The Lonely Planet guide to India, the gold-standard of travel guides, a bible for budget backpackers, and usually a kind voice encouraging you to travel without judgement, said this about Varanasi India:
Varanasi tested my patience, humor, and immune system more than anywhere in the world, yet remains one of my favorite memories of a trip across Nepal and India.
In the 1980’s, the rock-band Van Halen caused $85,000 damage to their dressing room after finding brown M&M’s in their bowl of “munchies” before a concert. The facts behind that story can help medical-device companies become more efficient and pass any FDA or ISO Quality-System audit. This article shows you how, with the lead singer of Van Halen, David Lee Roth, as your guide.
I was strolling through downtown San Diego on a beautiful April afternoon and answered my phone and learned that my mother was dying in a hospital 3,000 miles away. I hung up and bought the next plane ticket to Baton Rouge, and my plane began its decent two days later.Read more
FBI reports say that one year before President Kennedy was assassinated, my grandfather, Edward Grady Partin, and Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa plotted to kill the president’s little brother, US Attorney General Bobby Kennedy by either plastic explosives tossed into his family’s home or recruiting a lone sniper that would shoot him as he rode through a southern town in his convertible. Hoffa said that if they used a sniper, they must ensure he couldn’t be connected to the Teamsters. Almost 12 months later, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed by a sniper rifle as he rode through Dallas, Texas, in his convertible.Read more
In July of 1984, seventeen armed men surrounded our partially completed cabin, and demanded our surrender. My dad and I heard them after turning off the table saw, and we surrendered peacefully. They allowed my dad to put on a shirt that was draped across the porch, near the door. I was fully clothed, which is a good thing to do when operating a table saw, I had I had thought, especially after making an “A” on safety protocols in my woodshop class in middle school earlier that year.
My dad always had done things his own way.Read more
My grandfather, Edward Grady Partin, was a big man with a small part in history. FBI reports say that one year before President Kennedy was assassinated, he and Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa plotted to kill the president’s little brother, US Attorney General Bobby Kennedy by tossing plastic explosives tossed into his family’s home or by recruiting a sniper with a rifle and long-distance scope to shoot him as he rode through a southern town in his convertible. The report says that Hoffa said that if they used a sniper they must ensure he couldn’t be connected to the Teamsters. Less than 12 months later, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed by a sniper rifle as he rode through Dallas, Texas, in his convertible. Bobby Kennedy and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover suspected Hoffa, but they couldn’t prove anything and kept most of the 1962 report classified except for the part used to make my grandfather out to be a hero before Hoffa’s trial in an unrelated and relatively minor Teamsters trial.
In 1962, before anyone suspected that Kennedy would be assassinated, my grandfather was a local Teamster leader in jail for kidnapping and he was being indicted for manslaughter, and was suspected in many other crimes. He was likely to spend life in prison, but two days after being arrested he called the FBI and they called Bobby Kennedy and Bobby got him out of jail and Partin agreed to monitor Jimmy Hoffa in exchange for freedom and federal protection.
Convicting Hoffa was important to Bobby on a deep and personal level that was daily news back then. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Hoffa was said to be the most well known person in America that wasn’t a Kennedy. Almost 1 out of every 60 Americans were in his Teamsters Union – anyone who drove a truck, 18 wheeler, forklift, or golf cart could be a Teamster – and if you omit women, children, and retirees, then almost half of working class America was a Teamster under Hoffa. The Kennedy’s knew that Hoffa could slam the American economy to a halt by calling a strike, and that he had been using the millions of dollars that America paid him each month in unregulated Teamsters Union dues to fund Hollywood films and Las Vegas Casinos, lending the money to the newly formed American mafia, organized crime that was only just then being recognized by the Kennedy administration as a potential threat to America. In exchange, Teamsters were given contracts to transport movie equipment and actors and operate all on-set cars and carts, and to bring building materials to the newly formed city of Las Vegas casinos in the desert; and, though less publicized, to transport guns, drugs, and money from Cuba to Vegas via the port of New Orleans, where my grandfather ran the southeast Teamsters under Hoffa, and was an associate of Cuban President Fidel Castro and New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello. At the time, President Kennedy was preparing to begin what would become a 60+ year trade embargo against Castro’s Cuba, which probably sparked J. Edgar Hoover’s interest in monitoring Hoffa and my grandfather’s conversations. That, plus Hoffa’s threat to the American economy, led the president to appoint his little brother, the highest ranking figure of American justice, to head a task force focused on nothing but prosecuting down Hoffa, to find anything at all that would remove him from power, and in the fall of 1963 J. Edgar Hoover presented his preliminary findings from 1962 surveillance to both Bobby and the president and advised the president to forgo riding in an open convertible, but the president proceeded, anyway, saying that he knew he was at risk in his convertible, especially in Dallas, which had gained a reputation as the “City of Hate” because of rhetoric against President Kennedy from both right and left wing extremists who either wanted him to increase American military presence in Vietnam or decrease economic sanctions against Cuba.
On November 22nd, 1963, at 12:30 PM Central Standard Time, President Kennedy was shot by a 6.35mm rifle bullet and pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital 30 minutes later. Police found another 6.5mm bullet in the hospital, near the Texas governor, who, along with his wife, had been shot while riding through downtown Dallas with the president. By then, the world was watching, and for years an entire generation of people would discuss what they were doing when they heard about JFK’s assassination. But, I was still eight years away from being conceived, and, to the best of my knowledge, I have no recollection of where I could have been when Kennedy was shot.
