The Parallel Parliament

Glen Pearson

The Third Place (Chapter 15) – Insight

Posted on August 18, 2018

Finn and I were at Stacey’s – a trendy bar a few blocks from the restaurant – when Daisy hustled in and placed the HomeComfortmagazine directly in front of us.  There on the glossy cover were the four of us – Mom, Dad, Daisy and me – seated on the side porch swing and obviously comfortable. Daisy sat down beside me so we could look at it together.

Alessandra’s photo had captured everything, and perfectly.  The trees, foliage and brook behind us were very slightly blurred, leaving our faces to stand out.  Everything was rich in colour and we remembered Alessandra telling us all about the “golden hour” and how more photos and videos had been taken in that period than any other hour of the day or night.  Gold hues were everywhere and accentuated the tans that were on our faces.

She had caught us just as we were.  Daisy’s eyes were alive with a sense of adventure and the way in which her eagerness emerged in that instant brought an immediate sense of elation.

It’s a strange thing, deeply strange, to look into one’s own gaze as though fully seeing yourself for the first time.  There was my casual reserve, that slight insecurity in my gaze that immediately revealed that Daisy was clearly the most confident of the two of us.  And yet it was alluring in its own way in a fashion that drew me in as opposed to disliking my photos as I usually did.

Finn traced the contours of my face with his forefinger in a caressing way that I had never seen before.  As he ran it over my bare neck he said, “Annie, I think you’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.”

He suddenly looked up in embarrassment at such a confession, yet both Daisy and I were stunned and entranced by what he had just disclosed.  The words were loving, tender, and just what every person, man or woman, wants to hear someone say about them.  Tears came to our eyes immediately, causing Finn to look back and forth and confusion.  Then, in an instant, he comprehended the unfolding that had just happened of his affection for me and that it was one of the most cherishing moments of my young life. Whereas the photo had captured my face as it truly was, Finn enveloped my heart with a sense of love and acceptance. It was a memory that I would remember often and cherish repeatedly.

But it was the photo of Mom and Dad, seated on the old rope swing suspended from the old walnut branch that was the most beautiful.  It was a swing big enough for two and she was laying her head into his shoulder as the swing moved in downward motion, her eyes filled with glee and slight terror and his arm firmly around her and the warmest of smiles on his face.  I’m not even sure they knew Alessandra was taking their picture.  If they did, they seemed more lost in each other to care.

Alessandra Acampora’s piece went on for a number of pages, interspersed with beautiful photos of the various rooms in the Third Space.  Her picture of the kitchen, taken with a lengthy opened shutter showed the cupboards, stoves and tables in place while all the people moving through it were a softened blur.  Instead of reading it immediately, Daisy had headed straight for Stacey’s, wanting us all to peruse the story together.  Finn scanned at lightning speed, so we opted to have him read Alessandra’s story to us, which he proceeded to do at a measured pace.

Of the restaurant she only had positive reviews, not just for the food but the ambience that said, in her words, “welcome and start talking.”  Her narrative concerning our family was right in every aspect, from our humour, to our collective compassion, to our commitment to Dad’s vision.

But she saved her best writing for her depiction of Dad.  She perceived him as fulfilling numerous roles, not just at the restaurant but in the community itself.  One beautiful passage about him was something I cut out later and placed in our family album.

 

“Everton Overly offers a rare example of a political person who is not a politician – a man of action who at the same time is a man of thought.  He is a public speaker who does not speak unless he has something to say.  He is a writer who knows to how fight for his beliefs and a warrior who knows how to write. In his own inimical manner Overly seduces the most powerful and impresses the most humble.  He embraces a religious faith in equal measure to his belief in humanity.  He is a citizen for every community who builds a city that includes and reveres every citizen.  He is a man of the past prepared for the future, and a man of the present prepared for whatever comes next.  Everton Overly is a man worried for democracy but who restores it through every action, every word – a man of his time and a man of all time.”

 

These reflections lifted my spirit to heights I had never ascended before.  It was my father in every way and every nuance. The writer’s depiction of Mom was of a woman filled with spirit who permitted and supported her husband living out his greater goals.

In an age of rampant media and jaundiced writing, here was a piece that formed a throwback to an earlier era, where family was all and the broader community its support.  All three of us understood that nothing written about us in the future would ever match what we now held tenderly in our hands.  Alessandra had somehow entered into the inner sanctum, that sacred space, of the Overly family and came out to tell the tale of what she saw and the inspiration she had received.  I made a mental note to write my appreciation when we got home.

