One of my favourite memories of him was the last-minute tidy and clean he always did a few minutes prior to the restaurant’s opening. It is a reflection that carries no timeline, since he performed this routine every day for four decades. It never varied, not because he was habit driven but because he was so in love with the ceramic oven that he used for baking, the stainless steel sinks, lengthy counters and the always spotless floor. When done, he passed his loving fingers lightly over the various surfaces – like a lover’s touch in an intimate moment.
My father forever had a knack, a penchant even, for embracing the complexities of the world without judging it. He didn’t so much clutch it as he did protect it by his watchfulness. This devoted care of the restaurant was typical of his interaction with life at various levels – gentle, firm, principled, inclusive. My early memories are of his interacting with his loyal customers, warming them with free coffee and deflecting their innuendos and prejudices with a comment about the state of their health or progress of their kids or grandkids – anything to keep conversations within the realm of propriety. Like some grand conductor, he drew out the sociability of his customers while at the same time managing somehow to tone down their divisive opinions in those harsher moments.
His full name was Everton David Overly and he was a community staple. Though grandma gave him that name in memory of some favourite uncle she had in England, everyone trimmed it down to the standard “Ever” or sometimes “Ev” – monikers for his entire adult life. Only on rare occasions would Dad give vent to the awkwardness of it. Mostly he just absorbed the label into his identity and those who loved him in the community could never think of him as anything other than Ever. When young, I thought it stupid; now I see it only as endearing.
He hadn’t always been in the restaurant business. Originally interested in architecture, he stunned his parents when he signed up for the Canadian army. He got his wish when he was seconded as part of the Canadian component to a UN military peacekeeping mission situated directly on the Pakistan-India border sometime in the 1970s. He was rewarded for all of that do-goodism with a shattered leg – the result of being thrown out a window in an attempt to break up a Hindu-Muslim fracas in a local market.
Everton Overly was honourably discharged and sent home for convalescence. His physical dexterity was gone, as was any drive to be an architect.
Somewhere around that time he met Sally Sheffield, my Mom. Within a year they were married before Dad even finished his recovery. I came along a year later, and Daisy, my sister, arrived on the scene two years after that. Mom was spry, vivacious in a natural way, and loved people like they were family. In that way she was the polar opposite to Dad, who dedicated himself to his friends and community in such a gentle way that nobody ever really knew how much they meant to him. He was always there in the room, but in a manner that often went unnoticed. They both put others first, but Mom always stole the show and received most of the praise tossed at our family.
Capable of walking without a cane, Dad happened one day on a palatial home in an old village section of our small city. Spotting the “For Sale” sign out front one morning, he stopped to stare, his imagination moving at warp speed. An older elegant woman came around from the side of the house holding a rake, saw the stranger, and walked over to him, an ingratiating smile on her face.
It was one of those encounters that would alter the destiny of many, including me. Her husband had been in the army during the Second World War, but had recently passed on due to cancer. She was going to sell the old place and move in with her daughter somewhere in one of the town’s suburbs.
“I’m Margaret Dawson,” she said, extending her hand. “Interested in making a bid?” she asked as Dad continued appraising the porch.
Ever smiled, looked down at his therapeutic Scholl walking boots, before saying, “It’s always been my favourite house in this town. My father used to take me to that ice cream shop across the street and we’d admire this place every time. I think he used to know someone who lived here, because occasionally the man would cross the street and share a cone with us – butterscotch, I think.”
The woman stood uncomfortably still before saying, “I’ve lived here for almost half a century. What was your Dad’s name?”
“Sask – Sask Overly,” he replied. “He got the nickname because he came from -“
“Saskatoon,” she interjected knowingly. “He came from Saskatchewan.” It was a statement, not a question.
It turned out that her husband had been in the war with Granddad. Anyway, before you knew it she told him she thought her husband would be delighted if Dad took on the house. When he protested that he didn’t have the resources, she struck up a deal that he could pay some down then and pay off the rest over the next few years. The deal was done by the end of the day.
I remember us piling into the old van and stopping in front of the place. Mom loved it right away and all Daisy and I could think of was all the rooms we would get to play house in.
“It’s pretty big for our family to live in,” Mom noted.
“We’ll live upstairs, and in the back,” he replied, his blue eyes as wide as I had ever seen them.
“And downstairs?” she asked.
He looked at her, wonder still on his face, and said. “Oh, that will be the Third Place.”