70 minutes after the president was shot, a former marine from New Orleans named Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for shooting and killing a Dallas police officer as he left a movie theater near the infamous grassy knoll and 6th floor school book depository where police had found the abandoned Italian carbine. It was quickly discovered that Oswald had a long history of mental illness dating back to elementary school and continuing throughout his service in the U.S. marines. He had received a less-than-honorable discharge, and had defected to Russia and married a Russian woman before returning to New Orleans with a new bride and baby; inexplicably, the FBI had paid for his return plane ticket home, and, even more explicably, had allowed him to travel to Mexico City a few months before Kennedy’s death to try to reach Castro and get support for Oswald’s anti-America, pro-Cuba organization in New Orleans. And, he had begun developing relationships among Dallas’s pro-communist, anti-Kennedy community.
Oswald had purchased the carbine from a mail order catalog a year before using an alias, and had it sent to a Dallas gunsmith to add a scope. He had posed with it in New Orleans in a now famous photograph that’s since been enhanced to show distinct marks that match the carbine found in the Dallas book depository, and forensic analysis would show, without reasonable doubt, that the 6.5mm bullets had been fired from Oswald’s rifle, and that the bullets matched other bullets recovered earlier that year from a failed assassination attempt against a famous army general, General Walker. He had moved to Dallas only a few months before Kennedy was shot, and had taken the carbine with him and, apparently, left it in the 6th floor room in downtown Dallas after shooting President Kennedy. Soon, there would be no doubt that Oswald’s rifle had shot and killed President Kennedy.
Two days after the president was shot and killed, on Sunday, November 24th at 11:21 AM, almost 147 million people were watching police escort Oswald out of the Dallas police station in handcuffs on live television when they saw Jack Ruby walk up to Oswald and remove a Colt Cobra snub-nosed .38 special revolver from his pocket and shoot Oswald in the stomach from only a few feet away; even though it was broadcast on live television internationally, the well-timed newspaper photograph of Ruby’s outstretched hand wrapped around his Colt Cobra and Oswalds open-mouthed gasp immediately afer he was shot would become one of the 20th centuries most famous photographs, and how most people would remember Ruby and Oswald.
Ruby was arrested, and Oswald was rushed to Parkland Hospital and pronounced dead at 1:07 PM only a few floors from where President Kenndy’s body was being kept for autopsy. The world turned its attention to Ruby. There could be no doubt of his guilt – there had been 147 million witnesses – but people began suspecting a larger plot, a coordinated conspiracy with theories ranging from retaliation by organized crime to a communist led assassination by Russia or Cuba. Almost all theories assumed Ruby was involved and killed Oswald to prevent him from testifying and disclosing a bigger plot.
Investigators learned that Jack Ruby was a 52 year old Dallas nightclub owner and air force veteran with a long history of mental illness. He claimed he was distraught, that he loved Kennedy and decided Sunday morning to kill Oswald and save Kennedy’s widow the grief of a long trial. He had owned the Colt Cobra, a small concelable “detective gun” chambered with the FBI standard the time, .38 special, enough to kill someone at close range, and Ruby knew enough to keep it in his coat pocket and to use his middle finger to pull the trigger, a detail that would show up in photo evidence. He was rumored to be a low-level mob associate, relatively harmless but prone to outbursts of emotion. The FBI tested him with lie detector machines as he swore he acted alone in a burst of emotion, and his defense team tried to use a new concept of “temporary insanity,” but Ruby kept contradicting himself, like saying he had planned to shoot three times but police tackled him and took the gun before he could fire again, and the jury saw enough evidence of premeditation that he was found guilting of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, where he would continue to change his story and tell people that the government was trying to kill him by injecting him with cancer cells. He died of pulmanary embolism secondary to lung cancer that had spread to his brain and liver in Parkland Hospital on January 3rd, 1967. He was 56 years old, and had been a lifelong smoker.
The United States does not try deceased people in court, so we relied on an investigation into Oswald’s presumed guilt overseen by the highly respected Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Earl Warren. He had more than 30 years of experience as a prosecutor, and had already received almost universal admiration from politicians across the spectrum for his controversial rulings on issues such as abortion and education in Roe vs Wade and Brown vs the Board of education, and the ubiquitous Miranda vs Arizona that led to the now famous Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent when arrested. Ten months after Kennedy died, The 888 page Warren report detailed interviews with 542 witnesses and the latest forensic evidence by the FBI and independent experts, and concluded that “Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed President John F. Kennedy.” But, despite Warren’s prestige, few people believed that one mentally ill man could kill the American president, insisting that even an expert marksmen couldn’t shoot the notoriously inaccurate Italian carbine from that distance and pointing to omitted witnesses and unaddressed theories; investigators even had military and FBI marksmen attempt to hit a bullseye from the same type of rifle from the same distance, and they were unsuccessful. That, and other bits of information led to a majority of Americans surveyed believing that some type of conspiracy must have existed, a belief that persists to today.
Most of J. Edgar Hoover’s report on Hoffa and my grandfather remained classified throughout the Oswald investigation, being witheld from even Earl Warren. But, in a courtroom drama ostensibly separate from the Kennedy’s was being monitored by national media, a trial against Jimmy Hoffa for jury tampering when he represented the Teamsters and which, if he was found guilty, would remove him from power and send him to prison. It was high drama for America’s most famous person not a Kennedy, and Hoffa was daily news in America, especially since the president’s death because his feud with Bobby Kenndy and the FBI task force had escalated to a public display of anger and hatred that was so fierce that media dubbed it “The Blood Feud.” People consumed The Blood Feud daily, and read anything printed about Hoffa. Shortly before Hoffa’s jury was selected, Hoover endorsed my grandfather’s lie detector test in Life and Look magazines, confirming that Hoffa had planned to kill Bobby Kennedy, and magazines realized that my grandfather was big and handsome and charming and spoke with a lovely southern accent, and they plastered my family across national magazines along with the new first-family of former Vice President Johnson and other charming families. One headline said, “Plot to kill Bobby Kennedy: Inside Hoffa’s savage kingdom,” and showed photos of my grandfather laughing and playing with my dad, uncle, and aunts. They had photos of him shirtless and in boxing gloves, and mentioned his marine service, though they omitted his dishonorable discharge or his multiple crimes, including burglury, rape, extortion, kidnapping, and adultury – he had a second family in addition to mine. But, he was handsome and charming, and he spoke eloquently of listening to Hoffa ask him to obtain plastic explosives so that the Teamsters could kill Bobby, and saying that he refused because he didn’t want to harm Bobby’s children, and detailing the beatings and stabbings he endured in order to bring the truth to the American people, and when he stood up in the Chatanooga courtroom as a surprise witness against Hoffa, Hoffa simply said, “Damn. It’s Partin,” and he knew that he was in trouble. The jury trusted my grandfather over the most famous man in America, and found Hoffa guilty of attempting to bribe a juror by asking my grandfather to pay him $25,000 in cash. No money had ever exchanged hands, and Hoffa was convicted based solely on my grandfather’s testimony. The judge sentenced him to 11 years in prison. No one mentioned the second part of Hoover’s report about a sniper and a convertible in a southern town.
