"Sometimes a Story Falls in Your Lap"


I’ve just finished reading Rebecca Solnit’s memoir The Faraway Nearby, which begins with one hundred pounds of apricots harvested from a tree in her mother’s yard. Packed into three big boxes, these apricots introduce a book composed of disparate but interwoven memories that reveal how big and small events in our lives are interconnected.

At the heart of these reflections is Solnit’s relationship with her mother, who is afflicted with Alzheimer's. From storytelling to aging, and from family relationships to traveling, in The Faraway Nearby Solnit recalls a difficult year in her own life as she also explores aspects of all life—human, animal, and environmental. Sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious, the book is always compelling in its poetic prose and its honesty.



While reading the book I couldn’t help thinking about all the ways that food is central to our lives. The first and last chapters of The Faraway Nearby are entitled “Apricots.” Throughout the eleven chapters in between Solnit beautifully connects her one hundred pounds of apricots to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and a scientific report on moths, associates hours of apricot preserving to an Icelandic expedition and floating down the Colorado River, moves from her relationship with her mother to Virginia Woolf’s biography and a legend about an Inuit mother. If each of us were writing such a book, what would be the significant food(s) to bookend the stories of our lives? In what exciting and complex ways might food connect us to the world at large?


“Sometimes a story falls in your lap. Once about a hundred pounds of apricots fell into mine. They came in three big boxes, and to keep them from crushing one another under their weight or from rotting in close quarters, I spread them out on a sheet on the plank floor of my bedroom. There they presided for some days, a story waiting to be told, a riddle to be solved, and a harvest to be processed.”

—Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

My great-grandfather, Harold “H.B.” Matz, established and ran a roasted nut shop at 67 E. Broad Street in Bethlehem matzie.jpgcalled Matz’s Confectionery. He opened it in 1920, and my grandfather took over for his father-in-law shortly after marrying my grandmother in 1946. My mother was raised in the apartment above the store, as my grandmother was. When I was a baby, my mother often worked at the store, and I would nap surrounded by the aroma of peanuts heating in the No. 5 coffee roaster. It was a rite of passage for a grandchild to become old enough to work at the store. When I came of age, I spent every Sunday until my teens working at the store with my grandfather, siblings, and cousins, putting out the day’s newspapers and stocking shelves. My uncle ran the store until it closed for good a few years ago. The smell of freshly roasting nuts will always evoke feelings of family for me. Reaching beyond this personal connection, the history of Matz’s Confectionery is also a history of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century immigration, economic and industrial shifts over the past hundred years, changing aspects of the city of Bethlehem—such as the closing and reopening of Broad Street between Guetter and New in 1974, which was meant to preserve downtown businesses, but in many cases actually had the opposite effect, and modern eating preferences and local food production. This is the powerful connectedness that Solnit’s apricots reveal: the ways that food links us to different times and spaces, an evocative range of sensory experiences, and to people near and far. 


Food Co-ops increase our food’s potential for sustaining meaningful relationships: because co-ops are democratically run and member-controlled they are important community spaces; because they support local farmers and emphasize locally produced products, they keep more money in the local community while also having a positive global environmental impact as a result of recycling practices and decrease in food transportation distances. If one hundred pounds of apricots can inspire a book of such range, and a 1920 model peanut roaster made by the A.J. Deer Co. of Hornell, N.Y. can tell the story of four generations, the food offered by a community-supported cooperative market offers great potential for building community relationships and encouraging social responsibility in our home town.



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commented 2013-11-10 20:38:29 -0500 · Flag
Thank you, Erin!
commented 2013-11-10 19:16:50 -0500 · Flag
Beautifully said!