Big Daddy in Cuba
An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight. It is therefore imperative that the nation see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens.Thomas Jefferson, likely
I departed Cuba without any more remarkable events happening. I hadn’t found what I was looking for; though, in fairness, I didn’t arrive knowing exactly what that was, or what it would look like if I had found it. I had only had a two objectives other than enjoying my sabbatical: explain President Kennedy’s 1964 assassination, and understand what’s going on in Guantamo Bay in 2019. I don’t think I succeeded.
I looked at my phone and the letter from Mamma Jean that I had scanned and retyped here, below.
504 9th N.E.
Springhill, LA 71075
Aug. 17, 1996
My dear children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren,
I don’t know how to begin this. I should have written this when you were small, while it was fresh on my mind, also while your daddy was living. After someone dies, you seem to forget all the bad things and remember only the good in them. That is the way it is with my memories of Ed.
He was so charming when I met him. As Jimmy Hoffa wrote in his book, “Ed Partin could charm a snake off a rock.” It was Aug. 1949 and I was living with my sister, Mildred and her husband, Percy Cobb in Natchez, Mississippi. International Paper Company was building a mill and Percy was superintendent of construction. Ed was steward over the Teamsters, Union (I.B.T.C. and W.). He came to the house one afternoon to talk to Percy concerning the Teamsters, and that is how I met him. I was 18 years old and he was 26. I thought he was the most handsome man I had ever seen. He had blond hair, blue eyes and teeth like pearls. Keith, he looked just like you, except he was 6’2”. He didn’t smoke or drink, not even beer, and I believed every word he said. He loved to come over to Mildred’s when I babysat James Paul. I thought he would make a good father. After six weeks we were married in Fayette, Mississippi, Sept. 27, 1949.
Cynthia, I guess it was good thing I waited three years for you. Ed had not told me about his debts. He owed for three cars and we didn’t even have one. He had sold them before we married, spent the money but had not paid for the cars. He also had to spend three months in jail in Woodville, Mississippi, from October 10, 1949 until January 1, 1950. He wouldn’t tell me why; just that he was innocent. I wrote the judge a letter and he let him out. It was not until March 1964 that I found out why he was in jail.
He made about $75.00 every two weeks, which was pretty good in 1950. We moved to Pascagoula, Mississippi in the spring of 1950. The Electricians went on a strike the first week we were there. Ed drew his unemployment, $20.00 a week. We paid $8.00 per week for our rented room and shared a kitchen. It was nice, we had no responsibilities so we would go to the beach everyday and cook hotdogs or hamburgers. We started going to church and were baptized June 17, 1950. The strike lasted three months. By that time, International Paper Company, had started an addition to the mill in Natchez and we moved back there, to the Pharsalia Apartments, which were brand new and real nice, two bedrooms, kitchen, living room and bath, no air conditioning in those days. That is when we bought furniture, the old mahogany bedroom suite, sofa, chairs and tables for the living room and a red Formica top, chrome kitchen table and chairs. By this time Ed had let me start handling the money and I had him out of debt by the time you cam, Cynthia. You were the answer to my prayers. Ed was real disappointed that you were a girl. Your grandmas Foster always said she was so glad you were a girl because “Son,” (that’s what all his family called him) didn’t get his way for the first time in his life. You were so pretty and you soon won his heart because you cried after him every time he went to work.
Janice came a year later. I didn’t mind because Maurice was pregnant with Susan and we had the best time together. You and Susan were a week apart. I was going to help Maurice when she came from the hospital and then she was going to help me with Janice. I was not due until the first of August, but you came early so we had to call Mildred to come to our rescue. She was always so good to come stay with me when the first three of you were born. She stayed two weeks the next year when I had Edward. Ed was real good to go to church, he even went to Men’s training class when we lived in Natchez.
The construction ended with I.P. Company so we moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, September 1, 1953. He got a job with a construction company driving a truck, and then in March 1954, he was elected business agent and Secretary and Treasurer for the Teamsters of Local #5. He made $75.00 a week.
Baton Rouge was booming. Houses to rent were scarce. We rented a small two bedroom, kitchen, bath and living room on Ellerslie Drive, behind Memorial Stadium. By this time I was pregnant with Edward.
We were doing better financially. We bought a brand new 1954 Ford. Edward was born July 1, 1954, finally a boy. You were so precious. You had the most beautiful brown eyes and dark brown hair.
Ed began to find excuses not to go to church with us. He had union meetings on Sunday morning, so sometimes he would have them at the house and he would keep Edward while we went.
He organized Louisiana Creamery, Holsum and Sunbean Bakeries, and the Refineries that were being built between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I really think he was honest during this time.
We bought a lot on Prescott Road and in 1956 we built a house. I drew the plans and selected everything in it. Ed was very cooperative. It was just what I wanted, 2,586 square feet and a double carport. We moved in December 15, 1956. By this time we had two cars. The Teamsters had bought our 1954 Ford for Ed and we bought me a 1955 red and white Oldsmobile. I suppose that was the happiest time of my life. I really wanted another baby, now that I had this big, pretty house with two bathrooms. I was thrilled when I had you, Teresa. Especially to have one with blue eyes.
