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Glen Pearson

The Third Place – Wonderland (Chapter 2)

Posted on August 2, 2018

The relentlessly hot summer had begun and we had endless time to scout through the house and the grounds outside.? It was so big upstairs that Daisy and I each got our own room.? The bathroom that we shared was bigger than the bedroom we had together occupied in the old place.? I was 10 and Daisy was 8 and now our imaginations had a wonderland in which to pretend, play, explore and hide.

There were two things we both loved from the outset – the attic and the gardens.?The attic was huge, with vaulted ceilings, three skylights and a great window with four little ones above it facing out the front.? It was “T” shaped, running both east and west, north and south.? We immediately wanted to move up there but were told it might be needed later for something Dad was doing, so we had to content ourselves with exploring its temporary environs.

It was Daisy who unwittingly discovered the secret passageway.? Tripping over my slipper, my little sister fell headlong into the wall, only to feel it give way and open into a wide hallway that joined two rooms in the attic.? The door had been discreetly framed and we kept its presence to ourselves.? We decided to call that special discovery “Wonderland.”

The gardens, especially in the summer, felt more like visiting a giant atrium than a back yard.? There were giant oak and walnut trees, bushes along the perimeter, and wild flowers splayed out indiscriminately throughout.? An old stone path veered off in different directions, leaving plenty of places to hide.? Our favourite thing about the garden was the little brook that bubbled along the rear of the property – deep enough to swish our feet in and moving enough that it made the most delightful and joyful sound in our new world.

Three weeks after we moved in, Mrs. Dawson rang the front door bell.? In her hands she carried two small pizzas, and containers of chicken and salad and soup.? When Dad emerged from the back of the house, he looked embarrassed at the sawdust covering his old khaki pants and denim shirt.? Though he suggested moving towards the dining room, our visitor asked if we might sit out in the rounded porch upstairs overlooking the side garden.

“You’ve been busy by the looks of you,” Mrs. Dawson noted with a smile.

“Hasn’t stopped,” said Mom as she swept some sawdust entwined in Dad’s ?wavy hair.

I think the older lady was curious, since the grand house had been pristine and even renovated in spots when she left.? A new hardwood floor with wide planks of darkened ash had been installed throughout the entire main floor.? The bathrooms had been updated and most of the wall areas had been treated to fresh coats of paint.? She must have wondered what it was that Dad needed to change.

“I’m turning the place into a restaurant downstairs, while we stay in the upper floors,” Dad said while placing his empty salad plate near the edge of the table.?It had taken a few weeks, but Dad had succeeded in getting the property rezoned to the more applicable commercial-residential status.

“So I’ve heard,” Mrs. Dawson replied.? “What kind of food will it serve?? Chinese? Mexican? Mediterranean?? Gluten free?” she concluded with a smile.

He placed his fork down on the table and looked at her directly.? “Going to take some of the best of each – the kind of dishes most people really prefer, instead of the fancier variety that cater only to those with refined palates.? I sometimes think that most people head to fast food places because they aren’t into all the fancy dishes that seem to be all the rage at the moment.”

“You mean sushi, crepes, and the like?” she queried.

“Exactly.?They’re wonderful foods, but most people don’t regularly frequent such establishments, yet they do have a favourite kind of Chinese food or variety of taco or fish.? That’s what we’re going to serve.”

Dad’s words had filled Mrs. Dawson with a kind of curiosity, I could tell.? But both Daisy and I had reached our supply of politeness and, with a nod from Mom, picked up our dishes, headed down to the kitchen, and moved out the side door into the garden.

“I like her,” Sally said, washing her face in the brook’s shaded green water.

“That’s because she brought you pizza,” I noted.

“No,” she replied almost defiantly.? “She seems to want to help Mom and Dad and I think she still loves this place.”

It’s true,?I thought.? But it had become too much for her to manage.? Yet through Dad’s vision of it, she still seemed to want to be part of it.

Later, Dad had walked her out to the sidewalk and thanked her for her kindness.?Then they got into a talk I could swear lasted an hour.? We helped Mom to clean up.

“What’s taking them so long?” Daisy whined.

“Honey, I think your father and Mrs. Dawson are going to work together on making the restaurant a real success for us all,” Mom replied.

And she had been right.? Dad came back in, grabbed some water, and said,” Margaret is going to invest some of her funds into the launching of the restaurant, for things like a ceramic oven and hardy wooden tables and chairs.”

“It’s kind of like she’ll still be living here,” I said, which caused my parents to nod in agreement.

“Interesting strategy,” noted Mom.

“What’s that?”

“It’s likely that her investment funds are actually what you paid her for the house.”

“The circle of life,” he said with a grin before heading into the back of the house.

 

Next post – The Experiment Begins

 

The Third Place – The Restaurant

Posted on August 1, 2018

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.”

The Third Place – a Novella

Posted on July 31, 2018

Summer is as time for novels.? Two summers ago, I wrote a novel about a woman leader learning to deal with an Internet troll.? Last year it was about a young American senator taking on a president gone rogue.?And for this summer I’ve written a novella (defined as a short novel between 30,00 – 60,000 words – somewhere between a short story and a novel).

