But then came the killing shot that was to nail me to the cross.
Edward Grady Partin.
And Life magazine once again was Robert Kenedy’s tool. He figured that, at long last, he was going to dust my ass and he wanted to set the public up to see what a great man he was in getting Hoffa.
Life quoted Walter Sheridan, head of the Get-Hoffa Squad, that Partin was virtually the all-American boy even though he had been in jail “because of a minor domestic problem.”Jimmy Hoffa in Hoffa: The Real Story
I began a three month sabatical in April of 2019 and had just arrived in Cuba on an entrepreneurship visa when I suspected that Wendy was dying. I can’t describe exactly how I suspected, it was more of a feeling than what she said in her voice mail. I listened to her message several times in the small Plaza San Francisco de Asis, one of only two places for a gringo to get wifi service in Havana, even in 2019. I was curious where my feeling was coming from, the intuitive, gut feeling that often can’t be described intellectually. The best I can imagine is that I noticed a small pauses where it seemed as if she was choosing her words carefully, which was rare, or that she wanted to tell me more.
“Hey Jason, it’s Wendy,” she began, followed by a pause. “I know you’re going to Cuba, but I was hoping to speak with you about my will.” Another pause. “It’s not a big deal,” she said quickly, and then and continued at a similar pace: “I’d just like to add Cindi as executor because you travel so much.” There was a pause, as if she realized she rushed through that last sentence and was collecting her thoughts before she spoke again. Or, she had been drinking, and was slightly drunk and called me as she sometimes does when alcohol brings up old memories and lowers her inhibitions.
Wendy was my mother, Wendy Anne Rothdram Partin, but she had taught me to call her Wendy when I was a small child in the foster system. She had gotten pregnant at age 16, the night she lost her virginity to Edward Grady Partin Junior. She dropped out of school to marry him, and soon had a nervous breakdown and abandoned me at a day care center one weekday afternoon in 1973 and left Louisiana for California, the epicenter of America’s progressive culture and anti-war movement. My dad was in and out of jail in Baton Rouge and the daycare center had no where to put me, so a judge placed me in foster care. Wendy returned on her own and divorced my dad and fought the Partin family for seven years to regain custody of me, but during that time she was ashamed of what she had done and embarrassed to be a single, uneducated, teenage mother in the ostensibly religious and conservative southern town of Baton Rouge, and she felt if I called her by her first name people would assume I was her baby brother. That was almost half a century before, but old habits are hard to break and I still called my mother Wendy.
She had never quite recovered from the ordeal and was still prone to bouts of depression that I called small nervous breakdowns. I don’t think she was bipolar; rather, she was always a bit depressed and major, stressful events triggered her to drink more than usual and that led to a downward spiral. When she was feeling better she still drank too much, but her tone in voice mails was more cheerful and direct, and I dind’t have to assume what was wrong. And when we spoke, I could joke about her drinking in a way that had just enough truth, that all of her family, with me intending to remind her of what she had said almost thirty yaking jokes using her humor that’s centered around puns and sarcasm, probably with a bit of truth behind the words. One of her most common jokes was that she had been born WAR, but marying Ed Partin WARPed her, and that’s why she still gets depressed. She’s always been reticent to discuss her past, even with her therapists, and when she enters a bout of depression she shelters at home wtih her rescue dogs and garden and home she had designed and decorated and loved, and I long ago leared to let time pass without asking questions, and I became used to six or seven months passing between speaking with her.
“And I thought…,” Her voice mail said, followed by a pause long enough for me to take two breaths. “It’s not important. Call me back when you can.” There was another pause and a slight, barely noticeable sigh. It would have been missed by most people who hadn’t known Wendy as long as I had.
“Tell Cristi I said hello, and I hope y’all are enjoying San Diego,” she said quickly, habitually, as if trying to leave her voice mail on an upbeat tone or to camoflague her first few attempts to speak sincerely.