Ed bought a truck stop and restaurant on Airline Highway, in April 1959, called the J and L Truck Stop. He also bought and old house with fifty acres out in the country close to Greensburg, Louisiana. He made a garden and mad repairs on the old house. He wanted us to move in it an sell the one on Prescott. I wouldn’t agree to it. I’m sure glad I didn’t. This is when our problems started. He was gone most of the time. Always Union Business or at the Truck Stop Restaurant. Mildred Kelly was a waitress there. I began to have suspicions of her and Ed having an affair. It would make him mad and deny it when I confronted him about it.
I am so thankful you all don’t remember how abusive he was to me. Cynthia, you probably remember some. I might could have tolerated his “other women,” if he had been good to me, but the only good thing about him was his generosity with is money. He thought money could buy anything. He never cared how much money I spent and he never objected of us going to church. He wouldn’t go with us but he was good to help me get you all dress. I am thankful for that. He was continuously buying me things what I called “a peace offering.” He bought me a 1959 Impala Chevrolet and the transmission went out on it with only 80 miles on it. He wanted to have it fixed but I told him I didn’t want it, that I would keep my Oldsmobile. I later found out he had given it to Mildred Kelly. He also started my silver with a place setting and all the serving pieces. He could never save money. He thought it was made to spend. He lavished you all with toys. Edward you had a gun and that lovely knife by the time you were five years old. I guess it’s a good thing I was conservative and learned how to handle money, because by the time we separated I knew how far a dollar would go.
He seemed to blame me for everything, even the fusses you all would have. He insisted I get a maid so I hired Olivia, remember her? She worked for me until we separated.
It was in January 1960 that I knew he was having the affair with Mildred Kelly. He had to go to Washington, DC on union business. He had driven and called me on his way back to tell me he was snow bound right outside of Atlanta, Georgia and would be home when he could. I knew she was with him but when he came home he denied it. I guess he thought if I had another baby that I wouldn’t leave him, so Keith, you were on the way soon after this.
By the summer of 1960, I knew Ed was doing things that were dishonest. He had to go to Atlanta and while he was gone, C.J. Brown, a Baton Rouge realtor, called and told me that the grass needed cutting at the house we had rented on Sevenoaks Drive. I quickly asked what was the house number and he told me. This was a shock to me, so that night I went over there. Ed came to the door but he turned out all the lights and wouldn’t let me in. The next day he told me that he was hiding dynamite for Jimmy Hoffa in that house. He also told me he was on some kind of drugs. I had called your Aunt Mil to come help me decide what to do. She came and I went home with her to Pine Bluff. Ed called everyday, begging me to come home. I was gone about two weeks, but we did go back. When I got home, I realized there was something wrong with him. He tried to keep it from me, but he finally showed me where he had been stabbed, the lowest part of his stomach, a horizontal cut about six inches long. It was always a mystery as to who did it. It needed stitches but he wouldn’t go to the doctor. He had been stabbed on his shoulder about four or five months before this. He wouldn’t tell me who did it either, but wouldn’t go to the doctor. When he left in January, the cut on his stomach had still not healed. In later years, Mrs. Rankin, one of my lawyers, said he probably was bringing in some kind of drugs in the wound. It sounded horrible to me, but I never knew.
Keith, I didn’t think you would ever get here. All the rest of you had been three or four weeks early, so by November 1, I was ready, but you didn’t get here until November the 17th. I worried about you while I was in the hospital, not knowing if Ed would be home, but I had Olivia and she took real good care of you.
Keith was nine days old when Ed told me he had to go to Havana, Cuba to see Fidel Castro. I didn’t believe him, but he gave me a number at the Havana Cabana Hotel for me to call. I called and talked to him, so he was there. This was another mystery. I never knew why he went. When President Kennedy was assassinated, and Lee Harvey Oswald arrested, I really thought Ed was going to be involved, but I don’t suppose there was any connection. When he got back from Cuba, there was some argument we had every day. Marge and Orlan were so good to me, helping me decide what to do. He advised me for one and a half years to stay with him. He would talk with Ed and Ed making promises not to see Mildred Kelly anymore, but finally said that she was blackmailing him. I tried to believe him, but there was always something disturbing and a mystery.
One nite I was giving Keith a bottle. Ed was asleep. I looked down, there under the bed were his shoes with a lot of money in them. I counted it quickly, I would guess about $20,000. I put it in the drawer and the next a.m. he asked where it was. I asked him where he got it. He said it wasn’t his, that he was to pass it on to someone that was to meet him at the Palms Motel. I never knew.
He had made several trips to Chicago, he said, and then
That’s where Mamma Jean ended her letter. She never finished her story. She passed away from breast cancer a few years later.