We had another drink to celebrate and returned to the Third Place late.  The light in the kitchen was on and Daisy and I walked in to see Mom and Dad looking over the article.

“How did you get a copy?” Daisy asked.

“Alessandra couriered a box of them to us,” Mom answered.

“It’s beautiful,” I said quietly.

“That it is,” Dad answered with a certain distant tone in his voice.  He was, I realized, just as lost in the wonder of it as we were.

“Did you have a favourite part, Mom?” Daisy prodded.

She looked up for a moment, flipped a magazine page, and placed her forefinger partway down the right column.  “Here, right?” she said to Dad, who merely nodded.  “Alessandra’s thoughts here were profound.”

 

“What the suburbs and the isolated cry for are the means to gather easily, inexpensively, regularly and pleasurably.  They want that place just down the street where they know who will be there.  It’s what they want when television and the Internet have lost their sense of wonder.  It’s where they wish to go just to escape the cabin fever of the daily household grind.  They like not having to get into the car and driving great distances and then just as far back home.

“The Third Place is eerily familiar to a good home in the comfort, support, and sometimes love that it affords.  It is the beachhead, the proof that citizens can still dream, still collaborate, still laugh.  If you want to know if democracy has a future, forget journeying to a parliament or a museum; come to this place and be prepared to be confronted by a citizenry’s viability.  We matter here.  We cry here. We hold hands, capture vision, and burst into laughter here.  It is the cradle of our democracy – not in some Greek palace or Roman Senate, but here, in the neighbourhood.  Who knew that our own redemption as citizens was so near in proximity?

“This isn’t a mall populated by strangers moving about, lost in materialism.  It’s a sanctuary where we know others and learn to be better just by gathering with them.  It is the ultimate compelling argument for hope in humanity.  In a word, it is us, but as we truly can be. It represents the best in every soul that frequents the restaurant, at the same time as it represents the ultimate hope of our communities and our democracy.”

 

We had one final glass of wine together, while Dad stuck to his Scotch.  And then he said one final thing that stunned me.

“We’re only missing one thing here,” he muttered, as he poured another glass to match his own.

“What?” Daisy asked.

“Finn,” he said looking squarely at me.  “Finn should be here.”

It was an affirmation, a blessing, a passing from one generation to the next. I walked quietly over to him, leaned over the counter and kissed his cheek.  I could not speak.  By dropping Finn’s name into the mix, Dad had closed the circle and at the same time opened a new door to my future.

 

Next chapter – A Deeper Acceptance

 

“The Third Place (Chapter 14) – Humanity”

Posted on August 16, 2018

Dad had to take care of some financial tasks at the bank down the street, but when he returned we journeyed back upstairs to the balcony, which because it was afternoon was no longer bathed in light.  A comfortable coolness fell over us.  Instead of lemonade, the preferred beverage was now coffee.

“Alright,” Alessandra began, “I want to talk about politics and democracy, if you’re up to it that is.  I think I get why the Third Place is so important to you, but I’d like to know what you think of our modern era and why we’re having so much trouble keeping ourselves together.  I travel that U.S. more than any other place and I see it everywhere.  Do you think that’s what’s drawing people to this place?

“I’m convinced of it,” was all he said.

“Explain,” she urged.

“I don’t think it’s rocket science.  Research keeps revealing that modern citizens are actually aliens in their own communities, alone, and that’s a big reason why everyone is so insecure.  They have their home, sure, and their places of work, but modern companies aren’t gathering places creating comradery anymore – although there are exceptions – and today’s average family is furiously busy, heading off in numerous directions at the same time.  It pulls us apart inside, creating a sense of lostness.”

He stopped at that point and looked out over the street below that was slowly collecting more cars and rush hour neared.  She waited for him to go on, but when he didn’t she asked, “That’s an intriguing way of looking at it.  I mean the usual picture we have in our heads is that life is hectic and so we retreat to the home for companionship, rest and a sense of place.”

“Is that how your life works, then?”  Dad’s question caught her off-guard, but she appreciated what he was driving at.

“No, not at all.  I could hardly wait to get out of our home and discover new things and meet new people.”

“You live in Chicago you say, but do you have an apartment there, or a house?” he pressed.

“It’s a condo actually, but I’m hardly ever there.”  She looked directly at his face, saying, “And that’s because I find it so solitary, sterile even.  I see what you’re getting at, Everton – I’m a victim of it myself obviously.”

Strangely, it was a touching moment.  Their roles had switched and somehow Alessandra was the person being interviewed. They both saw it at the same moment, mildly laughing at the sheer irony of it.

