on the side, of the first time I ever saw the movie Mary Poppins.
We had moved from our small town in Idaho to the bustling metropolis of Pittsburgh, PA. Though we lived in the suburbs, we went into the city to shop, and to visit museums. Shopping at Gimbles' or Kaufman's or Horne’s in downtown Pittsburgh was a cultural treat, and rather rare for us. We mostly wore hand-me-downs, but Mom did love fashion, and I’m sure there were plenty of arguments between Mom and Dad about…well, that’s not the object of my writing today, so I’ll leave it there. Suffice it to say that going out to shop or eat was quite unusual for us. Museums in those days were free, blessedly.
One day, however, when I was six years old, the stars aligned and Mom’s friend Anne Fasulo drove over to our house and picked us up. I’m quite sure no one was wearing a seat belt on that trip, since there were many of us, besides Anne and her little daughter Margie. But then again, cars didn’t even have seat belts in those days. We drove down Old Clairton Road and merged onto Route 51, weaving our way through the potholes, down past the belching steel mills across the river, through the Liberty Tubes and over the bridge into the city. We were dressed in our Sunday best, with knee highs and shiny Mary Jane patented leather shoes. We followed Anne and our mother across the street like little ducks, waddling into the massive movie house where the brand new movie, (in living Technicolor) MARY POPPINS was playing. I was wide eyed and breathtaken by the majesty of the theatre, with opulent gilding on the columns holding up the cathedral-like ceiling. It smelled of rosewater perfume and cigarette smoke. We sat in velvet cushioned seats that flipped up and down, my knobby knees barely reaching the edge of the seat, the arm rests too high for my arms to comfortably rest upon. I leaned forward then back, forward then back, listening to the chair seat squeak as it shifted up and down beneath me, as if I were on some sort of cultured swing. Suddenly the lights dimmed, and the deep red velvet curtains lining the front of the stage began to part as music swelled. I felt myself lift onto that stage in my make-believe way, like Mary popped into the pictures Bert painted on the sidewalk. Above us I could hear the click-click-click of the projector and became mesmerized by the colorful specks of dust that floated through the beam of illumination shooting onto the massive screen at the front of the theatre, until my eyes met Mary up there on the stage and I was no longer in Pittsburgh or Idaho or even in my familiar dream world. I was in London England and I was Jane. Jane Banks. And my nanny was Mary. Mary Poppins.
In those days movies had intermissions. We waddled, our little flock, behind Mom out to the lobby. They were selling things in the lobby. Really wonderful things. Treats and drinks, and buttons and umbrellas and…oh my goodness…Look at THAT…a Mary Poppins hat! It was straw, and made for little heads, and it had flowers and cherries and a little button with Mary Poppins’ picture on the front. I watched as other moms and dads reached into their clutches and wallets and traded paper for hats, and I wanted one. A little girl, just my size, shimmied past me as she adjusted her hat on her head, her mother bending over, licking her thumb and wiping her daughter’s cheek, then stepping back to gaze upon her. She was lovely. And she was magical. And oh, how I wanted one of those hats! Of course no one got anything at intermission.
During the rest of the show it sat back there, festering in my six year old brain, the thought of the hat. I can’t recall the particulars, maybe because I don’t want to, but I ended up in tears as we walked out of the theatre, my head uncovered, my hands empty. I must have thrown a tantrum of some sort, because even now I ache for my mother. She was not one to abide misbehavior and I am sure she marched us right out to the car. But I feel so sad that I would be so ungrateful to leave in tears. There must have been some little discussion between my angels and me, after I had settled down and had a minute to look back on the situation. My angels must have reminded me that my mother did not have a lot of that paper in her purse, and what little she did have she had spent to get us into the movie. It was the first movie I had ever seen in a theatre, and I recall feeling, even at that tender age, a deep sadness and regret at how I had behaved.
Later that week Libby and Ann Marie and I were playing in the back room of the basement, the place where we had our pretend stove and the cans of lentil beans served as make believe dinner in our make believe apartment where we were make believe roommates. Mom walked in, and behind her was her best friend Ann Fasulo. Ann’s hands were tucked behind her back. She called my name, and I looked up from my pretending as she brought her hands in front of her, a home made Mary Poppins hat appearing right there before my very eyes. An old straw hat, covered with artificial flowers and berries, and a bright red ribbon floating down the back. The hat was a little large, so Ann had added an extra ribbon to tie under my chin. I don’t know how I reacted. I truly hope I threw my arms around her neck and covered her with kisses, because if I saw her now that is exactly what I would do. My heart is cinched to Ann Fasulo, who did not have to love me, but did none-the-less. I imagine Ann, who may have had money in her purse, allowing my mother to maintain her dignity. But I also imagine her getting in her car and driving to the Good Will store, and wherever else she may have needed to go, to buy materials to make a silly little hat for a tender little girl. I imagine her hands wiring and gluing and stitching, her artistry evident in her handiwork.
I wish I still had that hat. I wish I could place it in a position of honor to remind me of the kindness of so many people in my life. The memory will have to suffice.
It makes me miss my mom. And it makes me love her all the more. And Ann Fasulo…wherever you are…I hope the love you gave has returned to you seventy times seven.