This past week I finished The Third Place– a story about an entrepreneur and his family who decide to use their business to support the dialogue of democracy and citizenship.? The protagonist is Everton Overly, who buys a vast older home in an old portion of a Canadian city and works to turn it into his dream of the Third Place.? He challenges his patrons to spend their meal times talking about community, shunning disrespect, seeking compromise, and assisting it during its recovery from difficult economic times. ?A chance meeting with a remarkable woman entrepreneur changes everything.

The term “Third Place” was developed by Roy Oldenburg, an American urban sociologist who, in 2000, talked about those places – third places – that are locations where people can escape the responsibilities and expectations of home (first place) and work (second place).? Third places are everywhere in our communities and perform vital democratic functions, though few recognize their usefulness in that fashion.? Stores, bars, coffee shops, hockey arenas, yoga classes, collective kitchens, houses of faith, markets, hubs of various kinds – venues such as these allow citizens to meet on an informal level and prove essential to community vitality.

Everton Overly decides to take his restaurant a step further, however, and challenge people to think about their shared public life and how to make it better.? On the back of the menu, he even puts some guidelines to go by to help with the process.? It’s a story of family, creativity, generational struggles, building a traditional gathering place in the era of the Internet, and ultimately about how to restore a city that’s been down and out on its luck and through a creative business mindset begins working its way back to a vibrant collective life.?The subtitle reads, “How One Family’s Efforts Saved a Community,” and that’s just about how it turns out.

I wrote about the Third Place in a column for the London Free Pressearlier this year and was captivated enough by Roy Oldenburg’s thoughts that I endeavoured to write a novella on what it could mean for cities like my own.

So, in an attempt to try something different, chapters from the book will be posted during the month of August on this site.? There are 22 brief chapters and they’ll all be posted by the end of August.? It’s a book about citizens and political renewal, not about politics and the intrigues that go with it, and serves as a reminder that when citizens decide to act together for the sake of their shared life, a meaningful community is inevitable.? Chapter One – The Restaurant– starts tomorrow.? In the book itself, it all starts with a quote from John Kennedy: “Democracy is never a final achievement.? It is a call to an untiring effort.”

The paper back ($6.99) – the cost of publishing – will be available shortly, as will a free digital download.? I’ll post the details when it’s officially published.

Summer Reflections – It Was Always Thus

Posted on July 25, 2018

In a column I’m writing for this weekend’s London Free Press, I talk about how people in low-income situations can’t actually afford summer. ?I stumbled across this article from the New York Times, written in 1860, just as the American Civil War was about to commence. ?There are a lot of similarities here and I thought it worth sharing. ?In some ways we’ve made progress, but not in others.

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Where the Rich and the Poor Pass the Summer

May 19, 1860

The season is fast approaching when our wealthy and fashionable citizens will, according to their annual custom, leave the City, and seek a more comfortable and healthy retreat in the country. And what, then, of the poor, whom poverty and the necessity of labor hold prisoners in the City through the hot and sickly season, to whom the spacious and airy houses that the rich forsake, on the comparatively clean streets, would be like so many palaces in Eden compared with their own miserable, crowded and stifling homes, on filthy streets and alleys?

It would be a wholesome thought for the rich and the families of the rich, who, when health, pleasure or fashion shall bid, can thus leave the City and escape to the mountains or the sea-side, to consider the condition of those they are leaving behind. Those inhabit the most filthy streets and alleys, from which, of all other places, it would be most desirable and most necessary to escape during the warm and sickly Summer. They dwell in the most crowded and worst ventilated houses; a whole family, and frequently more than one family crowded into one small room, where all must eat, cook and sleep, — often with sick children, and without any possibility of a circulation of air; and where, in addition to the sickening odors arising from the festering filth in the streets, and in addition to the burning heats of Summer, the air within is still further parched by a stove which must be kept hot for washing or cooking.

What a place to live — what a place to be sick — what a place to die in, is this! To these poor creatures what very paradises would be the homes and streets from which the more wealthy and fortunate escape.

Let any person of education or refinement, or one even accustomed to breathe an atmosphere of tolerable purity and healthfulness, leave Broadway and penetrate into the cross and by-streets and alleys; let him visit some of the worst parts of the City, and the most crowded and uncleansed; let him enter the houses, penetrate to the back yards, climb the filthy stairs; — let him do this at any season of the year, but especially on a hot Summer’s day; let him see and feel how the people live there; aye, and if possible, how they die there too; — let him breathe the air, loaded with the reeking stench sent up by the filthy and sweltering pavements and gutters, and the odors of human perspiration in the close and crowded apartments; let him think what it would be for himself, with his wife and his children, to live there, to be sick there, and to die there, “in that beastly degredation of stink;” let him look upon the sick child or the sick mother, tossing with fever and scorched with the fumes of a hot stove, and sickened by the odors of cooking; and then let him come away and say, if the have the heart, either by his words or his actions, by selfish arguments or cold indifference, that these people shall be left in their wretchedness: that they shall still be poisoned with filth and stifled from want of air; that ten thousand innocent and helpless children shall thus be slowly suffocated every year.