Hoffa fought his conviction and my grandfather’s testimony all the way to the Supreme Court where his case, Hoffa vs. The United States, was coincidently overseen by Chief Justice Earl Warren. He was the only one of the nine U.S. Supreme Court judges to vote against using my grandfather’s testimony, especially because he knew that Supreme Court cases became predicates for decisions in lower courts and Warren had discovered that not only had my grandfather been removed from jail, his record continued to be modified and scrubbed clean, and even his recent charges for – ironically, Warren emphasized – jury tampering and perjury were inexplicably being purged; and, he had uncovered that my family was being paid a monthly salary by the federal government. He called my grandfather “a jailbird, languishing in a Baton Rouge jail cell,” and said that he was incentivised to lie, that “a motive for his doing this is immediately apparent – namely, his strong desire to work his way out of jail and out of his various legal entaglements with the State and Federal Governments. And it is interesting to note that, if this was his motive, [Partin] has been uniquely successful in satisfying it. In the four years since he first volunteered to be an informer against Hoffa he has not been prosecuted on any of the seriuos federal chargeds for which he was at that time jailed, and the state charges have apparently vanished into thin air.” And, according to Warren, my family became America’s first paid witnesses, noting that my grandmother was being paid a monthly salary by the federal government, adding another layer of conflicting interests in my grandfather’s testimony. Warren wrote a three page rebuttal against his eight peers and their verdict, permanently attached to the court record, saying the future of American justice is at stake if we allowed the unverifiable testimony of incredulous paid witnesses to sentence citizens to prison. Only 80 or so of dozens of thousands of Supreme Court applications is tried, and to this day, Hoffa vs. The United States is cited as a precident for lower courts to justify using paid informants or informants of dubious character. Few attorneys citing that case would investigate it further.
My grandfather returned to Baton Rouge, where he was almost universally referred to as Bug Daddy because if his bulk and charisma, and the Teamsters of Local #5 unanimously voted for Big Daddy to remain in charge. A few years later, just before Christmas of 1971, his teenage son, Edward Grady Partin Junior, met Wendy Anne Partin at Glen Oaks high school, and I was born ten months later. Soon after, a Louisiana judge removed me from their custody, citing abandonment and intemperance, and placed me under the guardianship of a man coincidently also named Edward, Ed White, and I knew that Edward as PawPaw.
I remained with PawPaw until 1979, which was coincidentally the year that the United States Congressional Committee on Assassinations concluded that, contrary to the Warren Report, the assassination of President Kennedy had likely been a conspiracy. But the congressional report was kept confidential despite the 1976 Freedom of Information Act, and President Jimmy Carter and every president since him has been allowed to review the report and choose which parts, if any, to release to the public. And, coincidentally, it was the year that Big Daddy finally went to prison after a four year legal battle that had begun after Hoffa disappeared. He was released early because of declining health, and returned to Baton Rouge in 1986 and died in 1990. He was still a minor celebrity, and his funeral was filled with reporters and politicians and FBI agents, mostly becasue Hoffa’s disappearance and was still a national topic. People suspected that my grandfather knew more than he had said. We never learened if he did, and in books and films about Hoffa, Big Daddy’s role has been limited to his testimony in Hoffa’s trial and what was known publicly in the 60’s and 70’s. No one had read the FBI reports, and few people questioned how he had been able to call Bobby Kennedy from jail. His obituary in The New York Times simply said:
Edward Grady Partin, a teamsters’ union leader whose testimony helped convict James R. Hoffa, the former president of the union, died Sunday at a nursing home here. Mr. Partin, who was 66 years old, suffered from heart disease and diabetes.
He helped Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy convict Mr. Hoffa of jury tampering in 1964. Mr. Partin, a close associate of Mr. Hoffa’s, testified that the teamster president had offered him $20,000 to fix the jury at Mr. Hoffa’s trial in 1962 on charges of taking kickbacks from a trucking company. That trial ended in a hung jury.
Mr. Hoffa went to prison after the jury-tampering conviction. James Neal, a prosecutor in the jury-tampering trial in Chattanooga, Tenn., said that when Mr. Partin walked into the courtroom Mr. Hoffa said, ”My God, it’s Partin.”
The Federal Government later spent 11 years prosecuting Mr. Partin on antitrust and extortion charges in connection with labor troubles in the Baton Rouge area in the late 1960’s. He was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice by hiding witnesses and arranging for perjured testimony in March 1979. An earlier trial in Butte, Mont., ended without a verdict.
Mr. Partin went to prison in 1980, and was released to a halfway house in 1986. While in prison he pleaded no contest to charges of conspiracy, racketeering and embezzling $450,000 in union money. At one time union members voted to continue paying Mr. Partin’s salary while he was in prison. He was removed from office in 1981.
