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Weekend Words: Madeleine L'Engle and the Tooth Fairy

goucher-college-libraryI’m sitting in one of my favorite libraries, a little east of the Blue Ridge, at Goucher College in Towson, Maryland, where I’m back for a few days along with fellow “gophers” (yes, that’s the school mascot) for our graduate school winter residency. We’re students in the creative nonfiction program, word people from varying backgrounds – some of us professional writers and editors (news-, food-, sports-, speech-), also scientists, teachers, parents, grandparents, musicians, artists, hailing from Colorado, Canada, Oregon, California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida.

I drove up from my parents’ house in Harrisonburg yesterday, following maps my father printed out and traced with yellow highlighter (one of his great enjoyments is being asked “what’s the best way to get to ____?” and the research that follows), a route that kept me off the D.C. beltway and instead took me up the Shenandoah Valley, over routes 340 and 7, through the lovely architecture of Berryville, across the misty Shenandoah and Potomac rivers at Harpers Ferry, along the Civil War Trails, past Winchester, Va. and Rippon, W.Va. and Frederick, Md. and a dozen other places I wanted to stop and spend some time but couldn’t, this trip.

It’s good to gather with word people. We spend two weeks here in the summers. This coming summer I’ll come back for graduation, which I expect to be a bittersweet occasion. I can’t see the mountains from here, but this campus’s stone buildings and peaked roofs remind me of them. I visited the chapel piano earlier, and played a little Debussy to say hello, and now I’m sunk deep in a chair up here in the library, reading and writing.

Pleasantly, I came across in this morning’s New York Times headlines a story that reminded me of my early word-inspirations. Madeleine L’Engle’s "A Wrinkle in Time," it turns out, is 50 this year – it was published in 1962, after 26 rejections, the story says. The article describes the book as transformative in young women readers’ lives, and I have my own memories of how it impacted me as a girl, a reader and a writer.

L’Engle’s "A Wrinkle in Time" was my parents’ answer to my early greed for books. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was young enough to still be losing teeth, because I asked the tooth fairy for a book. My poor parents – I imagine them finding the note under my pillow, earnestly asking the tooth fairy if she would leave a book for me instead of a quarter this time. I am guessing they ransacked the house to find something – it was a coloring book, which I liked, but it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. The next time I lost a tooth I left a note requesting a book with words in it.

My parents must have been better prepared this time around, because under my pillow the next morning was A Wrinkle in Time (recommended, I found out years later, by a family friend who would eventually be my seventh-grade English teacher), and the beginning of my journey through L’Engle’s books. Her character, Meg Murry, was good at math (which I was not), felt awkward and unattractive (as I did), had a younger brother (I had a younger sister) and two parents who loved her very much (me too). The book is science fiction, and Meg the then-unlikely heroine who saves her father (not one of the other-way-around stories that insist that the girl needs a boy to save her), braces, temper and all. The book explored time and space and imagination, moving through alien settings both beautifully magical and evilly industrial.

There’s a biography of L’Engle coming out this fall, I found out in the Times piece, and I’m looking forward to reading about this woman I wish I could have met, an “active liberal Episcopalian” who used stories, and science fiction stories at that, to express ideas political and feminist, mystical and familial.

I’m so glad the tooth fairy knew about her.




0 # Brenda Bushey 2012-01-29 16:18
Cara, So beautifully written! It really did bring tears to my eyes......I know your mom and dad will appreciate it~
keep doing what you do so well!
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0 # Riverside 2012-03-17 00:12
Good to know about your blog i am very inspired from your article.Thanks for shairng with us.

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