Baton Rouge, Summer of 1976

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:1-4

About a month or two after I leave the hospital, when I no longer wear a turban and most of my hair has grown back, I’m sitting on my couch and watching Saturday afternoon television with Craig Black. He jokes that we live in a Black and White household. I think he’s talking about the television and I say yeah, it’s a black and white house, not like the big color TV at the hospital.1 He remains transfixed on television and doesn’t respond. We watch Batman and The Lone Ranger together – the old black and white versions, though I didn’t know any better back then – and I wear my utility belt and make a pistol with my fingers and pretend to shoot at bag guys on TV. When it’s over and before boring news begins, I get up and walk to the kitchen.

Linda is standing in front of the stove. She adds milk to the pot of mac and soon-to-be cheese, pours in the packet of orange powder, and stirs with a wooden spoon. PawPaw calls out from the bathroom, where he sometimes sat on the porcelain throne, waiting for a poop, and perhaps finding the only spot in our tiny home where he could repose quietly. Linda sets down the spoon, picks up PawPaw’s pack of Camels from the cluttered kitchen table, lights one, takes a short drag to flame the tip, and hands it to me. The smoke curls up and reaches into nostrils, and I almost gag. It’s not like wood smoke, it’s more like smoke from when PawPaw pours diesel on a fire-ant mound, sharp and harsh and biting. I move the cigarette away from my face, holding it upright, pinched between my right thumb and forefinger just above the little printed camel. My other fingers are stuck out, making my hand look like a sideways okay sign that’s holding a smoldering twig. I’m barely pinching it above the little blue printed camel, careful to avoid crumpling the soft paper that lacks a filter. But not too loosely, because I don’t want to drop it and add more burn marks to the pot-marked linoleum. I walk across the kitchen towards the bathroom, as focused as a juggler crossing the stage with plates spinning atop tall poles.

I stop in front of the big hallway mirror with the Camel smoking in my right hand like a steam pipe on a train engine, and I peer at my hair. The bandage has been off for a couple of weeks, and my hair has grown back to a fuzzy ball that makes my head look like a maroon colored chia pet. I drag my left hand across the top. It’s soft and tickles my palm, and it pops back up when my hand moves away, just like the tall weeds I brush when walking along Foster Road with PawPaw. I hold the cigarette motionless and slightly above my nose level so that the smoke doesn’t bother me. I stare at myself staring at myself holding the cigarette. I’m a handsome kid, I think, like MawMaw and Debbie say I am. My dad says I’m grown up enough to make my own decisions. He’s handsome – at least, that’s what I’ve heard some of the women at Brian the one handed drug dealer’s house say – and everyone says I look just like him, so it’s confirmed: I must be handsome, too. I also think I look grown up holding a cigarette, especially with a big scar like my dad’s leg scar. I twist my head again but still can’t twist and stretch enough to see my scar, but I know it’s there. I stare back at myself, and without knowing why, I rotate my wrist and take a drag from the Camel. Instantly, I’m coughing and hacking and almost drop the cigarette onto the pot-marked linoleum, but I hold on tightly – though not too tightly – and focus on not dropping it while I cough and cough and cover my mouth with my free hand.

“D’at you, Lil’ Buddy?” PawPaw calls out from his throne. His voice is all-knowing, mischievous, and playful. There’s no fooling PawPaw: he knew what I had done.

I’m coughing and can’t answer. I turn around and push open the door and hold out the cigarette for him to take from his seat on the throne. He chuckles and takes it and reminds me that cigarettes are only for grown ups, and I have a ways to go. I walk back to the kitchen, wanting some milk to wash away the scratching in my throat. Linda says something about me learning a lesson, pours milk, and goes back to her and Craig’s bedroom. MawMaw comes out and chases me and gives me some shugga’ and a plate of cookies and a small glass of milk with some cartoon character on it that I don’t recall. She scoots me to the table to play with my train. I see her turn and take up Linda’s job of stirring the mac and cheese, and I hope we have fish sticks with dinner, piled with ketchup the color of my hair. I put on my Lone Ranger cowboy hat and move my trains around for a while, making little train noises like the mouse with a motorcycle made to move his motorcycle; in my mind, I’m a little conductor and the train is moving to the beat of my rumble. When PawPaw’s out of the bathroom, I go in and wipe off my milk mustache and the red shugga mark that MawMaw had snuck in and smacked on my cheek.

I walk out and hear the sound of gravel crunching. A rumbling truck engine turns off. MawMaw steps away from the stove and turns to the carport door. She parts the drapes blocking the small window on the top half, and frowns.

“Hmmph!” She mutters. “Ed, she says in her loud serious voice, you better come in here.”

