I have a sister from Indiana coming to St. Louis for cancer treatment. I think I have heard of a place in St. Louis that offers free lodging for such patients. Is that true? -- G.W., of Belleville
As I would imagine her oncologist is doing, I, too, can offer hope -- Hope Lodge at 4215 Lindell Blvd., just a few blocks northeast of the Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospital medical complex.
Built in 1995, the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge now serves more than 2,000 patients and their caregivers each year -- all free of charge.
It's a modern brick building with 45 guest-room suites. Each room has two twin beds, linens, bureau and private bath. There are centrally located kitchens, laundry rooms, community televisions with cable -- even a patio with gas grill for barbecues.
But the physical amenities are only part of the attraction. The house also offers monthly beauty-technique seminars, art therapy, Bible study, healing touch alternative therapy, nutritional support and gasoline cards.
The house is open to all cancer patients who are coming to St. Louis for outpatient treatment from more than 50 miles away. Your stay could last from within 24 hours of your first treatment to within 24 hours of your last.
However, considering there's only 45 rooms, space is limited so they can't guarantee you a room more than 24 hours in advance. Here's what to do:
First, tell your oncologist/doctor that you want to stay at Hope Lodge and have him or her fill out and email or fax a referral form. Hope Lodge staff will review the form and inform you whether you qualify for its services.
If you do, you would then call the lodge within 24 hours of the start of treatment to see whether a room is available. For complete information, call 314-286-8150 or search Google for "Hope Lodge St. Louis." A map and site link should pop up immediately.
If they're full, you might try calling nearby hotels to see if they offer reduced rates to visiting patients. The Parkway at 4550 Forest Park Ave., for example, offers a $105-a-night rate, a $34-$44 savings, but this, too, is based on availability.
In addition, the Fisher House offers free housing for military vets treated at the St. Louis VA Medical Center and the Ronald McDonald House at 3450 Park Ave. provides $5-a-night stays for patients 18 and younger.
For more information on these, go to www.fisherhouse.org and www.rmhcstl.com. And don't forget -- all of these organizations can always use your donations and volunteer support.
Jean Shepherd, who wrote the tale behind "A Christmas Story" about the boy who wanted a Red Ryder BB gun, also wrote a wonderful story about his father celebrating the Fourth of July. He got so excited and secretive as he prepared his big bang that, as best I remember, he blew the front porch off his house. I saw it on Channel 9 many years ago, but haven't seen it since. Is it available? -- Shirley Volkers, of Highland
Jean Shepherd sounds like a guy who started pulling pranks almost as soon as he started talking.
In his early days on New York radio, for example, he once raved about how much he loved the book "I, Libertine" by the 18th century author Frederick Ewing. Neither one ever existed, but Shepherd's enthusiasm created such demand in bookstores that it made the New York Times Best Seller list before the hoax was revealed. (He later teamed with sci-fi author Theodore Sturgeon to write the book.)
No wonder the 1983 holiday movie -- based on his book "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash" -- is such a classic. But he didn't stop there. The PBS series "American Masters" also featured other Parker-family escapades, including "Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss," "The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski" -- and the one you're asking about, "The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters."
This, however, won't bring a smile to your face: It doesn't appear the DVDs are being produced commercially. I did find one copy of it ($10) along with a 12-DVD collection of his work ($48) at amazon.com, but I can't guarantee the quality. (Read the descriptions.) So for laughs, you might want to pick up one of the late humorist's many books, although the movie "My Summer Story" -- a "Christmas Story" sequel with Charles Grodin, Mary Steenburgen and Kieran Culkin -- is widely available.
What actress once married Jean Shepherd?
Answer to Wednesday's trivia: In early April 1962, James Gabriel Jr.'s mother opened the last letter she would ever receive from her son. A member of the 1st Special Forces Group in Vietnam, James, 24, wrote that he had just received the blessing of his life: He was told he was going to be a father. Five days later, Gabriel was wounded in a Viet Cong attack. When he was unable to walk to a POW camp, he and another soldier were shot in the face and killed. He became the first native Hawaiian and first Special Forces soldier to die in Vietnam -- and the inspiration for Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets."
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call 239-2465.