Brand building through storytelling

My midlife brain is an overstuffed attic

My childhood home had an attic piled high with mysterious oddments dating back to before my birth. My mother’s doctoral thesis and her academic medals, gleaming like coins from a pirate’s hoard. A fearsome-looking contraption the size of a hog, with wooden rollers that purported to melt away fat. Miles of rick-rack, tangles of yellowed lace and buttons by the bagful—all purchased for a song at auctions on the chance that they might prove useful, when in fact they were destined for the rickety chest of drawers that I liked to pick through on aimless afternoons.

The attic put me in mind of the enchanted places found by children in books, down a rabbit hole or through a wardrobe. It had its own weather, suffocatingly hot or so cold that you needed your heaviest sweater. Nails protruded from the ceiling, which sloped so sharply that the only place to stand upright was dead centre, beside the naked bulb that provided the only illumination.

I could see just well enough to pull my favourite party frock out of the dress-up trunk (a cast-off of my aunt’s, it had a Marilyn Monroe-ish halter top and rhinestones all over the skirt). The two adjacent trunks held my creative life and my sister’s—every block-lettered story, every crayon drawing, every fashion magazine created at the dining room table. My precious pink satin toe shoes, barely worn, dangled from a hook on the wall. I had dreamed of those shoes through years of ballet class, and I wept when my mother decided they were bad for my feet. But at least she had saved me the shoes, more impossibly tiny with each passing year. At the Maynard house nothing ever went to the dump.

It was my sister who emptied that house after our mother’s death—a monumental chore that fell to her because she lived within driving distance. I can practically hear the chorus of disapproving sighs from similarly burdened sisters all over this continent. (Okay, I admit it. I should have lent a hand—and maybe a shovel.) Joyce was still excavating 50 years of Maynard family history when she called to ask if I wanted my trunk load of juvenilia. “Pitch it all,” I said. “About time!”

Twenty years later, I wonder if the attic still exists. For all I know it’s an en suite bathroom now, with a skylight and a Jacuzzi. Meanwhile my head has morphed into a mental attic, packed to the rafters with the flotsam and jetsam from 60 years of living. I’m never sure what’s there until I start poking around. Then impressions spill out like scraps of multi-coloured tulle from one of those overstuffed drawers.

A while ago I received an e-mail message from Susan, who used to play with me while our mothers talked of grownup matters. I’d forgotten all about Susan, who was several years younger and therefore my notion of a second-class friend. But suddenly she came into focus. I remembered how I envied Susan for living in a house with a TV (on its miniature porthole of a screen, we used to watch Susan’s favourite stars, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans). I remembered the two of us being dragged to ballroom dancing classes with a swarthy and rumpled-looking teacher who fancied himself a dashing Latin in the Desi Arnaz tradition. I remembered how I wept when Susan’s mother gave me a comically disastrous home permanent. But of course it could have been worse. The person who bore the brunt of these amateur hair humiliations was none other than Susan herself.

In those days my memory was like a kid’s closet—I could pretty much eyeball the works. Now it’s a crazy jumble of milestones that no one else alive remembers (the time, to the minute, of my sister’s birth in 1953) and trivia you’d think no reasonable person could remember (jingles for defunct cleaning products).

I’d like to send some of this stuff to the dump and clear space for more worthy memories, like all three incomparably lovely quatrains of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” which my father used to recite to us at bedtime. I was once fool enough to pit my “Innisfree” recitation against an Irishman’s—in a bar, worse yet. Of course the Irishman won (trust the Irish to know their Yeats, even several drinks to the wind). But if my father could have been beside me, I’d have had a fighting chance. Then I’d have heard every word in the deep heart’s core.

I remember every cat I’ve had. Click here to learn why each one was special.

Posted by Rona

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