I first encountered George Simon last fall at the Soulard Market. I’d come because my publisher told me George would be a good subject for The Colorful Characters of St. Louis. He was right about that. Now that the book’s out, I was hoping he’d come to my book release party on Sunday. For reasons I’ll explain, he won’t be able to do that.
“I got a bag of grapes for a dollar,” he said when I came to his produce stand in the market’s southeast wing. “We’ll give you two broccoli for a dollar,” he said, amidst the mangoes, bananas, eggplants, sweet potatoes, and zucchinis. His wrinkles offered hints that he’s worked at the market in eight decades and owned a stand there for six. His tone seemed gruff at first, but it’s quickly clear that it’s wrapped in smiles.
“I like people, to talk to them,” he said, “to make ’em laugh.” His voice was full of gravel and sounds right out of the Bronx. Actually, he started much farther away than New York City. Simon arrived in St. Louis from Lebanon in 1947 with his mother, father, brother, and sister. He immediately went to work at the Inserra Brothers’ stand at the Soulard Market.
He grew up to have gobs of kids and grandkids, all of whom worked at his stand. He was a textbook immigrant success story. So, sure, I hoped he’d come to the party from 2-5 p.m. Sunday at The Royale, 3132 South Kingshighway Blvd. But then I got the text from my publisher on Tuesday that George had died.The Kutis City Chapel was packed on Friday for his wake. Friends, family and fellow members of the St. Raymond’s Cathedral filled the place.
If there’s anything that the people I portrayed in my book hold in common, it’s that they all affected a lot of people. Every one, including George. We’ll remember George on Sunday, but I wish he could be there.