“You remember Cheers, right?  You know the song, Sometimes you want to go … ?”

“Where everybody knows your name,” she sang, finished Dad’s sentence.  “God, I loved that show.”

“Places like Cheers, or this place, become people’s home away from home, even if it’s just down the street.  At work or home, they learn to make their accommodations in order to keep the peace or make everyone happy, but at their favourite market, library, bakery, coffee shop, or pub, they can shed such responsibilities, be themselves, and recharge their spirits.

Alessandra looked at him intently, quietly nodding at this subtle, frequently uncomfortable, acknowledgement that ultimately, regardless of their personal situations, people were still individuals and that nurturing that part of them was essential to their ability to deal with all their other circumstances. I looked at him in that moment and wondered if he ever felt such a need for himself and felt a bit ashamed that I had never taken the time to even ask that question before.

They thought of breaking for a bit, but Alessandra prodded for a few more minutes.

“So, people come here to be themselves without all the other accoutrements of modern living.  But what does that look like?  I mean, what is it that you’re hoping they will see in themselves in the hours they spend here?  Or do you never think about that?”

“Every day I wonder how we can design the Third Place to assist them in that search,” Dad began.  “Perhaps they will confront their own fears, their doubts, and all those marvelous aspirations for their children.  Maybe they’ll feel the prompt to do what’s right, not necessarily what’s convenient or popular, or that they’ll begin to measure their self-worth in connection to the larger community instead of merely their own circumstances.”

“Do you think they know that you hope that for them?” she queried.

“Can’t be sure.”

“I think they do, Ever.  It’s not just the Rules of Engagement on the wall downstairs or the attention you get in the media.  There’s something fully natural about you and your sentiments.  Dealing with you over all these years, it’s likely you’ve become kind of like a mentor to them.  You lift their gaze to something higher.  Do they ever express that to you personally?”

“Occasionally.”

“What do they say?” she continued, ever prodding.

“Oh, that’s just between me and them,” he answered, staring at the wooden slats on the floor of the balcony.  We all understood that he was embarrassed to talk about it.

It seemed like a natural time for a break, but soon enough they were back at it and Alessandra wanted to take things in a new direction.

“Okay, I want to ask you a direct question and I’m hopeful you’ll be as frank in your response,” she said while looking at her notebook.  “Do you see the Internet as a curse for this democratic experiment you’re trying to base here in the Third Place?”

He looked up at her, confused.  “Why would you ask that?”

“Because it seems to me that what you’re doing here cannot be duplicated in cyber space. And yet millions of people think it can.”

Dad took his time, but in the end his voice was firm.  “Huge portions of our population have virtually moved their lives into the digital realm, but in the process, they’ve stopped living in actual communities where they would continue to meet people with a variety of experiences and opinions.  Instead, they live online and usually interact only with people of similar viewpoints or political preferences.”

“And what’s wrong with that?  Agreement is a good thing.”

“Only when it can be achieved within a real community and with people who hold to different persuasions.  Who will care about the homeless woman if the online folks don’t even know her?  Or the man seeking to start up a small business and just isn’t cutting it.  Who cares about him, or the veteran struggling with PTSD?  Real communities – historic communities – know of these stories because their interaction is human and not digital.  Good communities care about such individuals even if they don’t know them because, well, they’ve learned to think that way through living with others.  They aren’t someone else’s problem, but our own.”

Alessandro was looking keenly at Ever, as though trying to fully grasp what he was saying.  “But can’t people learn through the Internet of such situations.  It is a remarkable tool.”

“It is that,” Dad replied.  “But that’s just it, tools don’t produce humanity – only human interaction does that. Online communities are powerful at creating tribes of similar beliefs but not mosaics of diverse thoughts and beliefs.  The value of an expansive character has given way to a focused channel of opinion and angst. Meaning is found by sticking with a viewpoint and expressing anger at those who think differently.”  It was a thoughtful response, but he wasn’t done.

“Facebook friends or Twitter followers aren’t going to clean our kitchen here after the day is done, nor are they going to work with me to make sure my daughters get the best education they can.  They weren’t consoling me when my mother died and likely won’t be there for our girls when my time comes.  And more than anything, they will never hold my wife’s hand as I hold it, or dream of a better future with me the way that Sally does.  Those are human possibilities, the stuff dreams are made of – rooted in real people, in real time, and with real outcomes.  Nothing tops humanity – nothing.  This place wouldn’t be here without it, nor be worth the effort.”

