It was in the bank drive-thru -- only a few days after the wedding -- that it sank in.
Naturally, it crossed her mind during the engagement. Her name was Mary and she was about to tie the knot with a guy who shared the last name with one of the most popular characters of all time. It wasn’t spelled exactly the same, but the association would be unavoidable. Still, she never once entertained keeping her maiden name. She definitely wasn’t going to hyphenate.
To her, there wasn’t a choice. So she didn’t think much about it. She married, and off she went to begin her new life.
Then came the stop at the bank. From her car, she could see the teller do a double take at the check with her new name on it. Then she watched the teller motion another teller over. That teller smiled warmly, placed a hand over her heart and affectionately waved to her.
“As funny as it sounds, that was when the lightbulb clicked on in my head,” she says about that day now nearly 40 years later. “It hit me. I was, and forever going to be, Mary Poppens.”
It’s a Monday afternoon, and Poppens swings open the front door of her Hartland home, presenting herself wearing a Pendleton suit, red scarf, white gloves and a short-brimmed hat lined with flowers. In her hand, a black umbrella. On the umbrella handle, a parrot head.
Of course, this may not be surprising: someone named Mary Poppens owning a Mary Poppins costume. But when I learned that Poppens did have one and asked if she could put it on for a photo, she demurred, feeling it could be a “little silly.”
Now here is Poppens standing in the doorway -- embodying the Mary Poppins I hoped for when I discovered there was an actual real one out there. Her smile -- radiating pure graciousness -- makes it instantly apparent that disappointing anyone is simply not in her nature. In fact, her sheer delightfulness makes it seem impossible that she could have been born with any other name. (Her maiden name, by the way, was Schlindwein). She is practically perfect in every way.
“I had to embrace it, right?” says Poppens. “What else could I do?”
She moves over to her dining room table that is piled with “Mary Poppins” collectibles -- all given to her as gifts through the years. There are figurines, snow globes, plates, coffee cups, miniature Big Ben clocks. The smiling faces of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke are everywhere.
“Oh,” Poppens says, crossing the room, “I also have a carpetbag.” She returns with it, showing that inside is a brown glass medicine bottle and a spoon. “And,” she says, pulling out a small brown bag, “sugar.”
In the garage, Poppens’ car has “STPNTYM” on the license plate. It’s short for “Step in Time” -- her favorite song from the movie. Although she figures that the song most often sung to her when people learn her name is “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”
Poppens doesn’t mind people singing to her. She gets it a lot. She gets all sorts of reactions really. Everywhere she goes. Once, while at Heathrow airport in London, two customs agents held up the passenger lines while they handed her passport back and forth, making jokes. “They couldn’t get over it,” Poppens says. Another time, while in a taxi, the driver made her call his wife. “He was afraid she wouldn’t believe he had Mary Poppins in his cab otherwise,” she says.
Some people feel sorry for her. Poppens thinks this is funny. “It’s not like my name is Cruella Deville or something,” she says.
As far as meeting another Mary Poppins, she never has. (Incidentally, if curious, Poppens has yet to run into a Maria Von Trapp either. “But,” she says, “wouldn’t that be wonderful?”)
Poppens says her kids had an “interesting time” growing up too. Giving their last name was invariably followed by someone remarking, “Well, then your mom must be Mary Poppins.”
“What else could they say?” Poppens says. “She is!”