She steps towards me on the far side of the cluttered kitchen table and wraps an arm around my shoulders. A fist pounds on the door; it seems to buckle inward with each rap, and the window panes rattle like when a jet airplane passes over. PawPaw opens the door and immediately says: It ain’t your day, Ed.

“I don’t care what day it is!” My dad’s voice booms. Like PawPaw’s truck, his reaches into your chest and clenches your lungs and makes you pay attention.

“Ed, please,” PawPaw says in his serious voice. “Next week. You know d’ rules.”

“Goddamnit, he’s my son, and I’ll see him whenever I want!” He pokes his head inside from a spot by the window above PawPaw’s head and gets eye contact with me, and sticks arm arm through. It’s holding one of the fancy paper bags with a rope handle from Cortana Mall. He says in a softer voice, “Hey Justin – goddamnit, I mean Jason – I brought you something. Do you want to see it?”

PawPaw sees me looking at my dad with anticipation, and he steps aside without saying anything. MawMaw lifts her arm and I rush to my dad. He steps inside between PawPaw and me and kneels down and looks at the bag and smiles sheepishly. He says, “I think this is what you wanted.”

I peer in the bag, and it’s a Stretch Armstrong! I exclaim something and pull the unopened box out of the fancy bag. I see the green face and pointed ears and bald head, and instantly tell him it’s not Stretch. Stretch looks like Keith, with white skin and blonde hair and big muscles. This one’s Evil Stretch, the green villain with ears like Keebler elves; his ears were the giveaway, because though I had seen him green on the hospital’s big color TV, he was light black on our small box. It’s hard to hide those ears, no matter what color he was. Even though he’s Evil, I know he still stretches, so I’m happy and I fumble with the box, trying to open it. My dad says we can go to the mall next week and I can pick out what I want. I’m stoked! That means I’d have Stretch and Evil Stretch! He asks if I’d like that, and I exclaim yeah!

“Okay Ed,” PawPaw says. “Thank you for d’ gift, he says, but you know d’ rules. You gotta go.”

My dad stands up and towers over us and booms, “Fuck the rules!” He tells PawPaw again that he’s my father and can see me whenever he wants.

Please, Ed, PawPaw says. Next week.

MawMaw moves to his side. I keep fumbling with the box. Shouting doesn’t bother me. Calm at the helm of a ship, PawPaw would sometimes say of me whenever my dad and him spoke in serious voices. PawPaw says he tries to stay calm when a hurricane’s blowin’ over trees, that’s he’s waitin’ and watchin’ for things to settle down before stepping out to help, and he learned that from me. I wait, but I’m growing frustrated at my box despite trying to stay calm about it.

My dad steps towards PawPaw and pokes his finger down and says, “Look here, Ed. He’s my son. I don’t care what the fuck Judge Pugh said. He’s dead now. Fuckin’ idiot shoulda never did what he did. Justin’s my son, and I’ll see him whenever I want!”

He pokes his finger into PawPaw’s chest to emphasize that he does whatever he wants whenever he wants, and PawPaw stumbles backwards. He catches himself against the counter where we eat breatkfast, rights himself, and says, “Ed, you got to go.” My dad stands his ground, narrowing his eyebrows and shooting lasers of will power at PawPaw.

MawMaw moves by my side and puts her arm around me again. I’m focused on that box and about to loose my cool. I wish had a knife.

My dad booms some explicatives that I don’t recall, and Linda and Craig walk into the kitchen and stand between MawMaw and PawPaw. Craig’s almost as tall as my dad, but so thin he seems smaller than PawPaw. Linda tells my dad to leave. My dad inflates his chest and stands tall. Craig has his stoned eyes and stares at my dad but says nothing. My dad brushes Craig aside as if he were a blade of grass blocking a path, and reaches down and grabs my right arm and yanks me closer; but MawMaw clings to my other arm and I jerk to a halt. My dad pulls again, and Evil Stretch and I are lifted in the air between MawMaw and my dad. I’m taller than PawPaw now. My dad’s hand is a vice grip on my upper right arm, the one cradling the box, and MawMaw’s two hands are wrapped around my left wrist. I’m stretched between them like two kids stretching Stretch Armstrong on TV.

Linda lurches to MawMaw’s side and grasps my forearm and I feel a stab of pain. I break my calm and cry out, but no one seems to hear. Everyone except Craig is shouting something. PawPaw steps towards my dad, and my dad shoves PawPaw with his free hand. PawPaw flies backwards, and Linda lets go of my arm and leaps onto my dad. My dad shoves her away. PawPaw lurches between Linda and my dad, and says in the loudest voice I would ever hear him use that he’ll call the police again. My dad shouts something so loud that my chests clutches my lungs and I can’t breath; that shout must have woken up the baby, and her shrill cry echoes through the kitchen and drown out even my dad’s shouts.