Alessandra was looking down at her notebook and it was only a few second later until I could see a glistening in her eyes.  My God, I thought,  he moved her.  He helped her see what he sees.

Silently she got up from her chair and moved to the stairs, her hand tapping Dad’s shoulder as she walked by.  Words weren’t necessary.  At their most effective, the great principles of life require no language.

 

Next chapter – Insight

The Third Place (Chapter 13) – In Depth

Posted on August 15, 2018

The magazine had been a North American staple for thirty years, somehow emerging into the digital era with a colourful and in-depth glossy publication coupled with a highly polished digital facsimile.  With hundreds of similar folksy and craft-oriented competitors, Home Comfort never relinquished its top ranking in publications.

It was a delightful day in late-spring when the two of them occupied one of the rounded balconies, outside on the second floor, where Dad was situated at a slight angle to the sun and Alessandra sat off to the side.  It was essentially a video shoot and partial interview, with Alessandra shooting film that would eventually appear on the magazine’s digital version.  While Finn and Daisy handled things downstairs, Mom and I were permitted to sit by the balcony railing and take it all in.

Dad usually despised such things but somehow Alessandra put him continually at ease. She started off with some softball questions regarding his background and how he came about to own the restaurant. But it wasn’t long before she dug deeper in an effort to uncover what was the secret that made the Third Place such a treasure to the community and why was it that it was so clearly linked with grassroots democratic activity.

“Are you saying that what happens in this place is as valid to a democratic state as what happens in parliaments and legislatures?” she asked with a quizzical smile.

Dad looked out over the street and the quiet traffic.  “I suppose that’s right.  No parliament or political chamber can create what happens here when citizens begin considering their public estate and what needs to happen. Politicians are supposed to tackle the big issues that the average citizen doesn’t have the time or training for. But everything else happens where citizens live.  They are democracy’s essence, its lifeblood.  They’re the glue that holds it all together.  Once they lose that cohesive ability everything falls apart.”

“You sound more like an activist than an architect,” Alessandra noted wryly.

“I’m an architect,” came the response.

“And how does that relate to what you’re doing here, Everton?  I mean, isn’t architecture about angles and roof lines, windows and landscaping?”

“It is,” Dad replied, turning to look squarely at her.  “But it’s also about load-bearing walls, foundations, places to gather and more intimate spaces to be alone.  Ultimately, architecture is about structure.”

“Oooookay,” she said with a hesitancy in her voice.  “But how would that help with what you’re doing here?  I mean, it’s clear that you’ve created some beautiful rooms and the house has a wonderful appeal from a distance, but how else does architecture shape this place?”

Dad had to think about that for a minute.  “Well, you not only have to create a flow that welcomes people in, but you have to create enough room so as to make them want to stay.  They must have enough solitude so that conversations are private, but keep the room open enough so that customers understand they are part of a larger setting – just like a community itself.”

Alessandra flipped the page over her notebook as she said, “You’ve thought all this out, haven’t you?”

“I haven’t thought about it all, to be truthful.  It just feels like the best way to lay things out.  We have to create something here that’s beyond the dining experience and that enables people who come here to think they play a part in our success beyond just eating here.  I’m not sure it’s something you can plan for; it just happens when people are prompted in a certain direction.”

They broke for some lemonade as the temperature began climbing.  Dad used the opportunity to quickly move downstairs to see how the restaurant was doing.

“Are you getting what you’re looking for?” Mom asked Alessandra.

“I wasn’t sure what I was expecting,” she replied, “but it was quite like this.  I mean, Everton seems just like an average guy – a decent and caring man – but on the other hand he thinks differently.  He says things in such an understated way that it’s easy to lose his meaning, I suppose.”

Mom grabbed her husband’s chair and sat opposite.  “I haven’t heard it described quite that way, but you’re right; he constantly seems to undersell things.  But I think that’s part of what people like about this place – no pressure, no setting the agenda.”

Alessandra uncrossed her tanned legs and looked directly at Mom.  “But there is expectation.”  It wasn’t a question but an observation and, again, Mom knew our guest was right.

“Yes, definitely.  I mean, it’s there in Rules of Engagement, but our regulars never look up and read them anymore; they just live them out naturally.  They understand after a time that Ever hopes they keep the larger community in mind in their conversations.  I can’t explain, but it really does work.”

Dad came up the stairs and the interview continued in earnest.  For a good part of the time Alessandra prodded him about the décor – why this colour paint, or the choice of curtains, even the menu.  These would be things her readers would expect, but we got the sense that these were but cursory questions to where she wanted to go.