Survivors include his mother, two brothers, a sister, five daughters, two sons, two brothers and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In 1992, newly elected President Bill Clinton released approximately 60% of the JFK Assassination report, in part because of public demand after a successful and poplar film by Oliver Stone, JFK, that missed a lot of facts. The JFK Assassination Report is a massive living document that expounds upon the Warren report and goes into minute detail about every contradiction in witness testimonies, conflicts of interest, changes to reports and memories, and new forensic evidence. But, their conclusion was inconclusive, and the final statement after decades of research was, “The Committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The Committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.” They went on to specifically say that they did not believe there was a plot by the Soviet government, the Cuban government, anti-Castro groups, or organized crime was involved; though they admitted that they couldn’t exclude individual members of those entities being involved. The report emphasizes the similarities between my grandfather and Hoffa’s 1962 plot against Bobby and the similarities with JFK’s 1963 assassination, but says that though Hoffa was an angry and intense man, he was also rational and would unlikely have attempted to murder the president while under scrutiny by Bobby and under indictment for jury tampering. The report doesn’t mention Hoffa’s trial or address Warren’s questions about how my grandfather became favored by Bobby Kennedy.
In 2004, men claiming to be federal agents walked into the Baton Rouge police department and asked them to hand over all evidence from Edward Partin’s 1962 arrest and phone calls. They did, and then the FBI denied involvement and the incident made national news, and the records haven’t been seen since.
Big Daddy’s little brother, Uncle Doug, who retired after leading the Baton Rouge Teamsters local #5 for 30 years after my grandfather, died in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. He had written a 2013 autobiography entitled, “From My Brother’s Shadow,” and he says what most of us suspected all along, that Edward Partin lied to the judge and jury about what he and Hoffa had said to get out of jail. But, even Doug hadn’t read the JFK report, so had he had not known about the previously reported similarities between FBI surveillance of my grandfather and JFK’s subsequent assassination. Like most of America, he only associated Edward Grady Partin with Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters Union. But, even without a link to Kennedy, I always thought that it’s remarkable that Hoffa vs. The United States still stands as a legal precedent despite the evidence against its verdict.
Everything I wrote so far has been available publicly for decades, available in the National Archives and Supreme Court records and other reputable internet sites; though, admittedly, those parts are of negligible interest to anyone not named Partin or Hoffa or Kennedy. Even my childhood court reports were put online in the 2000’s, and a long time ago I realized that everything about my family was public and easily accessible if you knew I was related to Ed Partin, even the answers to security questions to access my bank accounts, and I became a much more private person, just like my mom had been. I don’t have much to add to public records of interest to anyone but me and our few surviving Partin family members from that time; but, I’ve always wanted to write a memoir about growing up in and out of my Partin family, and this will be it. I’ll try to stop using “part in” puns, and I hope you enjoy my version of what happened to Big Daddy and my part in the Partin family from 1972 until 1990.
Go to the Table of Contents.
I was emancipated in 1989 by a Louisiana family court judge who declared me a legal adult and allowed to join the United States Army at age 16, two years before the age most people are considered an adult and five years before I’d be able to legally buy a beer in all states except, coincidently, Louisiana, which was the only state that hadn’t raised the legal drinking from 18 to 21. The Louisiana justice system is unique, based on the French Napoleonic code from before the Louisiana purchase, and gives more freedoms to judges than in the system common to all other states in The United States of America. Because of one Louisiana judge, a 16 year old kid was allowed to join the army and make life or death decisions, and I’ve always thought that was remarkable, especially after I learned that 85% of emancipated foster youths end up in jail, partially because most of them had challenging families and lived without mentors to help them improve themselves. Ironically, the emancipation process led me to learn more about my family, the Partins, because the judge wanted to know what had led me to make my request.Read more
My mom used to joke that she was born Wendy Anne Rothdram, WAR, and that marrying a Partin WARP’ed her. I never understood that joke as a kid, and I didn’t even know Wendy was my mom for many years.
Wendy and my dad, Ed Partin Jr., were married briefly. They had dropped out of high school to have me, and had eloped to Mississippi, two hours upriver, because, unlike most states, Mississippi state law didn’t require parental approval for kids to marry. But, all states honor Mississippi marriage certificates, and they returned to Baton Rouge as husband and wife and began living in one of Big Daddy’s houses.
Soon after I was born in 1972, my dad took off for Miami on his motorcycle with his friends, and they took a boat from Miami to either Jamaica or Cuba to buy drugs and bring them back to Baton Rouge. He was gone for a several weeks, and Wendy was alone in Big Daddy’s house, and, as she’d repeat in family court records for the next seven years, she found herself married to a husband who did not love her, and she felt lonely and scared and alone. She saw handwritten note on a coffee shop wall asking to share gas driving to California, and, impulsively, she left with him, abandoning me at a daycare center.
Her best friend, Linda White, was my emergency contact. The daycare center called Linda when Wendy failed to pick me up, and Linda’s dad, Ed White, took me home when they couldn’t find someone else that late in the evening. He called the police, and a judge removed me from my Partin family’s custody, citing Wendy’s intemperance and my dad’s disappearance and criminal history, and also because all Louisiana judges knew my Partin family well. The judge appointed Ed White as my legal guardian, giving him authority to choose when Wendy and my dad saw me. For the next few years, I knew Ed White as PawPaw.
PawPaw was the most respected tree surgeon in southern Louisiana, and he worked mostly during summer insect season to protect old oak trees, and after the winter hurricane season to repair broken branches. During those seasons, he hired newly released male convicts and trained them to become landscapers or even tree surgeons. Off season, he ran the Baton Rouge franchise of Kelly’s Girls, a business that placed young, uneducated women in unskilled or secretarial jobs so they wouldn’t be dependent on people who may not treat them well. Through Kelly Girls, he had a contract to deliver telephone books every spring, and he paid young ladies to deliver them on their own schedule so that they could attend school or look after their children. He’d lend them an old car, if they needed one to work for him. He showed young adults who didn’t have their own mentors how to earn their livelihood without a high school diploma, and it makes sense that he’d meet my parents, Ed and Wendy Partin.
