People say St. Louis is the world’s biggest small town. You’re always running in to somebody with a connection to yourself. I can believe it, after seeing one huge coincidence in the writing of my book, Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades.
I interviewed more than 100 people about their experiences growing up in St. Louis. They were rich, poor, black white, all kinds, really. One was Dorothy (Danner) Hunter, who was born in 1907 and spent her childhood in the 3800 block of Connecticut Street, south of Tower Grove Park. She was 109 years old when I spoke to her, and was by far the oldest person I interviewed.
The youngest was Milo Marston, who was born in 2008, 101 years after Dorothy Hunter. Milo also lives in the 3800
block of Connecticut, just a few doors from where Hunter grew up.
The chance that would have in a town this big? One in a million? But this is a one in a million book.
That was the date of the big Launch Event for Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades at the Central Library downtown. I expected to fill all 250 seats, with people I interviewed, friends and folks attracted by an extensive publicity campaign.
That ended on March 11, when we learned the St. Louis Public Library had canceled the event. Soon, numerous other events were cancelled. I’ve had 13 events cancelled through today, at bookstores, libraries, clubs and even a brewery. These events drive sales, so losing them hurt effort to sell this book.
I’m not complaining. COVID-19 has robbed people of jobs, businesses and lives. Besides, how can I gripe when we’ve gotten decent media, including a couple of great radio shows on KMOX and that marvelous cover story on the Post-Dispatch GO! Magazine? Besides, the book’s concept – telling the childhood stories of a wide variety of more than 100 St. Louisans = is so good that it has to catch on.
And places to sell will open up. I’d love to hawk my books there, as long as it’s safe. Make sure that everybody wears a mask and stays six feet or more away, and I’m ready.
I found one possible place today in the Tower Grove Farmers Market. I’ve sold over the years and always been happy there. Everybody wore a mask, and the place is spread out. To add to the safety, the number of vendors was limited in the circle drive at the center of the park. That means no artisans, which means me. But when they do open up, I’ll probably be there, as well as the other safe venues that come available.
Meanwhile, you don’t have to wait to get a copy of Growing Up St. Louis. You can buy one here. Meanwhile, for aspiring bookwriters, what you’ve read is an example of the truth that an author’s job doesn’t end when he or she turns in a manuscript. A major part, the selling, is just beginning.
“Remember the year school was canceled, vacations were postponed and birthday parties consisted of drive-by parades? Young St. Louisans will have vivid coronavirus tales to tell to their own kids and grandkids?” writes St. Louis Post-Dispatch Book Editor Jane Henderson in her review of my book Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades.
“But there have always been stories passed down, some about hard times, others simply about daily life,” she writes, before talking about the memories I caught in my book.
The review, set to appear on the front page of Friday’s Post-Dispatch Go! Magazine,talks about how I spent three years gatherig memories from more than 100 people who grew up here.
“From playing marbles to working in restaurants to losing family in world wars, St. Louisans spent hours recounting what they remember for his book,” Henderson wrote.re
The review, here., includes excerpts from several of my interviews. If that whets your appetite for more, you can buy the book here.
We got some good news. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is putting its story about Growing Up St. Louis: : Looking Back Through the Decades on the cover of its premiere weekly entertainment magazine, GO! Magazine. That kind of mention in the Friday publication is about as good as a book can get in the P-D. Post-Dispatch Book Editor Jane Henderson had some great questions for me when she interviewed me for the piece. I’m excited to see what she says. I’ll post the article when it comes out. Meanwhile, you can find out what the fuss is about by ordering a copy here,
Had a great time talking about my book last night with Ryan Wrecker, host of Overnight America, in the 11 o’clock hour last night on KMOX AM 1120. My wife liked it, which was good, because she’d tell me if it wasn’t. So did my former coworker Douglas Rowe, who is the only person I know who has worked for the AP and The New York Times. After listening by computer from his home in Manhattan, he sent me this comment:
I gave it a listen. Great job! I felt like I was listening to a big-shot author being interviewed in the middle of the night like in the Larry King radio heyday of the 1980s. Hope you sell some books from this guest spot.