Eventually she took another sip of her lemonade, placed it on the coaster on the table, and asked, “Everton Overly, how do you see Canadians, or Americans for that matter?”

Dad looked up flummoxed.  “I’m not quite sure what you mean?”

“I think you do.  You have thousands of people coming through here every year, many from south of the border. I mean, are they happy?  Seem unsettled?”

He nodded in understanding.  “I think they are no longer contended, if they ever were.  In their unguarded moments they speak of troubles at home, with money, in their jobs, with politicians.  The good life seems elusive to them, I think.”

“And they bring all that angst into here?” she asked.

“They do, and I don’t blame them.  They are having trouble finding a pleasurable public life – they are either at work or at home, but they are more than that and they know it.”

This was too intriguing for Alessandra to let slip by.  “So, family isn’t enough?  That’s a stark statement.”

“Shouldn’t be,” Dad responded with a smile.  “It why we’ve had sewing clubs, book clubs, soccer clubs, even golf clubs. People are more than just who they marry or who their family members are.  Some might just need to hang out with others.  They have aspirations that are greater than their local surroundings, dreams that only a community can give them.  It’s why we have great institutions like houses of faith, concert halls, ball diamonds, public parks, museums and art galleries.  Citizens need a broader world – environments that remind them that they are more than their immediate surroundings.”

Her eyes bored right into his own.  “And you see the Third Place as one of those places?”

Dad shrugged.  “Sure, just as I see other restaurants, bars and the like in the same fashion.  People need to mix, to express their anger or delight, to plan a business or a bridal shower for a friend.  And they prefer to do all those things outside of the home or the workplace.  This has been the way of humanity since its beginnings.  We read of such places in Mesopotamia, ancient China, or old Greece, or Rome.  In every region of the world from our beginnings such places have not only existed but proliferated.  What we’re attempting here in this place isn’t new or novel; it’s historic and fundamental to life.  It’s the tried and true method for getting people together for millennia.”

Alessandra leaned over the table and shut off the recording function on her phone, then flipped her notebook closed.  She sat back, sighed, and looked over at us.  “Wherever did you find such a man?” she said, looking at Mom.

“O, he was just around,” Mom answered with a wide grin.

“Everton, I think that in another age you might have been a philosopher.  You’re a mixture of so many things: politician, mystic, democrat, shaman, writer.  How did someone like you spring out of the architectural field.”

Dad merely shrugged; he didn’t know the answer to that himself.  “Maybe being an architect kept me kind of independent in thinking.  I wasn’t a company man, a political partisan, or anything like that.  My views just slowly built in me over the years.”

He stopped a moment and looked directly at his guest.

“What?” she asked, a little nonplussed.

“Kind of like you, I would say.  Look at you. You’re from Brazil, with diplomatic parents, a love of the ocean, blessed with abilities in numerous languages, and obviously urbane.  And yet here you are, a writer who does all your own photography and prefers to travel alone.  I bet you give your editor a heck of a tough time.”  This last bit caused them both to smile.

“Actually, I don’t have an editor,” Alessandra responded, causing us all to break out into broad laughter.  “The magazine does all the formatting, but the words are all mine.  But you’re right, Everton, I’m kind of a mixture of everything, like you.”

We all agreed that it was time to break for an early lunch, but as our family traipsed to the stairway, I turned back to see Alessandra eyeing us in curiosity.  I smiled at her, but she didn’t seem to notice.

 

Next chapter – Humanity

The Third Place (Chapter 12) – Home Comfort

Posted on August 14, 2018

She just appeared one day at lunch, looking professional – coiffed and elegant. Alessandra Acampora was bewitching in her own way that was mildly intoxicating.  She came through the front door wearing a summery short dress and white straw hat, her legs tanned and her hair sun-touched.  For fifty-two years of age she looked amazing.

She was likely Home Comfort magazine’s best-known writer – cosmopolitan, well-travelled, but with a keen sense of the practical.  Her taste for those accoutrements that turned a house into an intimate gathering place reflected her Brazilian origins and interest in places that comfortably fit into their environment.  Over her eighteen-year career with the magazine she had featured the homes of movie stars, famous writers and pop stars, even the home of three retired presidents of the United States.

Mom spotted her arriving through the door, tucking her sunglasses into a small portfolio and quickly gazing around the decor.  We had never heard of her, although the magazine we were well aware of.

“I’m looking for Everton and Sally Overly,” she offered, not even looking at Mom but continually scanning her surroundings.

“Well, I’m Sally.  Ever is in the kitchen.”

