Maddy Sobel has had neither the easiest nor the healthiest life. The product of a mentally ill mother and a good-hearted but heinously negligent art dealing father—he relied on trace amounts of Valium and wine to sedate his two infant children when they accompanied him on business outings—by 13, she found herself homeless and battling severe drug and alcohol addictions.
It took decades, but through a combination of rehabilitation centers, artistic and culinary outlets and regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Maddy managed to turn her life around. She began aiding fellow addicts in their recovery through sponsorship and by sharing her story. “I’m not God,” she said. “I just pass on what worked for me.” This December, she will celebrate 16 years of sobriety.
But there have been inevitable residual effects on Maddy’s physical health. She has been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. She underwent treatment for a pre-cancerous tumor in her uterus. In 2008, while baking with her daughter, she suffered a stroke and blacked out for nearly six minutes. This summer, following a painful flair-up from the Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis that left her severely dehydrated, she lost consciousness while driving, veered across the double yellow line on Highway One and struck an oncoming vehicle. No one was injured, but both cars were totaled.
Maddy describes it like this: “Let’s say you bought a Rolls, and you drove it for a 100,000 miles but never changed the oil, never replaced the tires. And then you meet this nice mechanic and they start taking care of your car for you. But it still falls apart because of all the damage you did to it a long time beforehand.”
“My point is,” she adds, “I didn’t take care of my body. I didn’t know how. I took drugs. I drank. You do that for decades, you know, you do damage.”
There is a solution, at least in large part: an invasive, dangerous and costly intestinal surgery. Maddy has decided to go ahead with the operation, and is now trying to figure out a way to pay for her recovery. Each day of the ten days she expects to remain in the hospital will cost her $400. She does not want charity. Instead, the winsome, petite 47-year-old has decided to do that which she knows best: create.
Late on a Tuesday afternoon, as the sun streams in through one of many vibrant stained glass windows, Maddy cracks open the oven in her tiny kitchen and plunges a knife into a golden, sesame-crusted loaf of homemade zucchini bread. Not ready, she decides, closing the door and heading into the backyard to harvest fresh raspberries from her garden.
Behind every plant that Maddy cultivates there is a story. The raspberries were a gift from Susie Tompkins’s vegetable gardener. The wedding wreath bush was found abandoned in a trashcan behind the Bolinas nursery. The weeping mulberry was a steal at $1.99 from a catalogue.
And as evidenced by the 32 towered flats of jams and preserves, much of what she grows serves a purpose as well. Concord grape, chokecherries, five kinds of plums, blueberries and peaches—they all seem to find a place in a loaf or cake or Mason jar of some kind.
These items, along with numerous works of art that Maddy has created over the years and that line her living room walls—she is a trained and skilled illustrator—will be for sale in her home this and the following Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., as part of an open house fundraiser to help offset some of her pending medical bills.
“I’m not asking for handouts and I’m not trying to compete with the Bovine or anything like that,” she said. “Basically, what I’m asking people is that if you were going to go to Nordstrom’s and buy someone something fancy for Christmas, maybe this year buy them a nice mixed case of jam that’s been homemade, or a painting perhaps.”
Maddy remembers the exact day that she began baking. It was the day her father died, ten days before her twentieth birthday. “I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies,” she said. “I just didn’t know what else to do with my hands.” Ever since, she has found comfort in the act. And by giving away many of her goods to local non-profits and senior facilities, Maddy has also discovered a way to contribute to her local community. “I don’t have a lot of time to volunteer, so dropping off little treats is a way I can give back,” she said.
Through art and baking, Maddy is turning to that which helped her overcome numerous obstacles in the past to help her prevail over one more.
Maddy Sobel will host an open house, featuring fresh jam tasting, artwork, and her fruit and flower garden, on October 15 and 22, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Rain or shine. 11470 Highway One, Point Reyes Station.