Last night we saw the movie Saving Mr. Banks. This well written and superbly acted movie was deeply moving, and oh, so poignant. It tells the story of how after twenty years of pleading, and after he and his staff despaired of being able to work with this complex, crusty, immovable Australian woman, Walt Disney was finally able to get P. L. Travers to agree to let him make Mary Poppins into the movie he envisioned. Through a series of flashbacks we learn about Mrs. Travers’s past and the reason she was so protective of her book and characters. For Mary Poppins is not really about the wonderful, magical governess or the children or even the mother. It is about Mr. Banks. P.L. Travers poured herself into her book. She wove pieces of herself, her family, and the pain of her childhood into her story, and she couldn’t bear to see those she loved maligned through silly songs and ‘cartoons’. But as Walt Disney told her, everyone has a Mr. Banks in their past, someone they loved deeply who failed them. In real life, we can’t do anything to change the past or to save our loved ones, but in our stories, we can use the magic of writing to give them a better ending. We can save our own Mr. Banks.
I can relate to this movie on many levels. The movie Mary Poppins first came out in 1964. I was seven years old and already had the responsibility of caring for my sisters in a very dysfunctional family. How I longed for a Mary Poppins to come along and save us. Mary Poppins was my hero. I used imagination, music, and creativity to make a safe haven in which we could exist while our real world was slowly ground to pieces. The guilt and pain I felt over not being able to save my sisters or parents still haunts me. But my personal story had a happy ending. My own Mary Poppins came in the form of two young foster parents who took in my next oldest sister and me and gave us a stable, loving home; the example of how a normal family functions; and the example of how to live one’s religion. We were strangers, and they took us in. We arrived just a few days after Christmas, with all we owned in a black garbage bag slung over our shoulders. We were hungry, not just for food, but for love, and they fed us, taught us, and opened their hearts and lives to us. To them I will be eternally grateful. Because of them, I had the courage to marry, have children, and provide for them a safe, happy childhood. Yet the pain of the past and the love I feel for my parents and siblings is woven into who I am and what I write. The magic of imagination is still the place I go to when I create, and I am still working on saving my own similes of Mr. Banks.