“ Ever? Well, that’s quaint.”

Mom wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or merely annoyed.  But once the introductions were completed, she knew instinctively that what was about transpire would be important.  She proceeded cautiously and as the moments wore on the awkwardness fell away and Mom realized she was looking at a genuine article.

They grabbed a table by the window, the two of them, and began talking in a pleasant manner.  I had no idea what was happening, but the fact that Mom was giving her such attention clued me in that our guest was special.  Soon enough they were laughing, with Mom drinking her Earl Grey and Acampora sipping on a mineral water.  Eventually Dad came through from the kitchen and was quickly called over.

“Ev, this is Alessandra, a writer from Home Comfort magazine, and from what I’ve gathered in the last few minutes she knows her way around private and public residences.”

Dad was distracted, but still took her hand in greeting and said he was pleased to meet her.  The writer looked at him, immediately intrigued by his bashful but confident manner. His face was deeply tanned like hers and she liked that.  When she didn’t let his hand go, he finally looked directly at her, realizing she was wanting something.  Mom pulled a chair away from the table and motioned to Dad to sit down.  He cast a quick glance at her, mildly irritated at the interruption on his routine, quietly sighed and took the seat.

“Everton, Sally, your establishment is gaining quite a reputation, which is part of the reason I’m here.  Actually, it’s the only reason, other than some mild curiosity.”

Her voice was natural and warm.  “I pitched our editors to let me come up here to Canada and do a feature on the Third Place – with your consent, of course.  My past interest has been in homes where people lived out their private thoughts and activities once they are out of the spotlight.  But this place is different.  You’ve turned a particularly lovely stately home into something of hotbed of civic activity.  It’s appealing to me and I’m sure it will be to our readers.”  She paused briefly for a sip from her glass before adding, “Only if you’d be interested in having a feature done, though.  And we’ll pay you because we know that we’ll be disrupting your work somewhat.  This is my first time covering a place like this and I’d love for our readers to become as intrigued as I am.  You’ve somehow brought the public and private together in one place.  That’s pretty rare.”

Her face unleashed a remarkably natural and beautiful smile as she concluded, awaiting a response.  In that moment, Mom told me later, she grew to quite like her.

“Well, I always leave these media things to Everton here; he’s the best at that kind of thing,” Mom offered.

“Oh, no, this isn’t media in the traditional sense.  Home Comfort isn’t about news or just personalities.  We’re into the way people shape their homes to suit their family and their preferences – or in this case, your business.  We’re not looking for scoops or intrigue.  I want to see how your personalities have blended into the walls and rooms of this marvellous place.  Please say yes.  This is only my second time in Canada and I’d love to stay for a few days.  I won’t bother you; I already have a reservation at a hotel nearby.”

And just like that they formed an agreement.  And Mom would hear nothing of a hotel, persuading the writer that our spare bedroom overlooking the side garden was especially welcoming this time of year.  Acampora appeared genuinely surprised at the warmth of that invitation and accepted in an enchanting fashion.

Mom and Dad called us over, introduced us as their two daughters.  We both flushed when Dad said, “This is a family enterprise – shared labour and all that.  They’re just as important to our success.”  The pride on our parent’s faces caused both Daisy and me to look down in mild embarrassment.  Yet Acampora found it wonderful enough to say so.

“I’m usually on an assignment like this for two to three days and then head back to Chicago and our head office for all the editing.  And although I’m obviously interested in this beautiful place, I’m equally as curious about the value your community puts on its presence in its midst. I hope you’re up to talking about that; the article won’t be complete without it.”

To my surprise, Dad smiled warmly and answered, “Of course …  of course.”

Daisy and I offered to her help bring her supplies in from the taxi and were surprised by the sheer amount of it.

“I know, I know,” the writer said with mock embarrassment, “but I assure it isn’t all clothes.  I also handle all the photos for my own articles and two of those cases contain my DSLR cameras and all the equipment they require.  I only use a laptop when on assignment but it handles all my tasks beautifully, included software photo editing.  I’m sorry for all the trouble.”

“Why don’t you travel with a photographer?” Daisy asked innocently.

“Well, there’s one big problem there.  I kept falling in love with them.  Being on the road so much can be lonely and some those professional photographers are quite good-looking.”  This produced a burst of spontaneous laughter from the two of us.  We couldn’t believe this remarkable woman would be transparent enough to confess such a thing.  Daisy and I were delighted.

We helped her work her way up the stairs to the guest room.  The moment we opened the door she was entranced.