Linda rushes towards the bedroom. Craig strolls after her. The kitchen is quiet except for the baby’s crying and my sobbing and PawPaw’s panting. He takes my arm from MawMaw and holds my hand. My dad lets go of my arm. Everyone stand there for a few moments. The baby stops crying.

“Let me say goodbye to him outside,” my dad says.

“Five minutes,” PawPaw says, breathing normally now. “Stay in d’ carport.”

I hold up my left arm and tell all of them that it’s bleeding. MawMaw says someone’s fingernails must have scratched it. She says she’ll get a Band-Aid and bring it out to me. My dad reaches down and I take his hand and stifle my sniffles; no one likes hearing a baby cry. We step into the carport and my dad picks me up and sets me down on the hood of MawMaw’s car. PawPaw closes the door but keeps it cracked with a peeking-sized gap. The crickets are chirping, unfazed by the commotion. Calm in the storm. I still have the box with Evil Stretch. My dad kneels down and his eyes are just barely below my nose. His long straight black hair is matted. He smells like swamp and pot. He looks up at me with our dark brown eyes and smiles.

“You know I love you, son? Right?”


“Do you love me?”


His smile widens and his eyes soften. He whips out his big Buck folding knife and effortlessly slice open the box and pulls out Evil Stretch. I pull him out and instantly try to stretch him. I can’t. My dad takes him and stretches him farther than I had been stretched a few moments before, and says that one day I’ll be big and strong, just like him.

MawMaw steps out with a Band-Aid and we fret over getting it just right. I like wearing bandages, because people see them and tell me how brave I am. I was an expert on bandages by then, and I knew which angles stayed on the best. We get it just right. MawMaw says I’m brave or strong or calm or something like that, and I beam. She walks back inside and leaves the door open a bit wider; I can see the kitchen counter now. I hear her and PawPaw talking, but can’t make out the words. My dad tells me next week we’ll go to the mall and get whatever I want. I say something about Stretch Armstrong and ice cream and the horse merry-go-round, and he says of course, I’m his son, and he loves me.

MawMaw comes out with a plate of cookies and tells my dad he can take one to go. PawPaw is standing in the doorway, a few inches taller because of the step up, but still tiny compared to my dad. My dad takes a cookie and asks if he can show me his dog in the truck. PawPaw says yes, and he and MawMaw wait by the door and I take my dad’s hand and carry Evil Stretch to his truck. He opens the passenger door and a big red dog the color of ketchup leaps out and wiggles and runs around us. He tells her to sit and tells me her name is Anne. She’s an Irish Setter. She’s our dog now. She’s sitting and her nose is at my face, and she licks me and I fall in love. He says he has to go, but says I can play with Anne when he picks me up next week. I think that sounds like the best day ever. He lifts her into his truck, hugs me goodbye, and tells me he loves me. I say I love him, too. I run back to MawMaw and the plate of cookies, wave goodbye, and we step inside.

Later that evening, after mac and cheese and fish sticks with lots of ketchup, I sit at the table and try to stretch Evil Stretch. I can’t, no matter how many times I try. I grow irritated, frustrated, or some other word I don’t know yet. I point my finger at his face and tell him I’m bigger and stronger than he is. He says nothing; that makes me feel more irritated. What good is a Stretch if it doesn’t stretch? It’s his fault, I tell him. He remains silent, goading me with his pointy ears and evil stare. I pick up one of PawPaw’s flathead screwdrivers. It’s as big in my hand as Big Daddy’s knife is in his, bigger looking than my dad’s folding Buck, if only apparently so because of scale in my hand.

I put it to Evil Stretch’s rib cage, rotating my wrist so the flathead is sideways, so that I can pierce between rib bones and not bounce off like an amateur who doesn’t know any better; I don’t know how I know that, and it’s not the exact words in my mind, but I recall rotating my wrist and I think I had overheard something about the ribs protecting the heart and lungs. I knew I should aim for either, like shooting a deer or elk in that area so they either die instantly or soon bleed to death. I knew a thing or two about almost bleeding to death, I thought, and I was bigger and stronger than Evil Stretch and would make him bleed to death. I thrust the screwdriver into his side, right where the soldier’s spear pierced Jesus, and the rubber resisted and I had to lean in and push harder. His skin gave away and the screwdriver slid deep and I relaxed, satisfied, happy to be the stronger one of us. I pulled out the screwdriver and Evil Stretch’s wound dripped a snot-colored milky goo that clung to the tip of the screwdriver without forming drops. I was mesmerized, having forgotten that I intended him to bleed and curious what the bloody goo was. I squeeze, and Evil Stretch’s wound pours goo. It drips down his side, and a few drops spill on the table by my train set. I feel differently, no longer irritated or frustrated, but scared or worried that I had broken my toy. I was back to reality, and my new toy was leaking. I had to save it. I set the screwdriver back down and tried to push the goo back in, like the doctors had done to my brain and blood, but the more I tried to force the goo into the gash with my right hand, the more my left hand squeezed and the more came out. I wasn’t thinking like I had with the cigarette. I become more and more agitated, rushing to push goo back in but squeezing more and more out. Despite not wanting to sound like a baby, I begin to cry.

