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