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