I hear PawPaw behind me say, “What wrong, Lil’ Buddy?”

Between sniffles, I tell him that I stabbed Evil Stretch, and now he’s bleeding to death.

PawPaw picks up Evil and inspects his wound. He tells me we’ll be like doctors. Before we put the blood back in, we have to get him to stop bleeding. PawPaw cradles him gently. I see my finger dents in his body, because he’s unable to rebound like he had only minutes before. PawPaw wipes off the goo and applies superglue to the cut, but the glue doesn’t hold. PawPaw’s hand carefully holds Evil horizontally, without squeezing him, and we step over to the refrigerator and PawPaw opens the top freezer, moves things around, and rests Stretch on a flat spot. He says something about the cold making the goo flow less. He shuts the door and we chat about things I don’t recall while he smokes a Camel. I’m so upset I don’t want any cookies, and after a second cigarette we finally open the freezer. PawPaw was right, the goo wasn’t flowing any more. We try super glue again, but it fails again. We try to make a bandage out of duct tape, but it won’t stick, either. I’m distraught, but PawPaw says something about waiting and seeing, and we put Stretch back in the freezer and plan to check on him in the morning.

Super glue and duct tape didn’t work the next morning, and PawPaw says it’s time to say goodbye. We take him to the trash can by the cricket cage and PawPaw pushes a box over for me to stand on. I hold Evil Stretch on my open palms, like PawPaw had, and say a few words. I say I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt him. I say he wasn’t really evil, that I just called him that. I look at PawPaw and he nods, then I drop Stretch into the trash and step down. PawPaw tells me I’m the nicest Lil’ Buddy in the world, and we go back inside.

The next time I remember seeing my dad I have long hair, though I probably saw him at least a couple of times since the Stretch incident, because I recall Anne and marking the growth of my hair compared to hers. Mine no longer feels ticklely, like a chia pet, it feels soft and wavy, like Anne’s ears and the curly red hair on her chest. My hair’s not as long as my dad’s, which lays below his shoulders, and is pitch black and more mangled than wavy and never smells like shampoo. My hair is finally long enough to lay down on its own, hide the scar, and cover about half of my forehead; my dad was the first to point out that it looks and feels like Anne’s hair. I no longer thought about it, and stopped staring at myself in the mirror once my hair laid down on its own, and I don’t pause by the mirror on my way to the kitchen door to meet my dad.

I’m shocked to see a car, not the truck I had heard. It’s running, and the rumble reaches into my chest just like a truck. I can step inside by myself. The seats aren’t vinyl, they’re real leather, and there’s a hint of what I’d later recognize as the smell of a new car. My dad rubs my head and tells me he loves me, and I tell him I love him, too. Anne’s in the back seat. She wiggles and licks my face, and my dad pushes her back into her seat and tells her in his serious voice to stay there. She obliges. He puts the stick shift into gear, looks over his shoulder, and pulls out so quickly that rocks fly forward towards the carport. We stop for a moment, he changes gears and we roar forward towards Plank Road and whip right; I’m pulled left with the same feeling of being pulled right in PawPaw’s truck when we rushed to the hospital. We zoom past the airport. My dad’s talking about the car, how fast it is and much everyone likes it. He says things about the engine I don’t recall. Anne’s forgets what my dad told her and sticks her head beside me. A couple of licks of her tongue later, we stop at a stop sign.

“Look, son,” my dad says, pointing past my face and out the window.

I look, but I don’t see anything remarkable. It looks just like the neighborhoods where Wendy and Debbie and I deliver Yellow Pages. Packed too tight together, and without fishing ponds. I don’t know what to say. He gets agitated, and grasps my head and points it where his finger was pointing.

“See that tree, Justin – I mean Jason?”

I finally see it. There are lots of trees along the street, but one stately oak tree stands out. It’s not nearly as big as mine by the convenience store, but it’s shaped similarly. It’s a nearly perfect dome of leaves and branches and moss, like my tree by the convenience store but more spherical and with the long branches trimmed to fit in a front yard. It’s almost as perfectly formed as the Keebler elves tree, and it’s so big it hides the tiny house behind it. I tell him I see it, and he releases my head.

