John Grogan Author of
Marley and Me
Photo © Adam Nadel
I was born in the Motor City, Detroit,
Michigan, on March 20, 1957. My parents
were hoping for a St. Patrick's Day baby;
damn, three days late. My life story. I
was the youngest of four in a very, very,
very Catholic family. 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.
John Grogan
Copyright 2016 © Barry M. Baker
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 just for fun, 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 twenty-five 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 laughably 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 and who
eventually would become my soul mate,
lover, and wife, in that order.

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 immense good fortune of landing
a second fellowship, this one at the
Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a
journalism think tank 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 or staying in
Florida to soak up more rays and
Hurricanes, 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 a projects writer and, finally,
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 who 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.

Unable to leave well enough alone, I quit
the Sun-Sentinel in 1999, walking away
from my beloved column writing to try
my hand as editor-in-chief of Rodale's
Organic Gardening magazine. As my
friend David Beard at The Boston Globe
put it at the time, “An interesting, if
rather unorthodox, career move.” What
can I say? I had this crazy dream of
making my hobby my job and my job my
hobby. Big mistake. I learned the hobby
ceased to be fun and the job ceased to
be rewarding. A little more than three
years later, missing newspapers and
column writing more than I thought
possible, I jumped at a chance to join
The Philadelphia Inquirer as the paper's
three-times-a-week Pennsylvania
columnist, where I happily remained for
more than four years. Perhaps almost as
importantly, gardening is fun again.