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The Unstoppable Jennie Justo: Episode Ten

Episode Ten: Welcome Home©

What a ride. The train trip may have taken a day—a very long day—but the journey down memory lane spanned six long years. I’ve covered a lot of ground since my release this morning: Papa’s death, running the speakeasy, the arrests, that stronzo Roy.

I gather my things and pull my hat from the rack above. No official luggage; just the small cardboard suitcase I’d arrived at Milwaukee Corrections with.

I sit straighter, my heart thumping as the atmosphere inside the train car shifts from boredom and weariness to one of anticipation and excitement. I watch out the window, familiar landmarks marking my progress home.

We’re almost at the West Washington train station in Madison. Will Mama be there? Will she have come to pick me up? Or have one of the boys been sent to get me?

We’re pulling in. The scrapes and squeaks of an engine coming to a halt. The train’s probably as tired me. Is Mama here?

A rowdy and excited group of people are gathered on the platform. Someone important must have been on the train. All this time and I hadn’t known there was a celebrity traveling with us. Maybe I’ll spot some movie star when I get off.

It’s wild out there. Members of a small marching band parade about in sharp red and crimson uniforms. Banners and flags appear to fly over the heads of the crowd. The people on the platform sport the red and white striped letter sweaters from the University.

I slip on my coat, grab the handle of my cardboard suitcase, and join the queue of disembarking passengers. There’s a buzz in the air. Maybe others are looking for the movie star as well. I watch my feet carefully as I descend the narrow stairs onto the covered boardwalk. A porter takes my hand and guides me down the steps. I hear my name called. Hang on a sec. Is that Art?

Looking up, I laugh out loud. Tied to the top of a car is an old bedsheet. Someone has painted “Welcome home Jennie” on it.

Jennie? Me. This is for me?
This is for me.

Art scoops me up and swings me around, “Welcome home, Jennie. We missed you.” He gives me a big, sloppy kiss on the cheek.

Art is pushed aside and my brother Pepe steps in with a hug and kiss of his own. “Outta the way, big fella. This dame is my sister.”

And then suddenly, the crowd backs away and Mama is in front of me. She steps closer and tenderly takes my hands in hers. “Cara. Sono così felice che tu sia a casa. It is so good to have you home.”

I’m crying. Mama’s crying.

“Hey, hey, what’s this? It’s supposed to be a celebration, Jennie,” Art says. He picks me up and plunks me on the top of the back seat of a convertible. Someone hands me a large bouquet of red roses. It’s like being a beauty queen in a parade.

I laugh and wave as our noisy band of merrymakers winds its way from the station to Spring Street and home. People, curious about the noise, poke their heads out of doorways. They smile and wave when they see us.

The parade stops at our house. I head downstairs, Mama, the boys, and the crowd behind me. It is a moment when, holding my breath, I put my key in the lock and swing open the door. It’s been a long trip, but I’m home.

I hang my coat and hat on a hook behind the bar, tie on an apron, and look out over the throng. Art beams. Mama cries. Dom, Pepe, and Joe look thirsty. I’m home. Jennie’s is open. I’m back in business.

Author’s note of authenticity:

Jennie Justo and her family lived in Madison during the twenties. Carlo Justo (aka Joe Justo) did run the Regent side of town, and he was killed February 12th, 1923.

While it was never proven, newspaper reports from the time imply that it was a retaliation-hit. Carlo’s son, Dominick Justo, had betrayed his fellow bank robbers arrested for the March 12th, 1922 bank robbery of the Randall State Bank. One of those robbers, Tony, was the son of local Cosa Nostra leader, Paul Corona. The boys (Dominick was only 17) were convicted on October 22, 1922.

Jennie did run the two speakeasies and was sent to prison. She married Art Bramwell, and together, they ran Justo’s Club for 40 years, until the 1970’s, when it was bought and renamed Smoky’s.

A magazine described its success: “The famous and the infamous, athletes and stage performers, students and alumni, if they came to Madison, they came to Justo’s Club.

Jennie died in 1991. In her obituary, the speakeasy in the basement was described as one of Madison’s first and most popular Italian supper clubs.

Writing historical fiction is always challenging. A very good writer once explained that history was the facts and historical fiction was the emotion. Filling in the blanks, conflicting information, condensing a lifetime into ten short episodes.

I came across the little nugget of the parade welcoming Jennie home and was hooked. Answering the question “why” led me further into research and writing.

I’ve hoped I’ve been able to bring a little bit of Jennie to life for you. It’s an amuse bouche until the four-book series I’m working on is released in 2019.

The Bootleggers’ Chronicles are also set during prohibition and deal with bootleggers and a woman who seeks justice for the murder of a young boy.

That woman, like Jennie, is a woman of her time. The Roaring Twenties- a time when the rules for women were clear and made to be broken.


Sherilyn Decter, January, 2018

If you’ve missed an episode, you can get it here…

Episode One

Episode Two

Episode Three

Episode Four

Episode Five

Episode Six

Episode Seven

Episode Eight

Episode Nine