“That’s where I met Wendy,” he says. He chuckles and says, “Boy, she was fine! She had the finest ass in school.”

Anne whimpers as if she agrees or is jealous, and I gently rub her ears and navigate my fingers through her soft curls. She leans into it, and I feel waves of pleasure rippling through my body. I stare at nothing in particular and embrace the feeling; had you seen us, you may have thought my dad and I had the same expression on our faces. He puts the stick in gear, and we rumble forward to the next stop sign and take a left. Less than a quick toke of a joint later, we pull into the paved driveway of a house with a car in the carport and a couple of cars parked on the street in front. My dad tells Anne to stay, and we walk past the car and he pounds on the door. Grandma Foster opens it, and beams. Her smile widens, and her sky blue eyes squint and her crows feet crinkle. She looks up at my dad and then down a bit at me. She seems to wiggle like Anne.

Grandma looks over her shoulder and says, “Ed! Look who’s here! It’s Edward. And he brought Jason!”

She looks back at us and beckons us in. We step through the carport door into her cluttered kitchen.

Her house smells like her house, like something burnt on the stove that keeps getting reheated and the smell of an old lady who rarely leaves home. She’s wearing a faded sundress with soft flowers all over it, and her fuzzy house slippers. She’s still smiling and wiggling. My dad leans over to hug her. He steps back and she opens her arms for me, and I step into them for a hug. She’s smaller than Wendy or Debbie, and can lean over to hug me instead of squatting down. Like Anne, she leans into my hug, and I feel a similar wave of pleasant feelings and linger in the hug a bit longer.

Big Daddy stands up from beside the dining table and blocks out the sunlight from Grandma’s sliding glass door. He steps over and kneels down. His hair is wavy, like mine, but it’s mostly grey, though it has streaks of blonde like Keith’s and maroon like Anne’s. Like always, everything in the room seems to dissolve away, and I can only see his hair, eyes, and smile. It’s as if the entire world has disappeared, and only his face and voice are in my mind. I stand still, trapped in my mind. I feel close to nothing, mesmerized and motionless, awe struck and transfixed on his face and voice. He talks and his voice is soft and smooth and calming, but I’m still disoriented and not talking; I still don’t know why, though I assume it was his size and presence that pulled my attention away from everything and only let me see him.2

He says he has something for me, and we walk outside to his big car parked in front of my dad’s. I still see just his face, but I know what was happening and knew his car, so my mind’s eye sees the scene differently now and I see myself rushing outside to see what he got me. I don’t know what kind of car it was, but it was something you’d associate with wealth, like a big Caddilac or Lincoln Town Car, and Big Daddy always gave expensive gifts. He said he was waiting to see me again to give it to me. He opens the trunk and pulls out a fancy fishing rod, one of the ones with a reel. He says we could go fishing in False River or Grand Isle. I say something I don’t recall. I’m happy about the fishing rod, and I’m already putting the two pieces together and trying to figure out how to open the reel and pull out the line.

Big Daddy stands upright and blocks out Grandma’s house. He asks my dad something – I think it was about his car. My dad says something back with a quick tempo. I’m focused on the fishing rod. Big Daddy says something, still smiling and still using that soft voice. My dad’s voice raises and he uses his serious tone that squeezes my chest no matter how hard I try to focus. He points at me and keeps talking. Big Daddy talks again in that soothing voice, and I keep fumbling with the reel. My dad says something loudly that uses the word bullshit, and I look up to see him pointing up and into Big Daddy’s smiling face. Big Daddy says something softly, and my dad says bullshit again and points at me and then back at Big Daddy’s face. My dad starts talking so loudly that he’s practically shouting. Big Daddy stops smiling and reaches forward and grabs my dad’s long hair as if making a pony tail of it, then flings him around as easily as Kieth tossing branches onto a fire. My dad crumbles to his butt and stares at the sky, shouting more loudly and using creative and explicative curse words that I don’t recall. Big Daddy’s oversized paw clutches my dad’s new pony-tail, and his hand seems as big as my dad’s head. His arm is so long that he barely bends over to keep my dad down, and as smoothly as a magician producing a dove from a hidden pocket in his coat, Big Daddy slides his big Bowie elk-hunting knife from his right side sheath and holds it to my dad’s face. His soft voice call’s my dad son, and he tells him to be quiet. My dad obliges. Big Daddy’s voice was soft, but without his smile the feeling deep inside my body was that he said the most serious thing in the world, and I assume my dad felt the same.

