Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Turning Back Time

Sharon Wildwind

No, this isn’t a story about daylight savings time. It’s about a reunion that happened last weekend.

Thirty-five years ago, in a land far, far away, there was a wonderful restaurant called Stone Soup. The name comes from the European folk tale about a traveller who—with a little help—turned a stone and a pot of hot water into a meal. If you don’t know the folk tale, read it here.

Obviously, it’s a story about co-operation and that’s what Stone Soup, the restaurant, was about. A group of people who believed in community building and slow food (long before there was such a term) came together to make a difference.

The people who worked in this co-operative restaurant also owned it. They shopped, cooked, cleaned, invented recipes, dished out food on the serving line, and came in on the weekends to water the sprout jars. It was a business that did well while doing good.

Eventually they expanded into running a children’s shelter, created businesses devoted to baking and sprouting, provided a weekend-venue for live music, and had their own farm land, where they grew a good deal of the produce used in the restaurant.

Their original restaurant site had been a high school for African-American girls. The school closed two years before Stone Soup opened and the building had become a home for half a dozen social services, as well as a day care and a YWCA family life education program.

It was a worn brick building on the edge of the downtown area. The only drawback was a minuscule parking lot, so if you hoped to get a parking spot, you came at the beginning or end of the lunch hour, but not in the middle. The risk you ran by coming at the end was that your favorite dish might be gone. You might have to settle for rhubarb cobbler instead of apple pie, or chili in place of broccoli-chedder chowder. Some hardship!

The first of four Stone Soup locations

An uneven cracked sidewalk led down a few stairs and through a set of wooden doors. Serving line on the right, tables in front  and to the left. Wood paneled walls, big windows along one wall. Round tables, probably left over from when the building was a school. Drawings, quilts and a variety of bric-a-brac was attached to the walls. Huge ferns and spider plants were tucked into every corner. There was always music on the stereo, most days, light jazz or bluegrass.

Always something interesting on the walls

Food was served in brown earthenware bowls and plates, and the servings were more than generous. Two kinds of soup to choose from, built-to-your-specification sandwiches, lots of pies, brownies, cookies and huge cinnamon rolls. About the time I moved, literally, down the street from Stone Soup, and went from a day job to working the midnight shift—meaning I could go to lunch a lot more often—they started serving weekend brunches as well. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
I did a lot of writing there, especially after I lived within walking distance. The wonderful thing was that, already having my journal with me, a lot of notes about Stone Soup ended up in those journals. I’d originally planned to let my first set of characters spend some time there, but I realized that it was too magnificent a place to be relegated to the background. One day, I’m going to use Stone Soup, up front and centre, as the main stay in a mystery.

The past weekend there was a Stone Soup reunion. I wasn’t able to attend, but with the help of a local florist and the ability to add a PDF document as an e-mail attachment, I sent them flowers and a letter of good wishes. And I spend part of the weekend going through my journals and digging out old photos. It was a wonderful way to turn back the clock.

Part of the Stone Soup co-op, circa 1985

Here’s my advice. Even if you aren’t and have no desire to be a journal keeper, if you have a special place in your life right now, document it. Give it its own notebook. Fill that notebook with every detail you can. Take photos. Collect a ton of memories. In thirty-five years—maybe a lot less—you’ll find a way to use that material in a book. Don’t let it slip away from you.


Quote for the week:

My most poignant memories really revolve around just being a part of this amazing place. When I reflect back, it felt very much like working at a summer camp — hard work, incredible teamwork and feeling like I had a part in an amazing social experiment to make the world a better place. It was never really about the food — although the food was fantastic. To me, it was always about the idea of a very different kind of business, and I’m sure it influenced me greatly to spend the rest of my working life in nonprofits and in looking for work with meaning first, more than making money.

~Penny White, Stone Soup Cooperative member (quoted in the Asheville Citizen-Times)


JJM said...

Thank you for a lovely and thoughtful post. And, yes, gather memories as much you can -- as my parents always said, as long as you are you, the one thing no one can take away from you are your memories. (And that includes your education.)

There was a Stone Soup restaurant up in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. once, too -- a co-op, and vegetarian. (Possibly even Vegan, but I'm not sure we thought in such terms back in the 70s and 80s.) They had the most magnificent vegetable soup I've ever tasted. And then, alas, one day my mother and I stopped by again -- and they had closed. Your post brought back some happy memories of that place, and the meals my mother and I shared there! Thank you.
--Mario R.

Anonymous said...

You're welcome, Mario. It always seems the ones we like best disappear,

There was one, named Gobbles, in the city where I currently live. We loved it. One day, poof, up and gone.