I had told my aunt, Janice, that I wanted to complete that letter one day. It had been a while, but I had a few months to kill and had taken a sabbatical to have some fun and work on old projects.
At the last minute when planning my trip, I thought I’d set aside a few days to see Guantamono Bay, and maybe chat with people I met around that area. After my family history being hid by the FBI and many presidents despite the Freedom of Information Act, I had always wondered why presidents said and did the things they said and did, and what we could do about it; I have hope for democracy, despite recent history and Winston Churchill’s statement that the greatest argument against democracy was a five minute conversation with a typical voter; but, he also said it was our best, current option, and I interpreted that to mean there’s still hope for gradual improvements. I didn’t know what those improvements could be, but, for some reason, I thought the secret could be found in Guantamono Bay.
Obama had promised in his campaign almost eight years before to shut down Guantamono Bay, yet there it was, still described in The Lonely Planet as a unique situation for a country that ostensibly calls itself the land of the free and a leader in democracy. As I stared out the airplane window at the ocean between Cuba’s dictatorship and Florida’s dangling chads, I wondered how the America I had served honorably could justify torturing prisoners held without a trial and without having Miranda Rights, things ingrained in our constitution that I had sworn to defend from all enemies, foreign and domestic. It was a bee in my bonnet. But, as they say, you can’t fight city hall. At the very least, I had hoped to plant a seed in the American tourism journalists after climbing and diving with them for a few weeks; perhaps that would help. At the least, it had been fun, and I ran out of time and never saw Guantamano Bay. Even if I had, there’s not much I could have done to help anyone at that moment.
As usual, airplane rides lead me to reflective thought, and I’ve always preferred that than mindlessly watching JetBlue’s touted personal entertainment counsols behind each seat. As I began to focus on democracy, I had a thought pop into my head, and I briefly wondered what was in the final, tiny part of the Congressional JFK Assassination Report that Obama had implied he’d release but hand’t. And, when we did eventually see it, what could voters do about it going forward.
Ever since 1979, three years after Hoffa disappeared, every American president has been able to review the entire JFK report, presumably. They have choosen to either keep it classified or only to release parts of it; despite the 1976 Freedom of Information Act, for reasons I don’t understand. The first part was released in 1992, presumably after the popular 1992 Oliver Stone film “JFK” implied that CIA or FBI agents had been involved in the president’s murder; and, coincidentally, the 1992 film “Hoffa” simplified history and combined my grandfather’s character with Fitzjerald, the man who Hoffa appointed president of the Teamsters after my grandfather’s testimony sent him to prison.
Few people realized all of that; yet relatively few people who knew my grandfather are still alive, and not many of those are named Jason Partin, and, to the best of my knowledge, I was the only Jason Partin with top level security clearance in 1992; and I know I was the only one on President Clinton’s Quick Reaction Force, America’s Guard of Honor, at the time. I had put a lot of thought into everything ever since I first read the Congressional JFK Assassination Report, almost 30 years before.
I didn’t know what I was expecting to find in Cuba, and I thought about that, too. Maybe I’d bump into big, rough men around my dad’s age and with my grandfather’s bright blue eyes or strawberry blonde hair instead of Cuba’s mix of Spanish and Creole. Maybe the secrets behind Guantamono Bay. Or, maybe, deep down in the core of who I am as a person, maybe I simply enjoy rock climbing and scuba diving and conversations about freedom of speech and truth in media, and human nature; and maybe that led me to traveling to Caribbean islands on my sabbatical and thinking about my Partin history.
I don’t know what I had been thinking of it so much in the months leading to my Cuba trip. I hadn’t given it much thought in many years. The last time I focused on reanalyzing all the books I had read and downloading the latest release from the JFK Assassination Report from our national archives (archives.gov) was in 2005, after a bit of news from Baton Rouge made brief national headlines. Men claiming to be federal agents raided the Baton Rouge police station where Big Daddy had been in jail before Bobby Kennedy had him released, and those agents flashed some credentials and requested all records of Edward Grady Partin. To the Baton Rouge police’s embarrassment, no federal agency claimed any knowledge of that event, and no evidence of my grandfather’s history remains in the Baton Rouge archive. Ironically, had that not happened, I probably would have never began reinvestigating the mystery.
And, of course, there’s the repeated coincidences of Lee Harvey Oswald being from New Orleans and training in Baton Rouge only a few miles from my grandmothers’s houses, though he went under the alias Lee Harvey when in Baton Rouge. And, of course, there was Jim Harrison’s indictment of Big Daddy based on a photo of him with Jack Ruby, soon before Ruby shot and killed Oswald; that photo and the witness vanished, and Big Daddy was not brought to trial in district attorney Jim Garrison’s nationally publicized trial that spawned the 1992 JFK film, but not until two years after Big Daddy died.
I pondered all of that on the flight home; and, simultaneously, I was worried about Wendy, and wondering if I should fly to Louisiana after I saw the people I loved in San Diego. I looked at my watch, and I didn’t feel that I had enough time to do everything I wanted to do.