She spoke with her subtle Canadian accent, almost unoticable, especially blended in with the French culture of southern Louisianal; but, if you paid attention, you’d notice she pronounced “y’all” like someone who learned it and used it to fit in, without the drawl and ease of use that people who were born in the south do, like I used to before moving to California and adapting to the relatively neutral accent there. Her mother, my Granny, had fled an abusive husband in Toronto and moved in with her sister and brother in law in Baton Rouge when Wendy was a child. I came from a long line of single mothers with Canadian accents. As Wendy joked, our family tree was more like a straight stick, eh! I had left Louisiana in the 1990’s, soon after all of my Canadian family had passed away in their early 60’s from alcohol and tobacco related disseases. Wendy was still in Louisiana, about to turn 64, still a young woman and only 16 years older than I was and still considered by most people to be a petitie, physically attractive, funny lady who liked to cook and garden and walk her dogs and ride her bicycle. Her hair was still the same strawberry blonde of her youth, and when she smiled her crows feet accentuated the laughter in her hazel eyes. She had a lifetime of opportunities ahead of her, but she was an alcoholic, like Granny, Auntie Lo, and Uncle Bob had been, and old habits are hard to break. Her feelings beneath her smile were often driven by loneliness, perhaps becasue she never quite fit into southern culture, and those feelings would lead to her becomeing trapped in thoughts about the past. Her thoughts exaserbated her drinking and perpetuated the cycle of lonely feelings leading to harmful thoughts and habitual actions, and she knew that and felt ashamed of herself, especially when reaching out to me, and she never quite told the whole truth. Some things hadn’t changed since I was an kid.
“If I miss you,” she finished, “Have fun in Cuba and we’ll talk when you get back.” She hung up without saying words of love, not even out of habit, but I was used to that, especially she called after a few glasses of wine, and that had become more and more of a pattern that began earlier each day the past few years. I was unsure what to do. She was a reticent person, and even leaving a voice mail was a major effort for her, so I had learned to pay attention to her messages and avoid pressuring her about her drinking unless we were in person, face to face, and emotions and compassion could be seen with less focus on the words.
I listened to the voice mail again using bluetooth ear buds that blocked the sounds of downtown Havana traffic and music eminating from bars and restaurants in the plaza. I wanted to lean into her voice mail, to try to hear sublties that would tell me more than her words. The ear buds were expensive and had sound canceling software to reduce background noise and amplify all frequencies of sound. Wendy’s voice came to my ears in simultaneous stereo; but, perhaps because I could see her in my mind’s eye, I rotated my head this way and that, as if I were listening to Wendy in person. I have a 15% hearing loss in each ear but at different frequencies, and in person I rotate my to point one ear or the other towards whomever’s speaking, and Wendy’s voice was in the mid to high ranges that are difficult for me to understand, but I had been speaking with her for so long that my head automatically roated back and forth for different words. If someone were watching, they may have assumed I was bobbing my head to music playing in my ear buds. I noticed I was doing it and stopped, knowing that if I were doing that I wasn’t really listening, and I replayed the message again. I hear volumes very well and above average, and with the ear buds I didn’t have to rotate my head and I could focus on listening to nuances. I didn’t learn anything that would help me understand where my feeling of worry originated, other than the pauses. I took out my ear buds and sighed in the same way Wendy did, barely noticeable and belying my smile for those who knew me. I was her son, after all, and some mannerisms stick with you no matter where you move.
