My great-grandfather was Fritz Merkel of Peoria, Illinois. If you are really into mid-twentieth century duck decoys of the Midwest (and if you are, you are a lonely, lonely person) you may have heard of him. A few of his decoys are part of the collection now held by the Illinois State Museum. Fritz was an avid outdoorsman and he worked as a bricklayer. He built two houses that still stand today on Hayes Street. Fritz died when I was a baby. I have seen one picture of him holding me. I am slowly slipping off his lap. He looks happy.
For a long time I have wished I could have spoken with him. It would have been a hoot to ask him about his fly rod or his straight razor (both of which I now have). I have wondered if he had a German accent, though I don’t think he did.
And then about a week ago I realized that I can speak to him. Why not?
Enter: the fictional interview.
Over the last ten days I have written a four page interview with Fritz Merkel. I ask him all sorts of things about his experiences as a sportsman. I learn about those houses and about his and my great-grandmother’s relationship. It is a hoot. Fritz shows up on the page and there we are, in his workshop together.
I have no idea if he had a workshop. I took some liberties as I wrote the conversation but there is nothing there that could not have very reasonably happened. And this is fiction – the joy of it. There was never an interview with Fritz Merkel that I’m aware of, so this one, this one is the most factual one that will ever be. Fritz Merkel has made it onto the page.
“The sportsman smiles as I enter and offers me a stool at his workbench. Below tufts of white hair, he has deep wrinkles with a ruddy complexion, neither of which comes of sitting in an easy chair. He wears a well-used pair of carpenter pants, a jacket that is something between a sweater and a flannel shirt, and a leather cap that I begin by commenting upon.”
– From the opening of “An Interview with Naturalist and Sportsman Fritz Merkel”, By Dave Marsh