“O my. You have a sunroom on the third floor – how unique, and charming.”  She looked out through the long glass panes and permitted her eyes to roam the garden.

“What’s that noise?” she asked, her ear inclined to hear better.

“It’s a brook that flows through our property,” Daisy answered.  “When we were kids we hung out there every day when it was warm, even in the rain, and dangled our feet in the stream and talked forever.”

“Do you still do that?” asked our guest.

“Sometimes,” I answered.

“How about now?”  It was an invitation filled with a kind of child-like enthusiasm and we both nodded immediately.  Five minutes later the three of us were sitting on the small wooden platform Dad had built us years earlier precisely for dangling our toes.

Alessandra hiked up her flowery skirt in pure pleasure and immediately swung her feet back and forth through the water.  We joined in like kids, which I guess at that moment we kind of were.

She talked to us of her youthful days in Brazil and how she had done something similar, only at a beach.

“My parents were both government employees, tasked by our various presidents with hosting foreign dignitaries who came our way to discuss economics, trade treaties, the rainforest and even the Olympics once Rio de Janeiro was selected all those years ago.  Our house was situated directly on the sand of Prainha Beach.  It was more out-of-the-way that Ipanema or Copacabana beaches and the thousands of people who were always there, but it was even more beautiful.”

“Tell us about it, please,” asked Daisy with her typical enthusiasm.

“It was a blissfully quiet, stunning crescent of sand flanked by rainforest-covered mountains. The sand itself is soft and white, and the waves of the bright blue waters attract many surfers, though it’s also common to see families enjoying the secluded shore there.  And that was us – our family, I mean.  My mother and father often hosted the dignitaries for overnight stays where things were more private and away from media eyes.”

“And your home?” I asked.

“O, my home,” she responded, a faraway look in her eyes that only hinted of contentment. “It was beautifully spread out at the base of one of the tree-filled hills.  I could go out the back door and climb or out the front and swim and surf – or look at the boys.”  This produced giggles.

We spent the next hour like this – women in a world they themselves were creating. Alessandra was a consummate personality – polished, refined, cosmopolitan, intelligent.  And on the flip side she was youthful in spirit, easily humoured, possessed a wild imagination, and perhaps more important than anything believed in the feminine mystique and its ability to make the world better.  We loved her from that moment, dreaming of a secluded beach in Brazil.

 

Next chapter – In Depth

The Third Place (Chapter 11) – Chemistry

Posted on August 13, 2018

Values are remarkably tensile things, bringing humanity back to the fore while dispensing to the periphery those things less vital.  The Third Place wasn’t so much a business as it was a sanctuary, a tribute to the best that was in us all.  It summoned all manner of emotions and aspirations and even made the atmosphere somewhat quaintly electric with expectation.  I think that if it hadn’t existed I would never have seen those distinctive dimensions of my father that helped me to view him as someone more than just an adult figure.  It showed me the remarkable fluid partnership between my parents that was so much more than just two guardians watching over their children. I saw my community as an essentially good place, populated by people who, more times than not, sought a fairer world.  A kind of magic was happening on most days and it just naturally unfolded the way my father thought it would and worked towards.

Somehow, in the middle of all the chaos and activity, the restaurant worked its enchantment on Finn and me.  We were further along in our attraction to one another than we even realized, recognizing it only after those who knew us best, starting with Mom, gave subtle hints that we looked good together.  Leave it to parents to notice before anyone else.  Mom increasingly had a ready smile on her face, especially on weekend mornings when Daisy and I were available to help out with the breakfast servings. Finn and I would brush past one another, both sensing the electricity even before any kind of relationship had been formalized.  I would look ever and see Mom with that look on her face.

I knew she was right in what she was sensing and I felt no desire to deny what was suddenly becoming plain to others.  But while Mom was content to just offer the odd comment, Daisy just said things outright.

“You really like him, admit it.” she blurted one Sunday evening.

“I think I do,” I said through a broad smile, “but I want to see where it goes before anyone else finds out.”

“O, Annie, you get so busy concentrating on what’s in front of you that you just can’t see that everyone’s way ahead of you.”

“Wha … what do you mean?” I asked, mildly alarmed.

“See,” Daisy said while pointing knowingly at me, “you just don’t get it”

She paused for a moment before just saying it: “Mom, Dad, even Mrs. Campbell have seen the chemistry between the two of you.  And we even understand that we see what the both you and Finn don’t really see yourselves.  You both are so careful, or oblivious, or something.  You work well together on the restaurant floor.  He finds you pretty and has said so in some not so obvious ways – how he likes your hair, thinks you’re really smart, likes how quickly you move into those philosophical conversations he likes, and even your quiet sense of humour.