I stood up and stretched and hoped I wasn’t so focused on myself that I stood out and attracted attention. No one seemed to notice me, despite my being the only gringo checking WiFi in public space, or perhaps becasue I looked like I was simply listening to music and must be enjoying it because I was bobbing my head to the presumed beat and smiling softly. But I was worried about Wendy, and I was tempted to get a nicer hotel, just for their Wifi. But a requirement of my entrepreneruship visa was that I only purchase things from independent street vendors, stay in private casa particulares instead of government ran hotels, and to seek out small, private restaurants and music venues. It was a new travel loophole under the Obama administation that would soon be closed by the Trump administration, though obviously I dind’t know that then. I had coincidentally learned about the loophole just as I was taking an anual sabatical, and I qualified because I led classes at The University of San Diego in engineering and entrepreneurship and volunteered with a few nonprofits promoting equitable education through hands-on entrepreneurship practice. To visit Cuba, all I had to do was encourage entrepreneurship by supporting it, and, when appropriate and only when asked, help budding entrepreneurs who may not know like minded people in communist Cuba.
I sighed. The connection was painfully slow and my hour on that card was almost over. I had to decide what to do.
I tried calling back, but as usual her cell phone wasn’t getting reception in her remote location in Saint Francisville, an hour north of Baton Rouge, and she didn’t answer her land line. I sent a text message and an email letting her know I had already arrived in Cuba. In the voice mail, I chuckled so that she’d hear humor in my voice and said that that the cell reception in Havana was worse than Saint Francisville, and that I’d only be able to check messages when I came back to Havana every week or two but to text me if it were important and I’d stay in Havana longer. Coincidentally, I added with a tone she’d recognize as our shared humor centered around coincidences and ironies, I was calling from a small square named after Saint Francis, the patron saint of kindness to animals. I finished with a perfunctory “I love you, and I’ll check messages when I can and call you when I’m back in San Diego.”
I tried to sound cheerful in the voice message and choose my words carefully for the text and email, but I sighed again as I hit send. I sent a message to Cristi, the only person I knew who knew my and Wendy’s history and her nuances, and I told her I had arrived safely and that the WiFi was less than I had expected and I would be mostly offline until I returned to San Diego in a month, and that I had a cryptic message from Wendy and was concerned. Cristi would know what to do, and could sometimes see through Wendy’s words more than most people who didn’t know Wendy’s history of having nervous breakdowns in times of stress. I dind’t tell her about the coincidence of Saint Francisville, because it was just a simple coincidence that Cristi may have called syncronicity, and I didn’t want to steer her thinking. It’s possible that my subconcious read into where I was listening to Wendy’s voice mail and read more into it than was there, and I hoped Cristi would listen to Wendy without my biases.
I sent a message telling two young American reporters and a German rock climbing buddy closer to my age that I had arrived and the address of the casa particular where I would be staying, one I had called after reading about them in my Lonely Planet guide book, but I doubted they’d have a reason to contact me before we met in farming valley of Vinales, which was surrounded by tall limestone cliffs and was becoming a respectable international climbing destination.
The reporters were traveling on a two week journalism visa and writing for a travel magazine about up and coming adventure and eco sports in Cuba, like rock climbing, diving, and sea kayaking near the Bay of Pigs; but, I knew that they also hoped to dig deeper and write articles with subtleties that would educate people about the differences between Castro’s cuba – he was rumored to still be alive – and America’s efforts to create sustainable recreation. It was almost like the opposite of entrepreneurship, a hope to influence American voters to apply sustainability efforts that small islands were forced to confront years earlier. The German didn’t need a special visa and had no agenda other than climbing. He heard I was going and decided to join at the last minute and laugh about how the land of the free has so many restrictions to go on vacation, and that even Germany got rid of its wall thirty years before. I couldn’t argue with him, and I even had a chunk of the wall on my mantle at home reminding me what it must have been like to be restricted on where you can travel. He had been a paratrooper in East Germany’s army just before the wall fell, and I met him on a joint training exercise soon after Germany reunified and we had remained friends with flexible schedules who could meet in almost any country for a rock climbing vacation, except for Cuba, and what I’d eventually learn was only in a small window of opportunity under the Obama administration. He, like me, was fascinated by the concept of truth in media, and had jumped at the opportunity to travel with journalists who were shackled by regulations and bosses who limited what they could print.
