Big Money at a Cost

The picture above shows Darren Seals as a teenager in the 1980s. On page 128 of my book, Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades, he relates that he netted $3,000 or $4,000 a month selling drugs when he was a high school freshman. “I got clothes, shoes, jewelry, girls,” he told me. “If you want a car, you’ve got to get out there and do what you need to get it.” He was shot four different times after high school, but turned his life around and is now a mentor.

The book is available at https://merkels-books-and-things.square.site/

Remembering the Feasting Fox

I had special reasons to remember the Feasting Fox Restaurant.

Covering St. Louis’ South Side for the old Suburban Journals from about 2001 to 2009, I wrote about Marty and Sue Luepker, owners of the restaurant at Grand Boulevard and Meramec Street. I ate there and came to appreciate the fact that it was one of the last German restaurants in the Gateway City. Besides that, it was the venue for the launch parties for my first two books, Hoosiers and Scrubby Dutch: St. Louis’s South Side in 2010; and Beer, Brats, & Baseball: German-Americans in St. Louis in 2012. I’ll never forget the excitement of those first two events.

So I was saddened to hear that the eatery won’t reopen over the end of COVID.

“In 1993, we took a leap of faith when we decided to bring this historic building back to life and preserve a precious piece of St. Louis,” the Luepkers wrote in the restaurant’s Facebook page on Sept. 1 “.What began as a restoration project of the 1913 Anheuser-Busch Inn became an once-in-a-lifetime journey managing the Al Smith’s Feasting Fox Restaurant & Pub.

“COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of life and taught us the important lesson of slowing down to enjoy each moment. With the support of family and friends, we’ve decided it’s time to close the Feasting Fox and begin the next chapter of our lives,” they said.

I wish the Luepkers well after the closing and look forward to someone else reopening it.

My Life as a Country Boy

Me 1961-page-001 (2)
Jim Merkel around 1961 behind his house in Des Peres

For sheer chaos, few places in St. Louis County match Manchester
Road at Interstate 270. The West County Center, numerous
strip stores, office buildings and a mass of suburban homes in all
directions combine to bring more many thousands of vehicles a day
to Manchester just east of I-270.

Traffic is so great that eastbound and westbound lanes of Manchester west of the interstate separate, creating an island surrounded by congestion. People in the stores
and the Marcus Des Peres 14 Cinema go about their business in
the midst of the roar of vehicles just a two-minute walk away. But
not that long ago, it was quiet, almost rural. I know, because I once
lived in a house that today is within that island.
We moved there in the summer of 1956, with my oldest sister
Lois and my older brother Charles, around my fifth birthday.
Home was a one-story ranch house with white metal siding and
an adjoining two-vehicle carport on a dead-end street on the north
side of Manchester Road. To the east, the Manchester Drive-In
showed movies on the present site of the West County Center.
Behind our house was a barbed wire fence topped by an electrified
wire, formidable enough to keep horses inside and big folks out.
But I could crawl under it and wander through what seemed like
miles of trees and fields. In time, I discovered a quarry, perfect for
sneaking in with a friend and hearing the immortal words, “Hey,
you kids, get out of here!” I was on my own, to imagine all sorts of
wonders.
School intervened, and I attended kindergarten in the Mason
Ridge Elementary School on South Mason Road next to the
current route of Interstate 64. My teacher, Gretchen L. Kilpatrick,
wrote in my report card that “Jimmy has been a pleasure to have.
His sense of humour (sic) has pepped us all up at times. He tries
hard and is a good little worker,” But she offered a warning: “He
should work on his ‘scatterbrain’ forgetfulness though.” Nothing’s
changed. I’m still scatterbrained, and I still need to work on that
forgetfulness.
In first grade, the nuns at St. Clement Catholic School in
Des Peres had to figure out what to do with me, because my
parents were Catholic, and good Catholic parents sent their kids
to Catholic school. I paid great attention when the nuns instructed
me in the ways of the Catholic Church, including confession and
communion. I wasn’t sure whether my sins were sufficient for my
first confession, so I stole a nickel pack of chewing gum from a
store to make sure.

  • From pages 170 and 171 of Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades by Jim Merkel. People can buy the book by clicking here.

A One in a Million Coincidence

Copy of Page_178_Milo_with_Walker
Milo Marston stands in front of Dorothy Hunter’s childhood house, while holding a picture of Hunter and two siblings.  Hunter’s at the left. Hunter, the oldest person in Growing Up St. Louis, grew up in the 3800 block of Connecticut Street. Milo, the youngest person in the book, also lives in the 3800 block of Connecticut St.

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.

To buy it, click here.

A Safe Place for a Public Event?

Bobby Sweet holds plants he bought at the super clean Tpwer Grpve Farmers Market.

For months, I had big plans for April 12.

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.

With masks, Mark and Heather Stille show off produce they sell at their Pure American Food tent at the Tower Grove Farmers Market.

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.

 

 

The Post-Dispatch Reviews My Book

Cusumano
This picture from the Post-Dispatch review of “Growing Up St. Louis,” shows KSDK Sports Director Frank Cusumano at a news conference with Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. When I interviewed Cususmano for my book, Cusumano said he fell in love with sports when he watched Catdinals pitching great Bob Gibson strike out 17 people in game one of the 1968 World Series.

“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 Made the Cover of GO! Magazine

GOGO

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,

A Friend Listens Late at Night

 

KMOX-RyanW_775x415Had 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.

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