A Look Back – And a Look Forward


For our friends who didn’t get a copy of our Christmas letter by mail, here it is:

To our beloved friends and relatives, near and far, at Christmas 2017:

All kinds of things happened to us this year, but by far the best event was a doctor’s declaration that Lorraine suffered no damage from a heart attack in May 2015. During the attack, a major artery was completely blocked. Some of this good news is because she got to Barnes Jewish Hospital quickly and because of the top-of-the-line care she received there. We’re giving the glory to God for this unexpected blessing.  As Psalm 91:7 says,  “A thousand may fall at your side. . . .but it will not come near you.” Also, she hasn’t had an asthma attack since January. She’s had some arthritis pain, but is taking seniors pool classes at the YMCA which provide aerobic exercise without pain to her back or joints. Lorraine still does part-time home health care for two elderly men. She lost a three-year friend, Sam, who died in April 2017. Whatever the assignment, she makes friends, as she helps clients stay in their homes. Her duties range from playing checkers with a client to taking him on errands to doing light housework.  It’s the best job she’s ever had.

Meanwhile, Jim’s writing another book. Yawn. He’s finishing interviewing a hundred people, 9 to 109, rich and poor, black and white, about their experience growing up in St. Louis. The book about what he found, Growing Up St. Louis, is set for publication at the start of 2019. Jim was preparing for Christmas signings of his older books when a fire destroyed the warehouse of his publisher, Reedy Press. The loss of those book at an important time of the year was a financial hit at a time he should have been making money selling. Meanwhile, Jim dropped 30 pounds, as both he and Lorraine worked to keep weight off.

Several trips in August and the first half of September left us tired but nonetheless richly blessed for the experience.  After both of us traveled to Atlanta for his sister and brother-in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration, he went with his brother to Corpus Christi, Texas for their uncle’s 90th birthday party. After that, we headed north to spend a week in our favorite vacation place, Bayfield, Wisconsin and Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands. We finished our whirlwind travels with a jaunt to Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, where fellow church members Seth and Shannon Hein hosted us royally for the weekend. It all was wonderful but enough traveling for the year. We celebrated Thanksgiving at home with Jim’s brother Charles and plan to do that at Christmas.

Most importantly, we continued to grow closer to the Lord and Jubilee Church, which we’ve attended since 2014. The leadership and Bible teaching are excellent. We’re hosting a weekly community group, while Jim leads a group that cleans the parking lot before Sunday service. The community group helps us form family relationships within the church that help us follow Jesus more closely. Meanwhile, we are still leading a monthly church service at the Manor Grove Nursing Home. We decided not to bring a pet into our home this year.

We pray that this season you catch what it meant for Jesus to come to earth at Christmas. May you have the best year ever in 2018!.

Love at Christmas,


Jim and Lorraine Merkel

Last Call to Be in My New Book

I interview Alison Vedova for “Growing Up St. Louis”

Like a lot of youngsters, Alison Vedova helped her mom adjust the settings on her computer. The Webster Groves High School senior got a flip phone at 12 and a smart phone at 14, but only uses it in free time. “A lot of teachers will take your phone away if you have it out,” she told me in an interview at the Hartford Coffee Company in the city’s Tower Grove South neighborhood. The day she spoke about what it’s like to be a high school senior these days, she revealed some good news. That morning – Dec. 16 – she learned she’d received a $21,000 scholarship to attend Loyola University.

Alison will be one of at least 10 people who will represent those who were still growing  up after 2000 in my upcoming Reedy Press book Growing Up St. Louis. My friends, fans and regular readers will recall that I’m interviewing at least 100 people,  9 to 109, fortunate and unfortunate, black and white, about their unique experience of growing up in the Gateway City. I don’t want to leave anybody out of this sweeping look at the lives of kids or teenagers here since 1900.

I have less than 10 interviews to go, and I’m looking for your help to get them. If you’re younger than 32 or from 45 to 52, I may want to quiz you  for the book. Please e-mail me ASAP at southsidemerkel@gmail.com. I can’t wait to talk to you.

Your Chance to Help Reedy Press

Goodness Gracious, I’m on the Program, Too.

You’ll have to listen to me talk, but sometimes we must sacrifice.

The opportunity to reboot Reedy Press after the recent warehouse fire will be the “Reedy Press Reboot” — what else? – from 6-9 Monday night at the Duck Room of the legendary Blueberry Hill, 6504 Delmar Boulevard in the Delmar Loop,  For a $20 ticket,  which you can buy on the web,  you can eat some yummy hors d’oeuvres, preorder books when they’re reprinted and listen to some great entertainment.

Every penny raised will go for reprinting Reedy books. It’ll be great, and the only place to be on Monday. Maybe even Beatle Bob will show up.

The big item of the night will be STL Stories at 7, in which a dozen or so Reedy Press authors from the Gateway City share stories about these parts. Eleven will be great. I’m not sure how good the 12th will be, because it’s me.

I’ll more or less share the epilogue from my book, The Colorful Characters of St. Louis, “My Wasted Life as a Writer.” In it, I explain why I think Reedy Press Publisher Josh Stevens wanted me on the list of local colorful characters. Thankfully, there’s a cash bar, because you’ll want to run there after you hear me.

This Whole Thing Stinks

Here, I’m holding my last book shortly before sonebody bought it on Dec. 2

I’ve never liked the word “bittersweet.” But in this case, the word fits like no other.

Saturday afternoon I sold my last copy of The Colorful Characters of St. Louis at the Tower Grove Farmers Market Artisan Holiday Market. I laughed as I signed the book for the buyer, Anne Horton, with a notation that she now owned my last book. We laughed again as she took a selfie with me and the valued collector’s item. But after she left, I considered this new reality for Reedy Press authors after the recent warehouse fire.

I canceled a signing on Sunday and will cancel two more between now and Christmas. I’ve turned down two other invitations to Christmastime signings. I won’t have to cancel invitations to two programs at the start of the year, nor to one this week, because I don’t have to bring books.  I’ve always used those holiday sales to pay off end-of-year bills. But without books, I’ll end the year several hundred dollars poorer, Plus, I won’t get royalty payments for December a few months from now, because Reedy won’t have any of my books to sell. I’m not sure when I’ll get reprints. There’s a chance some bookstores will send back copies of my books they couldn’t sell, which I could buy. But just a chance.

Most likely, this will be the first time since the fall of 2010 that I haven’t sold books, particularly during the Christmas season. The fire put this tiny shopkeeper and dozens of others out of business, at least for now.

I believe in the power of prayer and have confidence God will work this situation out for the good. It doesn’t take faith  to believe that a revived Reedy Press will benefit both Reedy authors and the reading public. I’m looking forward to attending the Reedy Press Reboot Dec. 11 at Blueberry Hill. It’s sure to new the soul of an author like me. You mean you haven’t bought tickets? Dad bum it, click these blue letters, and buy ’em before they’re gone.

Besides, without the bother of sitting for hours at signings, I can finish doing interviews for my next Reedy Press book, Growing Up St. Louis.

It’s all true, as is the fact that lots of victims of more serious disasters have it much worse. I’m sure the people at Reedy Press are among those who have it worse than I do. But it doesn’t change the fact that the whole situation is pretty depressing. It goes against my nature, which says we always should look at the sunny side of life. But it’s the truth.

In this selfie, I hold my last copy of The Colorful Characters of St. Louis, right after Anne Horton (left) bought it from me.