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Glen Pearson

The Third Place (Chapter 4) – The House

Posted on August 4, 2018

There’s no better way to describe it: the restaurant just took off.? Dad had judged the public’s mood correctly and they flocked to the grand old house in the village, not to escape but to engage.? I never saw any analysis of this, but from what others said, conversation in the Third Place centered more on politics, citizenship, community responsibility and proper journalism than any other similar establishment.? I believe now, after the passing of a number of years, that father’s intention for establishing the restaurant had more to do with his view of integral community life than anything to do with just starting his own business.? There was a design to it from the outset, though I was too young at the time to spot such subtleties.

What I do recall from those early days was all the great food that found its way upstairs as the evening wore on.? Daisy and I would take our pizza, or garlic bread, or flavourful quiche, along with some milk or water, and make our way to Wonderland behind the attic wall and devour it as we played games or did some colouring.? Once we did a take-off on Sleeping Beauty (Daisy), where instead of the dashing prince (my part) giving her that legendary kiss, he brought her the most delicious plate of ravioli in the kingdom.? It was all great fun.

Within that first year, the Third Place was packed every lunch and dinner.? Dad didn’t do breakfasts back then, which allowed him to help Mom get us ready for school and to take on whatever other chores were required around the home.? But by lunchtime we would come home from school, sneaking up the back stairs because there were just so many people everywhere on the ground floor.

One time a journalist from the Toronto Globe and Mail?passed through on his way to another destination.? So impressed was he about the operation that he asked if he could interview Dad.? I knew he would decline, so when he agreed I was shocked.

“It’s our chance to tell others about why?we do things instead of just what we do,” he said in explanation.?I never understood at the time what he meant but it helped me to see Dad in a bit of a different light.

The Globe and Mail?story, when it came out a couple of weeks later, received a national audience – something Dad and Mom had never dreamed of but which only added to the allure of the Third Place.?The journalist was a seasoned writer who had emerged from a rural context and enthralled his readers with his down home, community-oriented writing style.? It was his firm belief that Canada’s greatest strength was in the quiet fortitude of its people and I think he saw in Dad the epitome of that.?Some highlights from his column:

As we sat in his fabulous kitchen, Everton Overly – “Ever” to his customers – seemed uncomfortable with talking about himself, embarrassed even.? Getting personal information was akin to getting a stubborn horse out of a corral.? That all changes when he describes what the Third Place represents, however.? “It’s a home away from home,” he begins.? “Our neighbourhoods used to be full of them, but when fast food places emerged and families rushed to the suburbs, citizens became increasingly separated from one another.? Public interaction now is more about agendas and haste than it is congeniality and reflection.”

Listening to these words, I found myself inwardly thinking: Is this guy for real??But of course he was, and the longer he answered my questions, the more assured I became that he was setting the table, metaphorically speaking, for Canada’s promise of coming together.? A land so vast simply can’t be held together by governments, travel amenities, or commerce.? It takes a people who want to connect to keep it together and Everton Overly might just be showing the way.

That Globe and Mail article ushered in many more from various media sources – each more interested in the purpose of the restaurant as opposed to its menu.? I think that it was this approach of Dad’s that drew people to the establishment.?They instinctively understood that he thought more of the sentiments of his customers than other places that wanted to rush them through and build the bottom line in the process.? One radio station noted that the Third Place was something like a town hall meeting with lots of hungry people but no particular agenda.

Neither Daisy nor I had ever seen our father like this before.? He was always just Dad – quiet, reliable, trustworthy.?Suddenly he was viewed as a community champion without portfolio.? Mom delighted in the success and energy of it all, but we as their children only understood that life had taken a new turn.

But as we grew older, especially in our high school years, it was becoming clearer to us that with all the big box stores, endless suburbs, countless cars and complexity on a grand scale, the Third Place didn’t so much cause people to hearken to the good old days of the past as it prompted them to start thinking of a different way of living the future.? Dad felt that the growing isolation people were feeling needed to be counteracted by opportunities to gather without recrimination or overt politicization.? Whatever the reason, or reasons, the restaurant became that kind of place.?That he was eloquent as to its purpose in the city provided numerous opportunities for media coverage.? More intriguingly, it raised interest by grassroots democracy voices, along with a number of researchers eager to explore how cities were changing and what they were required to offer local citizens to counteract their growing sense of alienation.

For all of these, including Daisy and me as we grew older, Dad offered common sense answers to what had become deep and complex interactions within modern society.?He was on the road to becoming a kind of folk hero for his ability to say simply what so many experts took great pains to make complicated.? He and his restaurant were becoming one and the same in the public mind.

