Subtle changes were taking place in the restaurant – a remarkably steady clientele, becoming an anchor establishment in a quaint village that drew from all portions of the city, and an evident kind of reverence for Mom and Dad.
Business had been so good for our parents that they had to institute the reservation system to curtail long lineups – something Dad never wanted to do. I suppose it was inevitable they would give into the pressure and open up for breakfast every weekday.
It was a family decision, though we looked to Dad to provide a good reason for the move. Ever said that the whole idea was something he never entertained, confessing that he loved the mornings having coffee with Mom and poring over a favourite book.
“Well, then, just keep it the way it is hon,” Mom offered. “I love our coffees, too, and the work seems to take it out on you – and me.”
She had raised a sensitive point. They were both aging gracefully enough, but they weren’t as strong and spry as in previous years. To take on an increased workload seemed counterintuitive to this stage of their shared life.
It was then that Dad finally unfolded a dream he had cherished for years but which he didn’t wish to impose on any of us.
“Daisy … Annie,” he began. “It has always been my hope that one of you might grow interested in taking over the Third Place once Mom and I were set to retire. You’re younger. You know the inside and outside, not only of this building, but the restaurant business and you both have a natural talent for it.”
He paused for a moment, looked up at Mom, and asked, “I don’t wish to make any decisions about the future until I know if you have any interest. This is not meant to pressure you in any way; it’s just something that must involve all of us.”
And so there it was – something we had suspected all along but were reticent to talk about. The truth was that Daisy and I had talked about frequently over the years. But we were young girls and then women, with lives full of studies, boys and the desire to explore a larger world.
But with college almost concluded, I had found myself taking more of an interest in the technicalities of running a business and how to promote it. Yet the thought of taking it on seemed too ominous to consider. When Daisy said nothing, I simply stated, “It’s too early for us, Dad. We’re still young and not sure what our future will be. Sorry.”
If Ever was disappointed it didn’t show. It was then that he stood up, looking out the front window to the street level below and reflected.
“I don’t think I’m being totally transparent with you,” he said at last, his voice husky and considerate. “It’s true that I never wanted to develop a breakfast capacity in this place, but truth be told, I honestly didn’t expect the Third Place to become as popular as it is. I mean it’s packed every noon and evening and I’m deeply gratified for the success that has come through all of our efforts.”
Dad sighed, looked over again at Mom, and continued.
“Perhaps what I’ve been most pleased about has been how civil society has treated us here. I mean, the people who come here, especially the regulars, have taken the challenge of investing in this community seriously – more than I could have dreamed. Patrons don’t just come to eat but to participate in a kind of citizen dialogue that has become something of a lost art in this fast-paced era. If increasing numbers come for breakfast to take part in that democratic experiment, it remains a difficult thing for me to deny that opportunity.”
There it was, said simply and profoundly as only Everton Overly could say it. It was a beautiful thing to listen to and we as a family appreciated Dad’s insights.
And so, two months later, the great favourite breakfast meals were offered Monday through Saturday. I helped whenever I could because I knew the strain on Dad and Mom would challenge their physical endurance.
And just as Dad had predicted, the conversations in the morning hours mirrored what was said later in the day, at lunch and dinner. Service clubs, friendship groups, book clubs, church breakfasts, Urban League sessions, even some party politics – such groups found themselves at the Third Place, offering views on everything imaginable, especially as it related to community life.
All this was happening as Daisy and I worked out our college schedule. My little sister had chosen the same college as I attended and we drove to school together on most days. Her energies seemed boundless. She joined the annual theatre production, invested her time heavily in soccer and basketball, and always seemed surrounded by friends. I lived a more solitary life at college, choosing to work on my courses in urban design and architecture and only occasionally attending a social function. Maybe it was that part of Dad that was strong in me. Architecture had been his love prior to military service and his physical wounds. The field of design, buildings, how they are built and placed and the development of community infrastructure held strong fascination to me, just as it had for him years earlier.
Yet despite our different lifestyles, both Daisy and I remained committed to helping out at the restaurant whenever we could. There was no shortage of funds for our parents to hire qualified staff, but the Third Place remained a family activity from first to last and somehow, as students with busy lives, we nevertheless found time to help with the family enterprise. Plus, Dad and Mom always believed in paying their people a living wage, and that included us.
We were counted on for certain hours but other than that we could fill in as our time permitted and those extra funds helped to pay for clothes, movies, school trips, and we always had the funds on hand to purchase our parent’s gifts that they would appreciate for their anniversary, Christmas or birthday. It was a great arrangement, giving the kind of independence that also brought responsibility and a sense of exploration.
Next chapter: Disruption