I’m still trying to figure out the fishing reel. I hear Anne whimpering from inside the car. My dad’s still on the ground and still quiet. Big Daddy’s smiling again. He lets go of my dad’s hair and stands up and returns his knife as deftly as he had produced it. My dad’s staring up, breathing hard and panting like Anne after a run. His eyebrows are furrowed and his dark brown eyes are narrowed so tightly that I can’t see any white. Big Daddy looks at me and reaches over and shows me how to open the reel and pull out some string. Anne stops whimpering; his voice is that calming. Big Daddy and I chat about fishing a bit, but I can’t recall the details. My dad stands and says we have to go. We get in the car without saying goodbye to Grandma. It roars to life. I turn around and Anne licks my face and I tell her about my new fishing rod. We zip backwards and he whips around, and I see Grandma standing beside Big Daddy; she barely reaches his rib cage. We speed away and retrace our route, except my dad doesn’t point out Wendy’s tree. He doesn’t talk on the way to PawPaw’s, and when he drops me off he doesn’t wait around. I rush towards MawMaw’s confused face and open arms, carrying my fishing rod. She doesn’t give me shugga’, but I turn around, anyway, and wave goodbye. My dad’s already pulling away. MawMaw doesn’t ask any questions other than if I want a cookie. I say no – surprisingly – and get to work learning my new fishing rod.

PawPaw comes home in his weekday clothes and smells like cigarettes and Pine Sol. MawMaw tells him I’m home early and have a new fishing rod. He chuckles and says we’ll go fishing. He changes from his custodian clothes and shoes into his fishing clothes and shoes, packs a mesh tube with crickets, and hoists his small tan tackle box. He grabs two cane poles and I carry my fancy rod and reel. We pass where the gate used to be and sit on a log beside the pond. I open the real like Big Daddy showed me, and thread the eyelets all by myself. I take a fishhook from PawPaw’s tackle box and try to tie it, but fail. I try again and fail again. I feel myself growing irritated and frustrated. PawPaw chuckles and shows me again: hold the line gently, not too loose and not too tight, near the end. Thread the eye of the hook. When it’s through enough, pinch it so it doesn’t fall out. Reach over and pull a bit forward, and twist it around the main line a few more times than you think you need, then poke the end through the little hole formed under the twists. Pull gently until on the main line until the clinch knot tightens. Burn the hangnail of line off with your cigarette so it doesn’t get caught in weeds.

PawPaw shows me how to cast with the fancy rod. I’m pretty good at it, but the pond is so small that most casts go clear across to the other side, which defeated the purpose. If I had wanted to fish there, I would have just walked over. And, I keep flinging off my cricket, sometimes not noticing until I get bored without a bite and reel in and see the empty hook. I grow tired of the rod, and I ask for one of PawPaw’s cane rods. He chuckles that Popeye chuckle and says sure, and asks if I want to tie the hook. I say yes, and I’m happy when I tie it all by myself. PawPaw burns off the loose end, pulls out his needle nose pliers and crimps a small lead weight about six inches above the hook, and clips a red and white popper about two feet above the weight. I shake the cricket tube until one slides down the little hole, and I hook it under the collar, like PawPaw had shown me long ago, so that it’s alive and kicking under water. I raise the pole and swing the popper forward. It lands softly, and ripples quickly dissipate. Almost immediately, the popper begins shimmying and new ripples form. I watch and wait. The popper is upright, pulled down ever so slightly, and slowly skating around in a random pattern. It disappears under water, and I raise the pole with not to much force but not softly, either, and the tip of the pole bends over and the line moves back and forth frantically, and I pull up at just the right pace and land a brim a bit bigger than PawPaw’s hand. It had swallowed the hook and it was poking out of its gills, and PawPaw shows me how to use needlenose pliers to reach in and push the hook back and then take it out slowly. The brim’s gills open and close, and it’s bleeding a bit, but it’s alive. PawPaw leans over and sets it upright in the water, and moves it back and forth a few times to get water flowing through its gills. It swims off. He wipes his hands on his handkerchief and I hook another cricket, and we catch and release a few more brim before heading back.

In the carport, I lean Big Daddy’s fancy fishing rod next to the cane poles that rest behind the trash can, and we go inside and I wash my hands and tell MawMaw all about all the fish we caught. She’s impressed, and back to normal compared to when I arrived earlier that day and she was quiet. I have to wipe off several rounds of red shugga’ stains. We have mac and cheese and fish sticks with ketchup for dinner, and then we all sit around the small black and white TV until it’s my bedtime. PawPaw’s already asleep; he has to wake up early in the morning. Craig and Linda go to their bedroom. MawMaw makes the couch and kisses me goodnight. It had been an unremarkable day. Nothing blew up, I wasn’t in the hospital, and I caught some fish. I sleep peacefully.