 

Next chapter: Rules of Engagement

The Third Place (Chapter 3) – The Experiment Begins

Posted on August 3, 2018

Though we didn’t see Dad so much that summer, he was always with us in every sound of the hammer, whine of the skill saw, or whirl of the battery drill.? He came up for meals, but other than that he was always just 20 feet below us.

All this was kind of a revelation to us.? He was skilled with his hands in ways we hadn’t known, and whenever we journeyed down the stairs to take him some tea our just to witness his progress, he had always fashioned something new or ingenious to make the restaurant as intimate and sensible as possible.? He had the knack for styling and decor and before long it had come into shape.

His pride and joy was the ceramic oven which Mrs. Dawson had helped him buy for $70,000.? As long as a car, it stood on legs about six inches off the ground, was stainless steel, and had three ovens and three sets of burners for cooking.? It was a masterpiece and Dad always cleaned off the dust from his working every day before he journeyed upstairs for the evening.

For pizzas and baked dishes, he installed a kiln oven – covered with glazed tiles and sloped down from the top like an igloo.? Its chimney ran up through the ceiling somewhere but we could always smell the delightful aroma from the fire as he tested it.

One Sunday morning both Daisy and Mom were sick with colds, leaving Dad and I strolling to church together, our scarves and overcoats attempting to fend off the cold of that grey late-November day.? Such occasions I was to remember and cherish years later.

“So, what do you think of the restaurant now that it’s almost done?” he asked in a nonchalant manner.

“Well,” I began, attempting to appear thoughtful, “I think it’s beautiful, and I love that it’s in a house – our house.?But I love all the restaurants we go to – even McDonald’s.”? It likely wasn’t the best thing to say, judging from the silence that ensued for the next few moments.

“The Third Place will be different from all the others,” he said at last.

“Because of the food?”

“No.?It’s just that we’ll be practicing what the name suggests,” he replied.

That was beyond a ten-year old’s understanding, so I dug deeper.? It was only years later that I came to understand that this was a technique he frequently used to teach us some important lessons.

“I didn’t come up with that term – the Third Place,” he said.? “For a long time, it meant a place outside of the home or where people work where they could gather and just be themselves – a favourite place where they could relax.”

“Like Taco Bell,” I interjected, in hopes that he could tell I understood.? The grimace spreading across his face revealed my error.

“Well, places like Taco Bell and McDonald’s are called fast food places for a reason, Annie.? People just want to eat quick and get on with their busy lives.? Third places are where you intend to stay for a longer period of time to enjoy the food, drink, and especially your friends, coworkers, teammates or family.?I want our restaurant to give them a special place with the food they like.”

It had made a bit of sense at the time, though I liked hanging out with my friends at McDonald’s for birthday parties or after school.? But I understood what he was saying.? It would be a?kind of slower place, where people didn’t have to hurry off.

“So, home is the first place?” I asked.

“Right, and work is the second.? Our restaurant will be the third.”

I understood that part at least.

And by Christmas time Dad, with Mom’s help, was putting it to the test.? Opening day for the establishment was to be December 2nd – just in time for the holidays and the annual desire for people to break out of their normal routines.? Our house, located in the historic village portion, was in the middle of the main gathering place of our city.? Surrounded by great trees and gardens, the older district was nevertheless a favourite place where people bought homes, started businesses, held community celebrations, supported their schools and local library, and fought collectively to maintain its historic vitality and identity.? It was never referred to as a neighbourhood or district; it was the always “the village.”

We all came to understand why Dad chose to set up shop there: it had a built-in clientele and was located in an area where people were travelling to anyway, to enjoy the sense of community.

And come they did.? Our family, dressed up in festive attire after school, watched as Dad opened the front door for the first time.? We looked in vain at his countenance for a sense of pride at what he had done, but what we perceived instead was just a steady determination to make it work.

One hour later the main dining room was packed.? In the back kitchen the cooks had their hands full, but since their livelihoods depended on it they were possessed by a kind of happy optimism, knowing that the Grand Opening had indeed been grand.

Closer to Christmas, entire families and company employees came for the traditional holiday season specialties the Third Place was offering – not just turkey, but well-seasoned eggnog, gift crackers by each setting, tasty desserts, and even some homemade pies Dad had bought from neighbours.

Two things created a festive spirit in ways that nothing else could.? Instead of piping in holiday music over a speaker system, Dad had local musicians not only singing and playing, but leading the customers in celebration and singing.? And then there was the bare Christmas tree – a pine that smelled fantastic and whose tip come close to the ceiling.? In the local village magazine a few days before Christmas, Dad had asked people to bring their own decorations – something that was meaningful to them if they wished – and place them on the branches.? They were welcome to take them back following Christmas, or they could leave them and they would be on each successive tree over the years.? The most eclectic tree anyone had ever seen, it became an expression of the community’s good will, generosity and personal intimacy.

The Third Place was about to become the best place.

 

Next post – The House

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.

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