My first memory of Wendy was when my hair was still growing out after my stay in Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. She and her friend Debbie showed up at PawPaw’s and loaded Debbie’s car so full of bright yellow telephone books that I had to sit on the front seat’s center arm rest with books stacked behind me. Wendy drove, and Debbie chatted with me and asked to see my scar. I rotated my head, and Debbie inspected my scar and commented how brave I must have been. I agreed, and told her about the hospital and color television. We chatted back and forth about which cartoons I liked for a while, and I told her about Popeye, who looked and sounded like PawPaw – they even both smoked a lot, and PawPaw had been a sailor in WWII, too. It was only a coincidence that Popeye looked after Olive Oil’s baby, Sweet Pea, and protected them from the big Brutus; mostly, I liked the Popeye theme song every time he ate his spinach and grew bug enough to fight Brutus.
I finished telling Debbie about Popeye, and she and Wendy began delivering phone books, picking up one from the back seat and carrying it to doorsteps in a neighborhood not too far from PawPaw’s. Soon there was enough space for me to sit on a small stack of them in the back seat, and Debbie rotated so she could see me and we could chat more about color television and Popeye and fishing and MawMaw’s cookies while Wendy drove us in and out of a few more neighborhoods. Wendy would interrupt us occasionally to point out all of the nice houses and their beautiful yards; it was springtime, just after winter hurricane season, and the azeleas were blooming bright red under the stately oaks with their dark green leaves with grey and black Spanish moss hanging down. When we stopped, Wendy would pick an azelea and sniff it and hand it to Debbie and me to smell. They smelled nice, but not nearly as nice as freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
When we ran out of telephone books, Wendy got back on on the interstate and Debbie pulled out a small bag, put it on her lap, and rolled a joint with almost as much deftness as my dad; though, in fairness, she wasn’t driving with her knee while rolling it.
Debbie lit the joint with her cigarette lighter, took a drag, handed it to Wendy, and cracked her windshield to exhale up and out the car. Wendy took a drag and handed it back to Debbie and exhaled out the crack in her window, and they passed the joint back and forth and laughed so much that I was having fun with them despite not getting high from the second hand smoke that escaped their windows.
They finished the joint quickly – Debbie rolled them much smaller than my dad or Sonny – and we we laughed all the way to where Wendy and Debbie sometimes stayed. It was a remarkable house, brightly painted with dancing figures of abstract people, and swoops and swirls of colors and psychedelic symbols, and was occasionally in the news simply because it was so unique. I was surprised to see Craig Black there, not knowing he was an artist and, before he and Linda had a baby, had shared the house with his high school friends who were still living there four years later. But, he was tired and sluggish, like most people there, and didn’t seem to recognize me. The air was thick with smoke – no one cracked windows in their psychedelic house.
Wendy introduced me to a few of her friends, but I don’t recall their names. One guy, though, stuck out: Bryan, the one armed drug dealer. He had big, bushy hair, almost like an afro, and a wide smile, and he remembered me and said my name correctly. Bryan had lost one arm in a drunk driving accident on his motorcycle, and could roll a joint with only one hand. I thought that was the coolest trick I had ever seen, and I gravitated towards him the rest of the day. He never seemed to get sluggish, and was always smiling and joking with Wendy.
I had fun with Wendy and Debbie and Brian, but I was tired and feeling sluggish by the end of the day. Wendy said she had to take me back to Mr. White’s, and I fell asleep soon after we got in her car and were back on the interstate.
I didn’t sleep long, because Wendy was speeding and a police car pulled her over. I woke up with Wendy shaking me, explaining to the policeman standing outside her window that her little brother was sick and she needed to get me home quickly. He looked at me and asked my name, and I told him Jason Partin, and he looked at Wendy’s driver’s license in his hand and told her to drive more slowly, and smiled at me and said he hoped I felt better. I didn’t know what to say – I had never spoken to a cop in uniform before – so I said nothing. But, I was probably smiling – I had inherited Bug Daddy’s subtle smile – and the officer smiled back and probably mistook my silence for shyness, and told Wendy to get home our parents safely.
Wendy laughed on the way home, said I did a good job of ‘playing it cool,’ and asked me not to tell Mr. White about the policeman or seeing Craig or Brian.
She dropped me off at PawPaw’s. MawMaw wss the only one home, and I was so hungry that I instantly forgot about the day. I wiped MawMaw’s red lipstick shuggah’s off my face, and asked her what was for dinner and asked if she had any cookies. We did, and they were probably the most delicious cookies I had ever eaten. I devoured three of them and was still hungry and anxious for dinner. It was as if I had the munchies.
A few months later, I began spending nights with Wendy on my monthly visit, not just day trips while she worked for Kelly’s Girls. At first, we’d stay with Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob. They lived in a big house in a nice all-white neighborhood called Sherwood Forest, and I even had my own bedroom there. Behind the house was Westminister Elementary School, which didn’t have kids bussed in and only served Sherwood Forest kids. The school was empty on weekends, and Wendy would walk me there and play with me on their playground. It was almost as much fun as PawPaw’s oak tree swing.
Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob were nice, but they never walked to the playground to play with us, because Uncle Bob and Auntie Lo liked to play golf at the Sherwood Forest Country Club on weekends then relax with a few glasses of Scotch while Auntie Lo cooked dinner. But, they kept lots of art supplies for me around the house after I told them about Craig’s art and how much fun he and his friends seemed to have painting, and they would sit with me at the dining room table after dinner and sip Scotch while I drew and painted. Usually, Wendy would leave after dinner. I think she liked Bryan, and was trying to spend time with him without anyone else around.