Go to the Table of Contents

Edward Partin, Wendy, and Jason
My dad, Wendy, and me outside of one of Big Daddy’s houses in late 1972 or early 1973
My dad, Anne, and me on a trip to Arkansas, circa 1976 or 1977
A 1940’s or early 50’s era photo of Big Daddy, published in Life magazine in 1964


  1. Craig Black made that joke often, even 40 years later when he retired as the landscaper and resident artist of Houmas Plantation in Burnside, a small town along the river road between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The Baton Rouge advocate ran a feature story about him and his art, which focused on elves in forests scenes, but set in the swamps of southern Louisiana and with elves that had a hint of PawPaw twinkling in their eyes. He pointed to the big oak tree PawPaw had planted when Craig was a boy, and said that a family may enjoy his art in their living room, but a hundred thousand people a year found relief from the heat or enjoyed a picnic lunch in it’s shade, and that was a deep type of art that he learned growing up in a Black and White household. A year after he retired, when I was calling people and verifying or rejecting my versions of events, he agreed with my recollection of the time around my head scar, with the qualifier that he was usually stoned and prone to mistaken memories in the 70’s. ↩︎
  2. Big Daddy wasn’t that big. He was around 6’2″ and maybe 230 pounds in the early 1970’s, physically fit with that look of what southerns call a “big ol’ boy” that could “pack a wallop,” something the midwest may have called “corn fed,” like a bull brought in from pasture to bulk up on corn. Big Daddy’s shoulders were wide and his waist was narrow, and his massive fists did indeed look like they could pack a wallop. He didn’t have to try to look impressive. The bull analogy is appropriate: there’s something about a bull standing still and staring at you calmly that strikes fear into your body, as if by instinct, even if you haven’t seen what a bulls horns can do to a man. And Big Daddy’s elk-gutting knife was about as big as the horn on a Texas Longhorn steer and appearing even more menacing than it was – if that was possible – by the size of the hand that wielded it.

    Despite his not being overwhelmingly big on paper, something about him seemed larger than life, bigger than he was in reality. And not just in the moment; all of our memories paint him bigger than he was. Every book I’ve read about him talks about it, and he seemed to block out the view of everything in the room no matter who was in the room with him. I felt it every time I was near. I think his face stands out so much in my mind because it contrasted so sharply with is bulk. He was idealic, with blonde hair and blue eyes and a boyish smile that drew you in. And of course his drawl, slow and smooth and sweet; alluring and inviting and calming. When he was up-close and you were drawn in to his eyes and smile and voice, he seemed bigger than you could imagine, and it was hard to notice anything else.

    His size shows up in history, because, according to Walter Sheridan, head of the FBI’s Get Hoffa task force, the reason there’s no recorded evidence of Jimmy Hoffa asking Big Daddy to bribe a juror is that Big Daddy was so big and fit in his tailored suit that Walter couldn’t hide even the FBI’s most high-tech bugging device on him, so Walter sent him into Hoffa’s hotel room unbugged. Walter describes the meeting thoroughly in his 1972 opus, “The Fall and Rise of Jimmy Hoffa,” which cites Edward Grady Partin second only to Jimmy Hoffa and a couple of other Teamster leaders in the index. On page 225, he begins describing when he met Big Daddy for the first time in 1962. Bobby Kennedy had recently had Big Daddy released from jail under the condition of him finding “something” against Hoffa, and Big Daddy had arranged a meeting in Hoffa’s hotel room in Nashville. He and Walter had agreed to meet before Big Daddy went upstairs to Hoffa’s suite, and this is how Walter described their first meeting:

    “I walked to the Andrew Jackson Hotel and entered the lobby. I was self-consciously aware of being in the enemy camp and tried to be nonchalant. The hotel, located on a corner, had entrances on both streets. As I walked casually through the lobby, I noticed two men sitting together. I hand only a fleeting glance of them as I kept moving and went out the other entrance to the street. As I started backup the street toward the corner, a big man with brown wavy hair came around the corner walking toward me. I looked at his breast pocket and there was a handkerchief with a “P” on it.”

    I’m unsure why Walter said he haid brown hair, other than perhaps it was like mine in the 60’s, an auburn color that seems brown-ish in indoor lighting. He greyed quickly after testifying against Hoffa, and it’s possible that Walter’s memory is flawed because of the indoor lighting. Regardless, after meeting they chatted business and agreed to meet later, and Walter goes to his room at the nearby Noel Hotel to wait. Big Daddy goes upstairs to Hoffa’s suite and strategy headquarters, and shows up at Walter’s room later that evening.

    “When Partin got to my room, he sat down on the bed and I sat at the small desk next to him. He was an even bigger man than he had appeared in our brief meeting earlier. As he started to talk, I reached automatically into the desk drawer and pulled out a sheet of Noel Hotel stationary. I began taking notes.”