And will we leave those children and these people entirely in their helplessness, and go to our pleasant Summer retreats, wasting in fashionable display and luxurious living the means which might save some of them? — for they will not all wait for our return. Before the middle of September there will be four or five thousand more little mounds of earth in the adjoining burying grounds, covering up the victims of our cruel neglect.

Even in the absence of legislation something can be done; and much can be done by private individual or associated efforts. And if we felt upon this subject as we should feel, much would be done. Much has been done in England by private benevolence to improve the houses of the poor; to ventilate them and make them healthy. If we realized that these people are our brethren — if we, not in word merely, but in deed and in truth, loved our neighbors as ourselves, and acted as we would have other act toward us, were we in like circumstances, we could not refrain from doing something, and doing much. But what we do we should do quickly. Humanity cannot afford to wait. Disease will not wait. Death will not wait. The dying cannot wait.

“What they hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” “Work while it is day; for the night cometh when no man can work.” And when that night cometh, surely it will be something to think of — something to cheer the gloom, that we have saved some poor, industrious mother, and given her health and strength still to toil for her dependent t little ones, or preserved alive some helpless children, to be the future consolation and support of their aged parents.

E.Y.R.

 

 

Summer Reflections – Physician, Heal Yourself

Posted on July 22, 2018

For centuries the word “sabbath” denoted a time of religious retreat, but in recent years it has come to be viewed as a necessary time of retreat to recalibrate ourselves to face the pressures of modern life.

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” was one of the original 10 Commandments – the third on the list – but it was a concept practiced by other religions and cultures around the world.? For some that meant focusing on God; for others it was a time of healing.

It was centred on the idea that life during the week can not only drain us but also cause us to make decisions that in the long run are detrimental to our mental health.? There is the need to regroup, either with ourselves or others, to gain perspective and realign our minds and bodies with those things and principles that keep us in-tune and healthy.

The sabbath wasn’t designed to be a 24/7 exercise, but a brief sojourn for a few hours away from life’s normal pace.? While it might have a positive effect on the rest of the week, the day was meant to be a kind of “retreat” that was temporary and left the remainder of the week in place.

Kind of like summer.?Which makes sense, since most of us view summer as many things – holiday, rest, cottage time, travel, gatherings – all of which are brief in nature.? Traditionally, we view summer as 2 months out of 12 or a few weeks of vacation out of 52.? Yet, however we look at it, we tend to view the summer break as a form of turning away from the pressures of modern life by retreating from regular life.

There is a basic rule of these warm months that we tend to follow, even if we don’t recognize it.?Simply, we don’t want to live a normal life in such a season.? We are “normal” the rest of the time and because of all the responsibilities and demands that come with that normalcy, we seek occasions to escape it and become freer, more ourselves at peace.

None of us are normal or regular.? Those are modes we adopt to get along in the world – to work, play, be with family, fit into society.? But we are also unique beings who find little time to celebrate or pursue that uniqueness in daily living.? There are times when we don’t want to live like everyone else and the summer months frequently become that opportunity to break away and explore.

I read a phrase in a book years ago that has remained with me – displaced from normalcy.? This is what we seek in summer, though we often don’t envision it that way.? It is simply a time when we seek healing – physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, psychologically – and we have to depart from the normal activities to achieve.? That’s always a difficult thing to manage when we have to take some of those responsibilities along with us on vacation – kids, catching up on correspondence, visiting relatives, etc. – but we seek those freeing, graceful, moments nevertheless and in those brief periods we are confronted with one simple reality – ourselves.?There is much to consider in such moments, but the point is that summer has drawn us in that direction and we seek it for our own health.

We are set aside from normal activities during these moments and we discover ourselves seeking those things that truly matter and are consequential – healing, rest, forgiveness, being willing to forgive, physical health, peace, and sometimes spiritual fulfillment.? In such moments we become our own physicians because, in truth, in such dimensions we can only heal if willing to restore ourselves to our unique personalities.

This is the true “normal,” the real us and summer is when most of us have the occasion to seek it.?We may reject it, in which case personal healing proves fleeting.? But for those who embrace it in the healing rhythms and warmth that summer brings they discover their true selves emerging. ?In such instances, we are our own physicians.

I love this quote from Mandy Hale:

“You’ll learn, as you get older, that rules are made to be broken. Be bold enough to live life on your terms, and never, ever apologize for it. Go against the grain, refuse to conform, take the road less traveled instead of the well-beaten path. Laugh in the face of adversity, and leap before you look. Dance as though EVERYBODY is watching. March to the beat of your own drummer. And stubbornly refuse to fit in.”

The truth is, of course, that in ordinary life it is frequently impossible to live in such a fashion because of all that we have to do, to accomplish, to keep peace with others.?But in the summer?? Well, these are the days to live out what Hale has challenged us with, to heal ourselves and our world in the process.

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