The picture show 8-year-old Madelyn Heim around 1925, just when she was going through a particularly rough time. Her father had just left her mother for another woman, and her mother suddenly would die. But happier times were ahead, as a Bevo Mill neighborhood family took her in. The family gave her a name – Pedrotti – and its Catholic faith. She speaks with joy about her life in attending the elementary and high schools of John the Baptist Catholic Parish.
Now 100, Madelyn met with me on Wednesday, Nov. 22, at the Fountain View Assisted Living Facility at Friendship Village in Sunset Hills. There to help was her daughter, Jenine Meyer. But she didn’t need any help remembering. Madelyn, whose last name is now Gaasch, is as sharp as someone much younger.
It’s hard to believe, but Madelyn is the 83rd person I’ve interviewed in my efforts to talk to 100 people about their experiences as youngsters in St. Louis.All of them have such wonderful stories. It’ll be tough, but I think I can finish by the end of the year. Then, at the start of the new year, I’ll write about what I found, for a book called Growing Up St. Louis.
Here’s your chance to buy one of the last copies I have of The Colorful Characters of St. Louis following the fire at the Reedy Press warehouse. Reedy will reprint them, but I don’t know when. So if you want to get a copy for Christmas, you should buy one of the 16 remaining collectors’ copies, shown above. Fortunately, you’ll have your chance on Sunday, Nov. 26.
I’m scheduled to sign books from 1-5 p.m. that day at Circa STL Restaurant & Tavern, 1090 Old Des Peres Road, Des Peres. But if you want to make sure you’re buy one, you really should get there closer to 1 than 5. You know what they say about the way people buy hot cakes.
Speaking of hot cakes, they’re on sale from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., when you should get in line to have me sign one of your copies. After that, you can feast on such fare as STL BBQ Pork Steak Dinner, toasted ravioli (of course) and a variety of beverages. You also can peruse the thousands of bits of St. Louis memorabilia on display, but only after you buy one of my books.
Various friends and relatives may have questions about how the fire in the Reedy Press warehouse affects me. Here’s my explanation.
All of my books were burned in the fire. I didn’t have insurance, but I and the other Reedy Press authors didn’t need it.
Let me explain.
They were our books, but they were our publisher’s books. We signed contracts with Reedy Press to write the books. They paid for editing, production and printing and then put the final product in the Reedy Press warehouse. They get their money from sales to stores, Amazon, etc. and pay us a royalty based on a percentage of sales. We also get money from buying our books from Reedy at a good wholesale rate and then selling them at presentations and signings.
I know this sounds complicated, but that’s how traditional publishing works.
Reedy Press took the loss. We didn’t. They’ve got insurance, although I don’t have all the details. We didn’t have insurance because we didn’t need it.
Back in 2001, I got insurance to cover the 4,400 copies of a book I was self-publishing. But this is different. We’re contractors, not proprietors.
Any loss for me would come from not being able to sell my books during the busy Christmas season and losing royalty money. However, Reedy is looking at doing reprints that may be available in January or earlier. I’m considering a way to limit that by selling gift certificates redeemable when the reprints come in. So my loss may not be too big. I welcome your prayers for all of us, including Reedy Press.
We’ve seen the movie. We know what happens next. But it’s good to remember this.
A businessman faces disaster, so much that he goes off to end his life. An angel-in-training intervenes and stops him and convinces him his life was worth living. He returns to see his many friends have restored his fortunes a hundred times over.
That conclusion of It’s a Wonderful Life comes to mind when thinking about the massive warehouse fire yesterday, Nov. 15, 2017 that destroyed the inventory of my publisher, Reedy Press. No, Reedy Press owner Josh Stevens didn’t go off anywhere, and there was no angel. At least any angel we could see.
But there is a similarity. I’m confident that Reedy Press and Josh Stevens will be back and bigger than ever because of their well-earned reputation for decency. I’ve known Josh since he brought me on board in 2009 to do a book about South St. Louis. Sometimes he’s aggravated me. Sometimes I’ve wished he’d be easier on me as an editor. But he’s always acted out of integrity. His definite ideas about how to build a first-class publishing company have always worked.
I see that in all the Facebook comments I’m seeing on Facebook from fellow authors. They’re full of love and willingness to do what they can to help a friend who’s down. Bank on this: that comes from years of doing the right thing. In this small town, you wouldn’t see that if Josh had spent years trying to get the best of people. I know his many friends among booksellers, the media and others are ready to back him. I know he’ll do the right thing in planning his company’s return. Two years from now, Reedy Press will be bigger than ever, and the fire will play a part of that restoration.
A scripture comes to mind: Romans 8:28. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Josh and all the workers and the authors in the Reedy Press can count on it.
I can count on it, too. I have 27 books for the seven signings and presentations between now and Christmas. I have none for next year. It would seem that an income source is gone. But I’m not worried. I’ll be back, and so will Reedy Press.
Up to now, you’ve been great. Whenever I’ve asked for help in finding people for Growing Up St. Louis, you’ve come to my rescue. Now I’m coming to you with two specific requests.
First, I’d like to interview someone 97 years old or older about his or her experiences growing up in St. Louis. I’d love it if the person is 100 or more. It would be nice if the person is a man. So far, just about everybody I’ve interviewed in that age category is female. We men live wild lives and tend to die out before we reach that age. So I’d consider it a pleasure talking to an older male. Obviously, the person should still be sharp. But I know there are people out there in St. Louis. You can help me find them.
The second group I need is people from 30 to 50. I have more than I need of people who are older than 50 and have almost enough of those who are younger than 30. But there’s a void in the middle. I need everybody, but especially women.
After my recent interviews at St. Louis Public Library branches, I’m nearing my goal of interviewing 100 people of all ages and backgrounds about their experience growing up in St. Louis. I’ve heard so many wonderful stories already. With your help, this will be a terrific book. Please pass this on to somebody who may be able to help. And please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of somebody with a great story to tell.
Valerie Schremp loved playing in the woods behind her home in Oakville. When her mother told her not to play in the creek in the woods, she naturally played in the creek. It was the kind of thing you’d expect from someone who grew up to be a journalist. Today, she writes as Valerie Schremp Hahn for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Valerie is one of more than two dozen St. Louisans I’ve interviewed for my book Growing Up St. Louis with the help of the St. Louis Public Library. During October, I talked to people who walked into open interview sessions at the library’s Buder, Carpenter, Schlafly and Julia Davis branches. Now, I’m about 22 people away from my goal of interviewing 100.
I interviewed Valerie on Saturday, Nov. 5 at the Carpenter Branch, as her mostly patient kids Alice and Leo waited in a children’s section of the library. I also talked to Mary Schroeder about going to picnics for Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School in Florissant in the 1950s. No matter who I interview, I always end as a friend. I think you will, too, after the book comes out.