“And you? Well, you seem comfortable whenever he’s around.  It’s like you two are waltzing but don’t really notice it.  Sometimes he leads, and sometimes you do, but you are always intricately moving around one another in ways that aren’t scripted but just natural. I mean, really, it’s a beautiful thing, Annie.”

This is how sisters talk and it was a gift, for, at last, what I was feeling was out in the open – warm, transparent, loving, and in my case, a tad naïve.  It was like a comfortable fire and I gently took off my cloak of pretense that Daisy clearly saw through.

And then, of course, I asked the question that any young woman in my situation would ask: “Do you think Finn senses it – how we fit, I mean?”

Daisy was careful in her reply.  “I’m not quite sure.  Yes, you’re the boss’s daughter, almost with a college degree, pretty, confident, and obviously capable of whatever gets thrown your way.  That can be intimidating to some guys, I guess.  But then again, Finn isn’t just your average fellow.  He’s smart like you – just like he showed in that article he wrote for the paper.  And with no previous experience in the restaurant business, he just picked up the breakfast operation like he’d been doing it forever.  He’s a natural, right?”

I nodded in assent, knowing in that fashion most sisters are aware of that she had more to offer.

“And there’s that one piece that nobody really considers but just might be the key to it all.”

I leaned back against the wall and waited for the big reveal.  When it wasn’t forthcoming, I simply said, “Daisy” in mock frustration.  She smiled, knowing that the tease was working and picked up her thought again.

“Of all the people we know, who do you think you’re the most like?”

The answer wasn’t hard to come by.  “Dad … it’s always been Dad.  I knew from the earliest days when I was trying to figure out who I was.  We were similar even then, I guess.”

“You guess?” she shot back immediately.  “We’ve talked about it as a family for years. It isn’t rocket science and it isn’t some big surprise.  I’m like Mom – wonderful Sally Sheffield Overton – spry, always kind of light as a feather as she floats through the house, with a spirit to match.”

I nodded in understanding and agreement.  “It’s true, and you are so much like her, Daisy.”

“I know,” she acknowledged.  “But you?  You’re quietly intelligent, congenial, more measured than me, and you carry more of a kind of ethical weight than Mom.  And who else do we know who’s like that?  O yeah – Ever Overly. ”

“Okay,” I said, my hands in the air in a gesture of defeat, “but I’m not sure where this conversation is going.”

“O Annie, how can you not see it?  We’ve all seen how Dad and Finn have this remarkably knowing kind of interaction. They’re in the same groove, approach things from a larger perspective, and for being a young guy – a good-looking guy, I admit – Finn is remarkably measured.  He thinks more than he talks, works more than he relaxes, understands more than he lets on, and seems to have that same kind of innate understanding of democracy that so drives and infatuates Dad.”

With that she was done, just standing there, looking at me in some kind of triumph. But she was right and I had to confess to myself that I had been oblivious to what it seems like my sister and mother spotted every day.

I should have been embarrassed, but instead I felt a strange warmth somewhere inside me. It was true – I was Dad personified, and whatever it was the drew him to Finn was tugging away at me as well.  It was that kind of revelation that emerged with a growing light instead of some great flash of awareness. And I was comfortable with it, in part because it had played itself out in a place I had grown to trust and feel an intricate part of.  My family, the Third Place, a steady and friendly set of customers, financially comfortable – these things were my world and who was to argue with its sense of surety and acceptance?

Things were different following that conversation with Daisy.  It was as though I was becoming more aware of my surroundings and my place within them.  Affirming that I had been so much like Dad, I took to watching him more closely, recognizing many of his traits in myself, and feeling a certain sense of – what? Destiny?  A path forward into my future?  Whatever it was, it helped me become more settled in my surroundings, as if this place, the Third Place and my family would constitute those things that I would build my world around.

And then there was Finn.  Understanding somewhat that what drew me to him was what also got to my father made that journey towards Finn easier to embrace, to enjoy, to absorb.

Whether he felt it or not, my interest in Finn had become more of a journey.  I wanted to know more about him, to be sure to be on the morning shifts just to be near his intriguing presence, and to be more willing to strike up conversations whenever the moment was right. Something was beginning that I now understood started months earlier, the moment he came into our world and applied that great personality of his to the challenges and opportunities of the restaurant.  I had willingly permitted myself to be drawn into his orbit without any resistance. Things were becoming more interesting.

 

Next chapter – Home Comfort

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