    That began Walter trusting everything Big Daddy said about Hoffa planning his defense for the Test Fleet trial, a relatively minor labor law trial claiming Hoffa’s personal trucking company, the Test Fleet, violated state labor laws because Hoffa was president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and should therefore not be in the trucking business. According to Walter’s notes, among the many things Big Daddy said Hoffa told him was, “We’re going to try to get a juror – or a few scattered jurors – and take our chances.” Bribing a juror is a felony, and after more than a decade of leading the Get Hoffa task force Walter must have paid very close attention to everything about my grandfather; his career would depend on it. Big Daddy says he has to return to Baton Rouge, and they begin keeping in touch until Big Daddy’s next meeting with Hoffa. On page 269, Walter describes trying to bug Big Daddy at the FBI headquarters in Washington DC a few weeks later:

    “Early the next morning John Cassidy met my plane and we drove in his car from Dulles to National Airport, arriving just in time to meet Partin. We then went directly to the Justice Department where Jack Miller had arranged for Al McGrath and FBI agent Bruce Fisher to meet us in my office. Fisher had special training in recording devices and had with him a small recorder, slightly longer and wider but not quite as thick as a pack of king-sized cigarettes. It was the smallest workable equipment available and was designed to be either taped on the small of the back or thigh or carried in a coat or trouser pocket. Fisher tried every possible way of secreting it on Partin, but Partin was so big and filled his clothes so snugly that there was always a detectable bulge. We finally reluctantly abandoned the effort. Partin decided he would go ahead anyway to the International headquarters to see Hoffa.”

    Hoffa would be convicted on Big Daddy’s word, not a recording. The jury was so enamored by Big Daddy’s charm that they barely deliberated despite the overwhelming reasons to toss out his testimony, and a few hours later they pronounced Hoffa guilty of jury tampering, a federal offense in what was originally a minor state trial. The judge sentenced Hoffa to 11 years in prison, and Hoffa fought Big Daddy’s testimony all the way to the Supreme Court, where the nuance about no recorded evidence surfaced in Chief Justice Earl Warren’s missive:

    “This type of informer and the uses to which he was put in this case evidence a serious potential for undermining the integrity of the truthfinding process in the federal courts. Given the incentives and background of Partin, no conviction should be allowed to stand when based heavily on his testimony. And that is exactly the quicksand upon which these convictions rest, because, without Partin, who was the principal government witness, there would probably have been no convictions here.”

    Warren was the only one of nine judges to vote against using Big Daddy’s testimony (two abstained). Big Daddy was that charming. All mafia, Teamster, and FBI books about Hoffa talk about Big Daddy and say that he was big and charming and remarkably brutal. Coming from mafia and Teamster strongmen, and the FBI who tracked them, that tells you a lot more than anything I could write.

    Incidentally, on pages 438-439 in “The Fall and Rise of Jimmy Hoffa,” Walter subtly mentions sending Big Daddy off to elk hunt near Flagstaff, Arizona, though he keeps the location and activities secret and its only through family lore that we know the location. At the time, Big Daddy’s Teamsters had been shooting up local businesses not willing to use union labor, and at the same time the New Orleans mafia was trying to intimidate him into recanting his testimony against Hoffa. Many shootouts, explosions, and other shenanigans were in the newspaper weekly. Walter mentions Louisiana governor McKeithen saying, “Partin had become a real problem for him,” and that he “personally liked and respected Partin but that he was driving him crazy.” And that McKeithen said, “Walter, get him out of my state. Now listen to what I’m sayin to you. Just get him out of my state. I’ll help you do it and I’ll give him immunity. You write it up and I’ll sign it. Just please get him across that state line.

    Walter wrote that his reply was:“But, I said, Partin had children in Baton Rouge, in the custody of his estranged wife, and was reluctant to leave them.” Soon after, Big Daddy owned a cabin in Flagstaff. He had always enjoyed taking my dad and Keith elk hunting in the Colorado Rockies, which was a reasonable driving distance away from Baton Rouge, so Bobby arranged for the government to buy him a cabin near Flagstaff, a long flight from a tiny airport and an unrealistic drive away, so that he would be out of McKeithen’s hair, and out of sight and sound of any threats or cries for help from Baton Rouge that could get him to recant his testimony against Hoffa. My dad and Keith would go hunting with him, though they kept the location of his cabin secret. After Hoffa vanished, Big Daddy was back in Baton Rouge more often, but still inconsistently, which is probably why I recall him in scattered memories and always with his elk knife. I never got to go hunting with him, but I heard that Big Daddy was naturally strong enough to heave a gutted elk carcass onto his shoulders and carry it home. That may just be apocryphal family lore, but if you had met him once you could see it happening. I’d be surprised if he even carried a gun to go hunting – he was remarkably quick with that knife.