A new collection of essays from the New York Times bestselling author of Bad Dogs Have More Fun and Marley & Me.
John GroganNotify me of new titles added by this author
I was born in the Motor City--Detroit, Michigan--on March 20, 1957. My very Catholic parents were hoping for a St. Patrick's Day baby. Then for a St. Joseph's Day baby. I was having no part of it. Instead, I arrived on the first day of spring, the youngest of four. Not long after, our family moved from the city to the sleepy village of Orchard Lake, Michigan. My neighborhood was called Harbor Hills, and it is the setting for much of my new memoir, The Longest Trip Home.
The church was just three doors down--no coincidence--and my earliest memories are steeped in the fragrances of devotion: incense and sacramental wine, beeswax and musty pews. I was an altar server and later the office boy at the church rectory, where I earned a dollar an hour answering phones and doorbells.
Like just about every other dad in the neighborhood, my father worked with cars, as an engineer for General Motors. Mom was a full-time mother and housewife, and proud of it. When not cooking big meals or ironing our blue Catholic-school uniform shirts, she worried about our moral fabric and prayed a priestly vocation would be in the future for at least one of us. (Sorry on all counts, Mom.) She had a sharp sense of humor and a wonderful, effortless gift for storytelling, some of which she concedes wore off on me.
I got into writing by default because I was so bad at everything else. Algebra, geometry, French, chemistry, physics--they all escaped me. But writing, now there was a subject I could have some fun with. By eighth grade I was penning parodies of the nuns, and in high school, besides writing for the school newspaper, I started an underground tabloid, which earned me a celebrated trip to the principal's office. From there it was on to Central Michigan University, where I earned the princely sum of 25 cents per column inch writing for the campus newspaper while slugging away at a double major in journalism and English.
My first full-time writing job came immediately upon graduation in 1979, when I was hired as a police reporter for the small and lackluster Herald-Palladium in the Michigan harbor town of St. Joseph. I rode all night with cops, photographed murder victims, picked my way through smoldering house fires, and sat over coffee with grieving parents. I also summoned the courage to ask out a willowy and tart-tongued reporter on the staff whose name was Jenny.
In 1985, I won a fellowship into the Kiplinger Mid-Career Program in Public Affairs Reporting at Ohio State University, which would become my ticket out of small-town journalism. After earning my master's degree at OSU, I had the good fortune of landing a second fellowship, this one at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I gained a keen appreciation for an aptly named local rum concoction known as The Hurricane. Faced with the prospect of returning to unemployment and freezing temperatures in Michigan, I took a job at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. Jenny quickly followed, landing a position as a feature writer at The Palm Beach Post. I bumped my way up from a bureau reporter to metropolitan columnist, a job I found suited me better than I ever imagined any job could. Not long after arriving in steamy South Florida, Jenny and I married, bought a little bungalow together a block off the water, and brought home a wildly neurotic Labrador retriever that we named after a certain famous reggae star. At the time I had no idea our loopy, attention-deficit dog would someday provide me the inspiration to fulfill a lifelong dream of writing a book. Nor that that book, Marley & Me, would go on to become an international bestseller with some 5 million copies sold and be made into a motion picture.
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April 06, 2009
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