If you want to check the interview out yourself, you can it out here. And if you want to buy a book, you can do it here.
I heard many stories, both happy and sad, when I interviewed more than 100 people for my book Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. The more someone told them, the more I knew they were prepared for a solid and happy childhood.
Annemarie Nauert is one of them. I met her at the Buder Branch of the St. Louis Public Library in October 2017, while I was interviewing subjects for possible inclusion in my book.
Annemarie is the girl to the right with all the red hair. Born in 1988, she told a story about happy times exploring a creek in the Crestwood Park with neighbor kids.
The majority of my friends that I palled around with lived in my neighborhood in Crestwood. We would cut through our neighbors’ yards, go up to their house and see if they were home almost every day after school.
Every day after school, we would pretty much spend the daylight hours together, and we had elaborate imaginary games that we had devised that kept us pretty busy. In the summer,
I know we spent the majority of the day exploring the creek in the Crestwood Park, climbing trees, playing games. My parents just encouraged getting outside and playing with our friends
You can read the rest of her story, along with the ones of more than a hundred others, in Growing Up St. Louis. To order, clickhere.
For the curious, I did a video in which I answered five questions about Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. I wasn’t able to answer the question: Why haven’t you bought a book yet? You can fix that by clicking here and buying one.
“My mother? She was a good lady, a hard-working lady, and my father was a nice, good man, too, at least the way I remember him,’’ Madelyn Gaash recounts in Jim Merkel’s recently-released book, Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades.
“I do not have bad feelings for him. Then he met this lady, and you know how ladies can be. He was with her and she was not going to accept just living with somebody. She wanted marriage, and that’s what she insisted on. So he asked my mother for a divorce, but she did not want it. And so he left her, which was awful—I don’t even like to tell the story.”
Then things got worse.
“I woke up one morning, and my mother was gone, too. They took her to the hospital, but it was too late. I was just eight years old when she died.”
After that incident in the middle of the 1920s, Madelyn Gaasch could have spent the rest of her childhood in an orphanage. Instead, an Italian couple named Elsie and Charles Pedrotti and took her into their happy home near the Bevo Mill. And that’s made all the difference for Gaasch, who was born in 1917.
Gaasch’s story turned out happy, but there also are sad ones, violent ones and stories of love in Growing Up St. Louis. Those who told their stories were black, white, rich and poor, representing St. Louis. Together, it makes for fascinating reading.
By far the oldest of the more than 100 people I interviewed for Growing Up St. Louis was Dorothy Hunter. I met her in the spring of 2017 in her room in the Meramec Bluffs Care Center, an assisted living facility in Ballwin. Born in 1907, the retired school teacher was 109, but had lost little of her edge. In a 50-minute conversation, she told about her strict upbringing in what’s now the Tower Grove South neighborhood of South St. Louis, playing tennis with boys in the Tower Grove Park and going to silent movies on Grand Avenue. I’m glad I recorded her, because she died just a few months later, at the age of 110.
Here are some of her recollections as recorded in Growing Up St. Louis.
The first thing I remember was when we moved to Connecticut Street from McDonald or McKee. I’m not sure. It was a bigger house, two blocks south of Tower Grove Park. We had three floors.
My father did not permit chewing gum. But when we went down to the station to see my uncle off to World War I, my uncle gave us each a package of chewing gum. A whole package, and we were in seventh heaven, and there wasn’t a thing my father could say, because this was a gift from a man who was almost at war.
It was either take the streetcar or walk. There was one car on Arsenal Street and one on Grand. I walked to the streetcar. One time I walked on the street car, and that was when I had passes up to a certain age, and the conductor refused to take my ticket because he thought I was too old. I wasn’t too old. I was just tall. Then I got off the car and got on the next car.
If I had to use one word about the way we were brought up, what my father believed in, it was moderation.