We called it the Mental and thought nothing of it. No more than
eeny, meeny, miney, mo and who we were supposed to catch by the toe.
Wish Mooney’s earliest memory
in life is finding a corpse in the Waterford River. Jarring stuff for a four-year-old,
yet far from the most shocking or bizarre he would witness growing up in west
end St. John’s next door to the Waterford Hospital. Or, as it was unabashedly
labelled before the advent of political correctness: the Mental.
An unfortunate moniker, but
one legitimately derived from the original name of the place—the Hospital for
Mental and Nervous Diseases—when it opened in 1854. Not until 1972 would it be
renamed after the river that runs by it. But in Mooney’s world, which revolved
mostly in and around the asylum’s drab, depressing confines in the mid-1970s,
it was colloquially the Mental, just as its largely despondent inhabitants were
the mental patients.
Thus was the oft-surreal
environment that unavoidably enveloped Wish and the rest of the Irish Catholic
Mooney clan, including the quietly acknowledged other realities of the
place—the sad, the tragic, the maniacal. Little did Wish ever consider that any
or all of that would come full circle later in life when, as the court reporter
for the Daily News, he would be thrust into the middle of his own life
story, replete with shocking conclusion.