Brand building through storytelling

Back to the house that used to be mine

Every storied house deserves a name. Think Astor Court, scene of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. Or Sissinghurst Castle, home of one of Britain’s most celebrated gardens. Or Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s cantilevered masterpiece in the leafy depths of a nature reserve. Then there’s Maynard Hall, a name all but unheard-of even to the people who own it—a 30-something couple who answered my knock at their door on the weekend of my school reunion, just as they were rallying four kids to head off somewhere. A picnic, maybe, with a softball game after lunch. They struck me as that kind of pair. Open faces. Tanned, muscular legs. A mom with no makeup and a matter-of-fact expression. Maynard Hall“I grew up in this house,” I explained. “I’d like to see it again.”

The husband said, as if he’d been half-expecting a visitor from his home’s past life, “Is your name Maynard?” I didn’t let on that the house also had a name. That seemed a tad presumptuous, even though my family owned the house for well over 30 years and this new family had lived there for three.

Oh, who am I kidding? When it comes to Maynard Hall, I can’t hide my proprietary feelings. Every detail of the house bears the imprint of my life, starting with the broad staircase before us. Dramatically positioned in an ample hallway and bordered by a banister down which an adventurous child would slide, it leads upward to a window with 16 panes. One Christmas my father painted an angel’s face in each one of those panes. I mentioned this to my host but his mind was somewhere else. And so was mine, to be honest. I was thinking of the night when my father, in a drunken fury at my teenage mouthiness, dragged me up the stairs and threw me into my room.

I had brought a new friend to Maynard Hall, a woman I’d met at the reunion. She admired the colours of the walls and the eclectic charm of the furnishings. I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I kept comparing the house where we stood to the ghost house in my head, which had never seemed less than beautiful to me although I wished I could be growing up anywhere else. At times I still think of what a few hundred thou could do to release the untapped potential of the house, with its gracious proportions and abundant light. The current owners have made none of the lavish improvements I envisioned, and they’ve suspended a curtain through the middle of my old room, now shared by twin girls who crave at least a modicum of privacy.

Maynard Hall still has one bathroom, the scene of a crisis I just had to recount. When my son was a toddler, he looked himself inside and began to empty the cabinets of Drano, bleach and nail polish remover, chortling to himself as I banged on the door. At last I called the fire department for a daring rescue through the window (if only I’d taken a photo of Ben in the firefighter’s helmet). Our host took at least a passing interest in this tale. “Oh!” he said. “So that’s why there’s no lock on the bathroom door!”

As we left my friend and I found the twins on the doorstep, fiddling with their roller blades. I told them how I happened to drop by. “And guess what!” I added. “Your room used to be mine.” They were nowhere close to the eye-rolling stage, but even the most polite kids have ways to signal their utter lack of interest in the weird obsessions of grownups. Anyway, they had somewhere fun to go. That picnic with softball game. The Maynards didn’t do that kind of thing.

“It’s good to see a happy family living in that house,” I remarked to my friend. She thought I was terribly naive. What about all the dangerously twisted souls who look like the very essence of kindliness and good cheer? Good question. I don’t know the answer. I just know my childhood home is not Maynard Hall anymore. Some day no one will remember that the Maynards ever lived there. And that’s as it should be.

Click here to read about how I became a storyteller in my parents’ lovely and lonely-making house.

Posted by Rona

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