Brand building through storytelling

Home at last! The joy of breakfast at my own table

At Harrington House, which has just served as our base for hiking in the Cotswolds, the exposed beams date back to Tudor times and breakfast features an array of choices, all as British as Buckingham palace: bacon, kippers, blood pudding, fried tomatoes  and eggs cooked any way you choose. I felt like Christopher Robin when my poached egg arrived, nestled in a circle cut from the surrounding slice of pale whole-grain bread. On the side, for mysterious reasons known only to the British, sat the excised disc of bread, as forlorn to my North American eyes as a lost helium balloon drifting farther and farther away from the bereft child down below. This must be what’s known in English books as nursery food.

Since I’m way too muddled in the morning to poach my own egg, I couldn’t pass up the chance to let experienced hands do it for me. But breakfast is a highly personal affair, and I missed the familiar pour-and-stir meal that kickstarts my day at home. On my first morning back at my own kitchen island, I tucked into a heaping bowl of organic yogurt (not the odious low-fat kind), lavishly drizzled with maple syrup and mixed with heaping handfuls of  Really Nutty Muesli, a cereal so irresistible that I pay a ridiculous premium for the stuff, never mind that our life savings have lately been shrinking along with everyone else’s. (RNM and its sister Dorset Cereals are imported from Britain, by the way, which just goes to show that there is such a thing as sophisticated British breakfast food.)

You could argue that I ought to be breakfasting on one of those no-name cereals that day care centres serve, But the more uncertain things get, the more I prize a few elemental comforts. And of all the moments that defined my first week back home, that homecoming breakfast wins the comfort prize.

Now for some other defining moments of the past seven days:

Nicest thing anyone told me Erin Olson, a teacher and speech coach from Sioux Central High School in Iowa, e-mails to tell me that she has remembered a much-anthologized short story of mine, “The Fan Club,” ever since she first read it years ago in a high school English class. “Your story and Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’ excited me about reading,” says Erin, whose students will perform a choral reading based partly on my story in an upcoming speech competition. Frankly, I’m amazed that anyone would mention my name would in the same breath with William Faulkner‘s. But hey, I’m not about to argue with the person who did. Thank you, Erin. And good luck to your students.

Biggest shock A voicemail from a sweet-voiced young woman at Revenue Canada who wants to ask me “a few questions.” That’s not the half of it. Turns out I’ve been selected for an audit. Me, with my meagre writer’s income and piddly deductions. The young woman is paying me a visit to familiarize herself with the big picture before diving into the minutiae. “But why me?” I bleat (if I had any stomach for red tape, I’d still be toiling for corporate masters). “I’ve got nothing to hide. I’m a small fry.” In mid-lamentation, I realize I’m not acting like a sober business owner. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I realize you’re just doing your job.” “Thank you,” she replies. Her name is Rena. Is this some kind of omen? Rena and Rona. What kind of pair will we be?

Most surprising coincidence At a dinner I meet Anita Dong, who shared one of those strange-but-true transition stories that persuade me anything is possible. Anita used to be an accountant, but she wanted a change. When the chance came along to buy the company that employed her, she jumped. That’s how she became President of an advertising agency, McDonnell Haynes.

Next day on the subway, I spot an ad for a fictitious university, Colossal U. “Student number 237, your teacher will see you now,” it says. Clever! I’m not the target market but I had to Google Colossal U and see what was up. More high jinks, for starters (e.g., with a photo of a cookie cutter: “Every student at Colossal U will turn out exactly the same. We guarantee it”).So what’s the point? Algoma University, Ontario’s newest, wants us all to know that it’s committed to personalized learning. I’m not sure Ontario needs another university, couldn’t but the whole world use more creativity? Lo and behold, this creative campaign was masterminded by McDonnell Haynes. Congratulations, Anita Dong and team.

Most memorable chance encounter On a crowded subway car, a man lifts his daughter onto his lap to clear a seat for me. She wears pink shoes, a purple jumper and the oddest hair style I’ve seen in a while—one pony tail at the back and another at the side of her head, perfectly positioned for tugging during states of high excitement. Father and daughter are speaking, with infectious delight, in what at first sounds like a middle Eastern language but is actually English—as I discover when the little girl decides it’s time she and I got acquainted: “Hi! What’s your name?” Hers is Fatima, and she has introductions to make. Dad is Hassan. Mom, who wears a hijab and whose name I don’t catch, sits kitty-corner to us, smiling tenderly and saying not a word.

I’ve never been one to get misty-eyed around children just because they happen to be small, but Fatima needs all of a minute and a half to win me over. I love her big vivid eyes, her arms thrown open to the world, her take-charge spirit. At the family’s stop, she insists on carrying their plastic shopping bag, which brims with ears of corn. Fatima is four, her father has told me. As I wave good-bye, I hope she will always be as full of energy and hope as she is today. And that, no matter how she chooses to live, her father will be as proud of her as he clearly is right now.


Posted by Rona

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