Sunglasses on and golden-brown hair flying, Melody Daacon – Mel - cruises along the streets of Kalamazoo, MI in a large green van. Wind whips through the interior, almost drowning out the sound of the old tape playing in the tape deck. Making a sudden turn, Mel pulls into the parking lot of Bacchus Wine and Spirits, fidgeting with her glasses, hair, and notebook. She is nervous for the cold call she is about to make to the store’s owner in the hopes of convincing him to stock her pickles, Veggie Bites.
“I’m always nervous for the first minute or so and then everything is fine,” she says of making cold calls, “sometimes if I’m by myself, I’ll just drive away.” This time, however, she goes in, introduces herself and asks for the owner. He’s not there but she gets a business card and leaves a few samples for him to try. The new owner is interested in local products, according to the ladies at the register, so Mel is hopeful she’ll get a call back.
Mel has been working with the small business, Veggie Bites, since shortly after she returned to Kalamazoo two years ago. A family friend, Ron, owns the business, but Mel does most of the day-to-day work; including marketing, going to farmers markets, and pickling vegetables. Mel usually pickles alone in a small room full of counters and several sinks. All of the vegetables are delivered from Russell Farms in Parchment; Veggie Bites is a local, Kalamazoo product and proudly markets itself as such. Bell’s Eccentric Café goes through six large buckets of Veggie Bites each week, pairing them with each of their sandwiches. Bronson Hospital also carries them in their cafeteria. Ron has been asking Mel to take over the business from him fully so he can move on, but she is hesitating. She isn’t sure if she’s ready for such a time commitment yet, or even if she’s ready to settle down.
Mel grew up in Parchment, a small town just outside of Kalamazoo. When she graduated high school she wanted to leave Kalamazoo as quickly as possible, attending Central Michigan University for a bachelors in health administration. There she met someone, the two started dating and were married soon after. Mel often drops this fact casually, with an “I was married once” and then moves on with the conversation. The two graduated and moved on to pursue higher degrees at Saint Louis University and eventually settled down in New Jersey.
After graduate school, Mel found a job working in New York City for the Health Department while her husband worked as a lawyer for a firm. Her experience at the Health Department was stressful and degrading. Every day she had to convince doctors to give them patients using all sorts of tactics, this is not what Mel had imagined when she said she wanted to go into health administration. As Mel gradually understood that this was not her dream job, she also began to realize that she and her husband were different people than they had been when they had met back in Kalamazoo. The relationship wasn’t working any more and Mel decided that it was time to move on.
The marriage ended and Mel realized that she had nowhere to go except to the place that she had so readily left 10 years before. She said coming back felt like, “being hugged by Kalamazoo,” it felt right. Two years later and now thirty, Mel is taking the chance to have more freedom. “I feel like I’m in a semi-transitional period…but it’s okay,” she says with a rueful smile. Setting her own schedule is something she was never able to do at the Health Administration and the change is freeing.
After the meeting, Mel hops back into her van, breathing more easily now that the suspense is over. She answers a phone call from someone asking about what grants the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail has applied for this year. In addition to her pickling work, Mel works part time for the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail writing grants and doing social media. She also does some bookkeeping for a local patent lawyer. Mel is a very active volunteer at the Kalamazoo Food Co-op and sits on the board of Fair Food Matters, a local non-profit focused on food sustainability and accessibility. “This is the kind of town where you can do that,” Mel says, “that” being the ability to be involved in so many things and being very connected to the community.
Although Mel seems to be loving life, there are outside pressures that worry her. “I think that there are expectations, maybe they aren’t spoken as loudly now, but they’re there. My mom sort of mentions kids, or just being safe, having a base for whatever you want to do. She never said ‘do this, do that’ but it’d be nice for you to have health insurance.” Mel considers that maybe this desire for a free lifestyle comes from her decision to settle down so early in life and trying to regain her younger twenties. “I think I’m trying to do both, I’m trying to be free and do what I want to do…and then also think about the future, in any relationship, and in being almost thirty this year. Family, do you want to start a family? Is it in the future? Well if it is then you have to have some sort of foundation before you build on that.”
Two weeks later and she still hasn’t heard from Bacchus, but sitting outside of Black Owl café, drinking an iced Sweet Matcha tea, she seems more concerned with her big life decisions than small losses. She’s made big decisions before, leaving her husband and moving back to Kalamazoo, but deciding whether or not to take on a new business or keep on in her mobile lifestyle makes Mel nervous. One thing does bring her comfort, considering a different outlook. “There are expectations from my friends, and that is just to be happy. I think I could be happy doing anything, and I just need to realize that.”
Intended Publication: Kalamazoo Gazette
Word Count: 1024
Intended Publication: Kalamazoo Gazette
Word Count: 1024