To Mrs. Condrey and Ms. L’Engle

It’s good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand. (Madeleine L’Engle, 1918 – 2007)

Some time ago, a dear friend shared with me the quotes she receives from her church each morning. Most are thought-provoking, some are comforting. I send some of the gems to Elliot and Emma when they seem especially à propos. If you want to join the club simply go to All Souls Meditation and join in.

This morning’s quote by author Madeleine L’Engle reminds me that I’ve wanted to write about this great lady for quite some time. Her career-changing book, A Wrinkle in Time, was published 50 years ago this year and I cannot see the title without thinking of my third grade teacher, Mrs. Condrey. She was doing DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) back when it was still just the salutation to a letter, not an acronym coined by educators who looked around and said, “Oops! We are suffocating our kids with so much learning, they no longer have reading time!”

Every afternoon, after we had mastered our lessons, learned our learning and cleaned our desks, Mrs. Condrey would read to us until the dismissal bell rang. A Wrinkle in Time was one of our rewards. Those of you who’ve read the book don’t need a plot summary; those of you who haven’t, go treat yourself and open it up. A better book never started with the perennially-mocked line, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

While every page Mrs. Condrey read kept me spellbound, what touched me the most was the relationship Meg had with her five-year-old brother Calvin. The genius in a family of Mensa-worthy members, Calvin ends up in the clutches of the evil force “IT” who takes over his mind. Meg frees him, finally, by realizing that the “only thing that she had that IT didn’t was her love for her baby brother.” The passion Mrs. Condrey brought to the scene where Meg liberates Calvin, facing down his Hitlerian captor to do so, was the high point of third grade. (Except perhaps gathering pecans with my friend Cindy Wright in her back yard in preparation for our Georgia project.) “I love you, Charles Wallace. I love you Charles Wallace!” Meg says over and over until IT’s hold on her brother is loosed, catapulting the family back to its eventual reunion.

It would be a dozen or so years before I would have a brother to love, and many years after that until I learned, over and over again, that the power of love is impotent to liberate those held in the grip of damaging inner forces. (Said brother has never been gripped by any evil forces and is happily in the grips of making wonderful baked goods.) Love’s futilities aside, Mrs. Condrey, and Ms. L’Engle, brought to life love’s possibilities. They held rapt the attention of a winsome nine-year-old, revealing how solid the ground built from the grains of sand that are words.

Cindy Wright, second row, third from left.
Yours truly, end of third row on the right.
You cannot see that my beloved Mrs. Condrey
had bright red hair!

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8 thoughts on “To Mrs. Condrey and Ms. L’Engle

    1. Debra

      Haha… You had me there for a minute. I counted from the top down. You counted from bottom up. I learned to count rows on planet Venus. They must teach it differently on Mars. Whichever way you count, I’m your girl.

  1. Judi A.

    For a year I went to a two-room school and my teacher was older and heavy with legs typical of that age and weight. She probably wasn’t the best teacher (my parents found another option for me), but just as your Mrs. Condrey would do, she read to us every afternoon in her quivery voice. Thus I was introduced to Ann of Green Gables and other classics. I’ve often thought of those times and am thankful for them.

    1. Debra

      Yes, Judi! That act of being read to is incomparable. I wish I could look Mrs. Condrey up and let her know
      just how much those afternoons meant.

  2. Meredith Trede

    Dear Debra,
    Thank you for triggering more fond memory. I still like to be read to, and my husband and I take turns reading to each other.

    I’m going to insert a poem about my favorite childhood book; I still have it. Love, Meredith

    From The All About Story Book

    Copyright 1929, an old primer
    for a little girl in the ’50s,
    red lacquered cloth cover unraveling,
    glossy pages part from the spine
    but the watercolors still glow
    and the stories: “All About
    Dear Little Small Red Hen” wilier than
    the fox, dead and lay still and stark, killed
    by boiling oil. Angry tigers run so fast
    round a tree they melt into a butter circle.
    Peter Rabbit loses his clothes again. Of course
    Grethel kills the witch while one wolf turns
    into Little Red’s new winter coat and another’s
    the main course for a Little Pig. And Mickey
    the Long Tail Monkey, his heart’s desire
    breaks his heart. Only Miss Fluffy Chick
    and Little Boy Blue get to see the world
    in a dream of happy ending.
    Stay home. Watch your back. Be good. Yeah, right.
    Fox Wolf Tiger Witch. Take a walk
    on the wild side. Get a fluffy yellowdown
    mini dress. Don’t read so much.

    Well the line breaks ran amok, but…

  3. Debra

    How beautiful that you two still read to each other. Thank you as always for sharing your beautiful poetry. I never knew about Mickey with his long tail and broken heart….

  4. Beth Greenapple

    I didn’t read A Wrinkle in Time until I was an adult. However, I had teachers who understood the power of books and read to us every day, without fail. Charlotte’s Web, Orphan (if anyone remembers this book about a baby raccoon adopted by an elderly couple, I would love to hear from you), Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, James and the Giant Peach, Pippi Longstocking… The list goes on and on. And I will never forget the books or the women who read them to me. Thanks, Debra.

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