Brand building through storytelling

Mending a tear in the family fabric

I’m always touched to see women posting stories about their mothers in my online Mother/Daughter Gallery, and today’s post is particularly special. It celebrates a woman of humour and spirit, who never ducked a challenge and faced plenty of them in her too-short life. Much the same could be said of other mothers I’m proud to feature on this site, but this particular woman happens to be my first cousin, Rosemary Joan Maynard Woolery, honoured by her daughter Louisa.

First cousin. What a strange term to use of a woman born in 1920, whom I never met during her lifetime. A woman I’d have liked, by the sound of things. There ought to be a word for people like Rosemary Joan Maynard Woolery, whom you miss without ever having known them in the usual sense. At least through her daughter’s description, I can catch a tantalizing glimpse of her.

Theodoremaynard (3)Rosemary’s father Theodore (shown at left) and my father Max were brothers, both renegade sons of hellfire-and-brimstone fundamentalists. Theodore scandalized the family by converting to Catholicism, known among the Maynards as “popery;” Max turned his back on religion altogether. This was not the only bond they shared. Both were professors of an artistic bent (Theodore wrote poetry and books on his faith, Max painted after hours). Both had blazing eyes, high foreheads and a wry wit (I know Theodore’s only from his writing).

Growing up, I used to envy families that gathered their clan for Thanksgiving and Christmas and boisterous barbecues on summer evenings. Mine wasn’t that kind of family, not on the Maynard side. When my father talked about his siblings at all, it was with guilt, anxiety and sorrow. Late at night, in his cups, he’d sometimes write them letters that were never mailed. He agonized about them all, particularly Theodore, his oldest sibling.

Maynard MaxMy father (at left) used to speak admiringly of Theodore’s keen mind and literary accomplishments, yet they never got together or exchanged more than the occasional note. I was five the day a telegram arrived announcing Theodore’s death—a fascinating notion to me then because as far as I knew, death only happened to cats.. I jumped up and down shouting, “Daddy, your brother’s dead!” while my father sat with his head in his hands.

Maynard Children Edit (3)I’ve known some time that Theodore’s descendants live in the Baltimore/Washington area, but I never felt moved to seek them out this community of cousins until a few years ago. On my way to a conference in Washington, I proposed a mini-reunion with my long-lost relatives. They not only dug out family albums by the boxful, they drove me all over the area. I felt a powerful and immediate connection to these people, who were just as perplexed as I was by the long, strained silences between Max and Theodore.

What kept them apart—the physical distance between Theodore’s home in Maryland and ours in New Hampshire, or some secret burden handed down by their fearsome parents? We’ll never know for sure. What matters now is that by sharing our stories, we began to mend the torn fabric of the Maynard family.

You’ll find a story or two in Louisa’s tribute to her mother (who’s shown, with her siblings, in this photo, wearing a plaid dress). Once you’ve enjoyed it, why not take a few minutes to share a story of your own? I’d love to hear from you.

Posted by Rona

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