Uncle Bob and Auntie Lo’s yard had lots of azaleas, though they stopped blooming by the time I began sleeping their. Auntie Lo said they only bloom in spring, and that she loved her azaleas and her pecan trees. She and Uncle Bob would take me walking around their back yard, picking up pecans before Uncle Bob mowed, and I’d help shell them for Auntie Lo to make a pecan pie. Uncle Bob didn’t eat deserts, but he’d sip his Scotch and smoke cigarettes while I ate at least two slices, and we’d peel extra pecans to mail to family in Canada. Uncle Bob said he was from Prince Edward Island, and I thought Prince Edward Island sounded like where my dad and grandfather and PawPaw came from, because I heard other people call all of them Edward.
I liked coming back to Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob’s. I had my own room, so I could leave things there and not have to pack them back into my backpack. They put my artwork up on the walls, next to Wendy’s ribbons from swimming meets and tennis tournaments, and sheets with her poetry writing. Uncle Bob would point them out, saying Wendy used to be an athlete and used to enjoy learning and writing. He’d emphasize Wendy’s neat handwriting, and say that Wendy used to care about a lot of things, and he’d ask me what I enjoyed doing. I told him fishing and hunting. I couldn’t do those things in Sherwood Forest, but I was growing to enjoy drawing and painting. After I said that, every time I visited there’d be new paint brushes or easels or books with blank pages and drawing lessons to practice. I became quite apt, and even made a little spare change selling my artwork to Auntie Lo for 10 to 25 cents each; she’d buy several, and ask me to add up how much she owed, and then how much change I should give her back.
Uncle Bob wasn’t always there. He worked about an hour downriver from Baton Rouge, in New Orleans, but Auntie Lo stayed home all the time. Both were unabashed alcoholics, and they radiated a joy of life, what Uncle Bob called la joire de vive. he said that la joire de vive stemmed from doing whatever they wanted without regrets. When Uncle Bob was home for weekends, they’d get sloppy drunk by 3 or 4pm every day, and Wendy and I would eat Auntie Lo’s dinners while they laughed and slurred their speech and occasionally stumbled over their furniture on the way to or from their generously stocked liquor cabinet in the formal living room. Wendy usually left after dinner, probably back to the brightly painted house or to Bryan’s trailer in the woods, and I stayed awake with Uncle Bob in the living room after Auntie Lo would pass out and snore loudly from their bedroom. We’d sit around the dinner table with Uncle Bob smoking and drinking and asking me about what I was enjoying doing lately.
Very rarely, Uncle Bob would go to bed first, and Auntie Lo would stay up cleaning the kitchen and having the time of her life drinking by herself and loudly washing dishes and talking about how nice their plates and glasses were. On one of those nights, I was asleep when I heard Auntie Lo’s loud and slurred voice punctuated by a clicking sound she made by snapping her tongue against her teeth and making a loud POP! that resonated throughout the house and was a bellweather that she was almost incoherent. When she began making that sound, Uncle Bob called it being three sheets to the wind, and even he stayed away from her flailing limbs.
Usually, she was still cheerful when three sheets to the wind, but that night she sounded angry, and her clicks came quickly and she slurred words I didn’t understand. As I became awake, I heard Wendy’s softer voice responding to Auntie Lo, defending herself for coming home late.
“We don’t look after Jason so you can come home drunk!” Auntie Lo mumbled, followed by a POP!
“You’re not looking after him, you’re drunk!” Wendy retorted.
“It’s my house and I’ll drink whenever I like!” Auntie Lo mumbled loudly. Good point, I’d recall years later. “We didn’t want him or you here!”
Their argument quickly escalated in volume and degraded into insults. A few minutes later, I heard the unmistakable Slap! of someone’s hand contacting someone’s cheek. An instant later, I heard another one. And then another. I got out of bed and crept to my door and peered down the hall to where I could see them in the kitchen.
Auntie Lo was a large woman, and Wendy was a petite girl. If you’ve ever seen Julia Child, the famous chef who towered over her guests on television, you’d have an idea of what Auntie Lo looked like and acted like when sober: large, flamboyant, unabashed, and with hands that waved through the air as she talked. In a way, she was charming and unthreatening when sober, the way we appreciate someone comfortable with who they are. But, when drunk, which was most of the time after 2 or 3 pm, her size and gestures were grotesque, especially contrasted against Wendy’s small frame and graceful movements from her days as an athlete.
Auntie Lo was leaning against a kitchen counter with her head hung low, but she snapped her head up every time she spoke or made that popping sound. Wendy was between her and the refrigerator, standing upright with her arms crossed and shaking. Her cheek was bright red. Auntie Lo’s nose was red, as usual. Behind me, I could hear Uncle Bob snoring in the master bedroom.
“I’m going to tell Robert that you hit me!” Auntie Lo proclaimed, followed by “POP!” The effort drained her, and her head slumped back down and she steadied herself against the counter.
“You slapped me first!” Wendy said in a shrill voice muddled by alcohol and tears.
“I’ll tell him you hit me first!” she bellowed after recovering from her slump. “POP!”
Wendy said something that I didn’t understand, but it sounded like a curse word and seemed to infuriate Auntie Lo, who swung her huge hand and slapped Wendy with surprising speed for her drunken state. Wendy reeled, then screeched and jumped forward and began swinging both hands wildly at Auntie Lo’s face, quickly and fiercely alternating left-right-left. Auntie Lo blocked the slaps, then heaved all of her weight behind a swing and sent Wendy flying into the refrigerator. The effort expended her focus, and she slumped onto the floor as Wendy screeched and turned towards me and rushed down the hall.
Her face red and swollen, and tears streaming down her cheeks. She pushed me inside the room and told me we were leaving, and ripped open my dresser cabinets and yanked out a few sets of clothes and packed them with surprising delicacy into my backpack, and held me by my arm as we left my bedroom. I noticed that Uncle Bob wasn’t snoring any more, and wondered if he’d come out and calm everyone down. He didn’t. He was a wise man.
