Jude Mooney: Man and Legend
The character of Jude Mooney appears in several of my novels. In From Ice Wagon to Club House, Jude works in Storyville as a young man, drives an ice wagon, fights in WWI, and bootlegs during Prohibition. He also trains prize-fighting boxers as well as race horses. In The Progeny, Jude has settled into a legitimate businessman whose children then face the turmoil of WWII. Where did I create a character like Jude Mooney? Well, except for differences, my father also did many of the things Jude did.
I wrote my novel Love at War when I read letters my mother’s brothers’ had written home after WWII. I wanted to tell the story of that time and honor that generation. The family in that novel is not mine, but they possess many characteristics that are like mine. In fact, some of my relatives embroiled me in a debate over the gravy Grandma Viola used for her Sunday dinner. Some argued it was red gravy, others brown. As I said, some scenes resemble my own family quite a bit.
I then decided to write the story of my father’s generation. My father, Sam, was much older than my mother. She was his fourth and last wife. He said that life was never so sweet as with her. So—who was this man, the model for Jude Mooney? Like Jude Mooney, my father started his life driving an ice wagon. At the turn of the 20th century, families still had “ice boxes,” not refrigerators. My grandmother called the refrigerator an “ice box” her whole life. My dad was from a poor New Orleans family, very like Jude’s. He knew Storyville in its heyday. He also bootlegged during Prohibition. His first wife had died of tuberculosis during the Depression. Like Jude Mooney, my father’s brother had committed suicide after a scandal. The Depression saw him responsible for a young son as well as his widowed mother and an unmarried sister. When he and his best friend decided to bootleg, his mother said, “Your father would roll over in his grave if he thought you were doing anything illegal.” My father replied, “My father would roll over in his grave if he knew we were starving.” I recreated that scene in Ice Wagon. The conversation was legendary in the family. After Prohibition, my father opened a bar with that best friend. They also worked together promoting professional boxers; later, my father branched out into the horse racing business and worked as a bookie.
Sam died when I was almost twelve. When he met my mother, Sam was still a bookie. My mother would tell her nieces and nephews “Never answer the phone!” After all, that was business and not for children’s ears. Sam also had a very old-fashioned, even chivalrous, attitude toward women. He gave up the booking business when I was born. He had a little girl and wouldn’t disgrace her by spending time in jail. I carried this sentiment into The Progeny, when Jude becomes the father of precocious Aoife.
Jude would do anything for Aoife—or any of his children, and Sam would have done anything for me or for my wastrel half-brother. When I was about three, I had a little dachshund I adored. One day, a horse kicked her when she was snooping in a stable. My father rushed her to a veterinarian while I stayed home to wail in my mother’s arms. My little pup died on the way to the veterinarian, but my parents didn’t tell me that. They said she was recovering at the doggie hospital, and my father then began a search for a dog that looked like mine. We lived in New Orleans, and after seeing many dogs he didn’t think looked enough like my sweet girl to pass as my dog, he finally found a puppy in Baton Rouge that looked enough like her to fool me. My mother told me that the dog had lost weight, and she would look smaller. (Remember I was three and very naïve). Later that day, Sam handed me another precious dachshund. That memory stays with me and always reminds me of just how far my father would go to spare me hurt. My father and my mother were much better parents than I deserved.
Rest in peace, Sam. I wish I’d had you longer.