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