Auntie Lo had somewhat recovered and was trying to stand up, and she reached out to grab my leg as Wendy rushed us past her and out the carport door and to her car. She was crying and not looking at me, but kept telling me everything would be okay and that we were going to Debbie’s. She backed out of the driveway and sped down the street, and a few minutes later we were on the interstate. We soon arrived at Debbie’s mom’s apartment, and Wendy held my hand as we knocked on the door. It was late, but Debbie and her mom and brother were awake and watching television. They invited us inside without questions, and Debbie’s mom opened a bag of cookies for me to snack on and yelled that we were welcome to stay as long as we needed.
She always yelled, no matter what her mood, and always seemed to have bagged candy for me whenever we visited. They were on state disability for mental illness, and were given just enough to afford a tiny apartment in a bad part of town, a television, and a cabinet full of cheap snacks. Debbie’s mom had szizophrenia and couldn’t work, Wendy had told me, and Debbie lived there with her mom and younger brother. They were always nice to me, but I was anxious to leave because I didn’t like their cramped little apartment with its blaring television and their loud voices; it was like being in the middle of a family fight all the time, even when they were being nice to each other and me. And I never liked prepackaged cookies as much as freshly baked – they were crumbly instead of chewy, and cold instead of warm.
Only Debbie was soft spoken, and I sat next to her while her mom tried to calm Wendy by shouting motherly advice. Debbie and I ate crumbly cookies and chatted about both of our art projects. I told her that I was selling my paintings, and she showed me some bracelets she was making from beads. She gave me one, and told me that everything was going to be okay. I didn’t know why people kept saying that, or even what it meant, but somehow Debbie’s tone led me to believe that everything was already okay. Somehow, even the crumbly cookies tasted good with Debbie around.
We stayed there two nights, and I lived out of my backpack again. When I was dropped off at PawPaw’s, no one told me what not to say, so after I wiped off MawMaw’s shuggah I told them what happened. MawMaw seemed upset, but PawPaw smiled and took me fishing and told MawMaw that baking cookies would calm her down. He was right, and everything turned out okay.
The next few years of monthly visits with Wendy weren’t as consistent or predictable as they were with my dad. She was trying to find a job with health insurance that paid enough for her to afford an apartment with a separate bedroom for me. Those were requirements from the judge who had removed me from her and my dad’s custody, and were necessary before either of them could petition to regain custody. She would complain that no one wanted to hire her because her last name was Partin, though Uncle Bob suggested it was because she didn’t have a high school diploma and kept hanging around her hippie friends at their art colony. As they moved, we’d follow, and sometimes we’d stay with Debbie’s family, and sometimes we’d stay at Bryan’s trailer, and sometimes we’d stay in places only one time that I’d never see again or remember.
I began spending more and more time at Uncle Bob and Auntie Lo’s because I began kindergarten in August of 1977; and, according to what I remember being said, they lived near a good school but PawPaw lived near a black school. At first I thought that meant Craig Black’s art studio, but I was only four years old and prone to mistakes, just like my dad.
I was born on October 5th, two days before the age cut-off for kindergarten, so I began school at age four. If I had been born two days later, I would have had to wait a year. Instead, I began school as the youngest kid in class, and that’s a significant and under-appreciated difference. Most adults didn’t consider that a year is 25% of a kindergartener’s life, which is akin to being a 12 year old trying to learn and play with 16 year olds who were bigger and had four years more experience. Years later, this difference would be emphasized in popular books that showed, statistically, that the best Canadian hockey players had the same birth month, and that they had begun kindergarten as the oldest and biggest kids, and therefore were always the best hockey players in class, and therefore were placed with other good hockey players every year, and collectively, over time, they rose above the younger, smaller kids and became celebrated hockey players.
I was the smallest and least literate kid in Miss Founteneaux’s kindergarten class, and though she made all of us feel safe and special and loved, the other kids knew I was her favorite. Not because I was smart or handsome or charismatic as Big Daddy, but because I simply loved being there. I looked forward to every day, and as soon as Auntie Lo let go of my hand after walking me to school I’d run to Miss Founteneaux’s room with my backpack full of art supplies and my knife in my pocket and give 100% to everything she asked. And she was pretty. And she smelled nice. I was sure we’d marry one day.
I’d have to walk back home alone, because by 2:30pm Auntie Lo was at least two sheets to the wind and unstable on her feet, and oozing the smell of Scotch from every pore in her large body. I’d arrive home to a pot of something simmering on the stove and her soap operas on television. I’d grab a few snacks she’d have waiting and go into her bedroom to watch after-school shows on PBS. That’s how I knew she looked and sounded like Julia Child, and why, for a while, I thought that Craig Black was the hippie painter of trees, Bob Ross, and that PawPaw was the Cajun chef Justin Wilson. That made sense to me, especially because I was used to seeing Big Daddy on television and the news all the time, so I naturally assumed that all of my family were famous.
Wendy would pick me up at PawPaw’s on Sunday evenings and drop me off at Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob’s. I’d be back at PawPaw’s by Friday evening, usually before Uncle Bob returned on weekends. Wendy wasn’t allowed to stay there any more, but would still take me once a month to stay a weekend wherever she was living at the time. Uncle Bob wouldn’t allow my dad to pick me up at their house, so my weekends with him began and ended at PawPaw’s. The other two weekends were with MawMaw and PawPaw and Craig and Linda, the Whites and Blacks. Occasionally, Uncle Bob would be back in Baton Rouge early, and I’d spend a Thursday and Friday with him; he was the only person I’d leave kindergarten early to go see. He always spoke with me as if I were an adult, and never seemed anxious to be somewhere else or doing something else, like Wendy or Auntie Lo.
It was a fun life, despite the confusion. I was in love with Miss Founteneaux and best buddies with Uncle Bob; unrestricted by Auntie Lo therefore able to do whatever I wanted after school; and able to see Debbie with Wendy. I was a fierce rabbit hunter with my dad; a mighty fisherman and budding Tree Surgeon with PawPaw; and recipient of boundless cookies and shuggah from MawMaw. I was happy.
All of that ended the Christmas of 1979. I recall the time for several reasons. First, it was the last time I saw Big Daddy pull a knife on my dad, and the last time I’d see him before he began his prison sentence. And, because I watched news with Uncle Bob and listened to him, it was the year that a few hundred Americans had been trapped on an airplane by terrorists in Iran and American special forces died trying to save them. It was also the same year that some of my Partin family lamented the oil crisis and soaring gas prices, because it affected the Teamsters trucking profits so much, and they talked about the terrorists whenever they blamed President Carter for the oil crisis. It seemed that my family talked about Presidents more than most people’s, and everyone commented on President Carter’s handling of things and wondered if the newly elected president, a Hollywood actor named Ronald Reagan, would do better. I was only seven years old and didn’t understand anything they were saying, but the stories were so consistent and so frequent that the words stuck in my mind, especially because the only person who never discussed those things was PawPaw, and the last time I saw him was Christmas of 1979.
I was sitting around Auntie Lo’s huge, white frosted Christmas tree that she said reminded her of snow in Canada, the only thing she missed since moving to the warm southern climate, and were sipping eggnog and laughing about the untouched plate of cookies but empty glass of Scotch that was evidence Santa had visited. (Uncle Bob and I had discussed that Santa was not real – I had almost said bullshit at first – and he said that he wouldn’t lie to me, but he had asked me not to ruin the fun for Auntie Lo, and I agreed). Wendy and Debbie were there, and I was eating a second slice of pecan pie when PawPaw knocked on the carport door and opened it without waiting. He had a huge present wrapped for me, and when I tore it open I was unsure what it was. It was a big red pole with a giant spring on it, and I stared at it, perplexed. He laughed and asked if he could show me how it worked, and I handed it to him and he quickly jumped on it and began hopping up and down on the pogo stick like a bullfrog hopping around his pond. He laughed so hard that I laughed, too. But Auntie Lo got flustered and tried to get him to stop because she was worried about her hard wood floors getting scuffed. She asked him to leave. Wendy agreed. Uncle Bob remained silent, as usual, and Debbie smiled at me compassionately, like she always did whenever I seemed confused.
PawPaw lowered his head and asked if he could say goodbye to me outside. Wendy was my guardian by then, so she said yes and I followed him out the carport door and walked with him towards his old pickup truck. Wendy stood in the doorway and waited.
The blood stains were gone from his truck, but it still smelled like his cigarettes and diesel gasoline from burning trees on his farm. He bent down to look me in the eyes, smiled, and told me he loved me and hugged me. I was confused by how he was acting, but I hugged him back as always, and I told him I loved him. He released me and looked at me with tears in his eyes, and said, “I’ll always remember that funny joke you told me, Lil’ Buddy.” I asked which joke, and he said he once reached for his belt and I told him “Belts are for holding up your pants, not for hitting your Lil’ Buddy!” I didn’t remember saying that, but he asked me to tell it to him again, so I said it and he smiled and said that was it, and hugged me again and waved to Wendy in the doorway and got into his truck and drove off, back to his family’s Christmas.
I went back inside with Wendy and watched Auntie Lo scrub the scuff marks off the floor around her frosted tree. It was before noon, but she was already drunk from the heavily spiked eggnog, and angrily making POP! sounds as she complained about her floor. Later, without me knowing, she threw away the pogo stick. I never saw PawPaw again, which made 1979 was the saddest Christmas I can recall.
My first memory of my grandfather was a few weeks after my first memory of my dad. I was four years old, the first year that Stretch Armstrong toys were advertised on color television, and I had been in a hospital, Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, recovering from a head laceration and severe loss of blood after falling from a fence at my foster father’s farm. He, my PawPaw, and my Uncle Kieth had rushed me to Our Lady of The Lake where I stayed for a few days. Before then, I didn’t know who Stretch Armstrong was; but, after watching television in the kids’ communal playroom- the first time I had seen color television, and the first time I had played with other kids so it was remarkable – I was enthralled by the commercial of kids pulling Stretch Armstrong across him across their chest like an exercise band and laughing when he sprang back to normal size. I had to have one! I must have told everyone I met about Stretch Armstrong, and a few weeks later, my dad brought one to me at PawPaw’s farm.Read more
When I learned that mother was dying, I flew to Baton Rouge and went straight to her hospital. The night receptionist told me her room number, and, after I asked, directed me to a room dedicated to prayer and meditation. A few minutes later, I left the small chapel and rode the elevator to Wendy’s room in intensive care.Read more
A year before President Kennedy was assassinated, my grandfather and Jimmy Hoffa plotted to kill the president’s little brother, U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, by recruiting someone to shoot him with a sniper rifle as he rode through a southern town in his convertible. The FBI told the president about this, but he chose to ride through downtown Dallas in his convertible anyway, and was shot and killed by a sniper rifle on November 22nd, 1963. A year later, Bobby Kennedy had my grandfather, Edward Grady Partin, released from a jail cell, and purged his criminal record in exchange for him infiltrating the Teamsters to find a way to send Hoffa to prison. Soon after, Hoffa was sentenced to 11 years in prison for jury tampering, based solely on my grandfather’s testimony and a lie detector test overseen by the director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. For the next decade, my family was one of America’s first “paid informants,” and we would receive homes and money and federal protection for as long as Hoffa was in prison. Soon after Hoffa was released and disappeared, my grandfather was sent to prison for eight years, but was released early due to poor health. He returned to Baton Rouge to live out his final days.Read more