My Wifi ended and I was tired and worried and sore from the flight, so I picked up my carry on backpack and limped across the Plaza San Francisco de Asis to a small bar and grill with double doors opened onto the plaza. There was a band playing and they had a stand up bass, congo drums, a guitar, and at least three brass horns. It was my type of place. There wasn’t a slide trombone, but sometimes that can be a good thing; not everyone in a small venue is as skilled as Trombone Shorty.
I walked up to the bar and leaned against it and sighed and thought to myself that I had to stop doing that, it was a habit and not really how I felt. I had hoped to jump into vacation, but my mind was still focused on worry about Wendy and I was frustrated that my first day in Havana was anything less than the ideal I had imagined. I wanted to distract myself as I waited for the bartender, so I glanced around the mostly empty bar and listened to the band. It wasn’t yet happy hour and many Cubans were working, and all around the Plaza small bands were starting to play to entice people to enter. It must have worked on me. The six man band was standing between the bar and the open doors and were loud but good. They were young, dark skinned Cubans with talent. Their instruments were old and scuffed and tarnished, maybe left over from New Orleans jazz bands in the1950’s, before the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and President Kennedy’s embargo, or maybe they were from Cuban mafia parties of the 50’s, when heads of families would fly to Havana and bring in Frank Sinatra and other Vegas stars for music and booze and fun and collaboration with other families in a safe country, away from American jurisdiction.
I sighed again and caught myself and tried to stop thikning about Wendy and Kennedy and the mafia, but I knew I needed help. When the bartender walked over and leaned forward, I shouted over the band that I’d like a Hemingway daquiri and whatever local seafood tapas they had on special. He brought out the daquairi quickly, but the food took a bit longer. It was squid a la parilla, cooked too long on the grill but served with a decent mango salsa. The Hemingway daquiri was strong and good and I had another. It helped quiet my mind.
The daquiris loosed my mind and then my body, and I stretched while obstensibly moving to the music. It wasn’t hard; Cuban Funk seems to be made to move to, and even the private driver I had hired to take me from the airport to downtown had tapped his fingers on the steering wheel of his classic 1955 convertible as we cruised into town with the top down and the Buena Vista Social Club blaring on his upgraded speakers. Of course I had heard of the Buena Vista Social Club – who hasn’t? – but there was more music worth discovering and I was looking forward to hearing something few people had yet. I had seen Cuba’s Cima Funk play with New Orleans’s Dumpstafunk at Tipatinas, a bar and small music venue owned by the renowned Galactic, when he traveled up there for a festival hosted by Trombone Shorty. The dacquiris were cheap compared to New Orleans and the band was just as good. I smiled: I could get used to an entrepreneurship lifestyle.
I glanced around without being obvious about it. I was the only gringo in the bar and didn’t want to attract attention by standing still or stretching, but my body was screaming in pain form the long flight and even with the two dacquiris loosening me I needed to move my old and scarred muscles. Over the years, I’ve learned which poses stretch the complex muscle connections between my scalp, back, and hips. It’s not typical to see. Fortunately, I’m such a poor dancer that the odd moves I used to stretch my neck and lower back weren’t noticeable compared to the odd moves I used to dance, similar to how Wendy’s sigh wouldn’t have been noticeable with her typical choppy message, and similar to how someone watching me listen to her may have assumed I was moving my head to music.
My body and mind began to relax, and I turned my thoughts to what I wanted to do in Cuba. I was in Cuba to mostly have fun, but, like the journalists, I also had ulterior motives that I didn’t talk about openly. Of course, I was on a visa and could talk about that, but I also wanted to visit Guantamano Bay, to see it and ponder what would have made Obama break his campaign promise of closing it. The mob came to Cuba to avoid American jurisdiction, and I wanted to understand how, 60 years after the failed the Bay of Pigs invasion and Kennedy’s Cuban embargo, America still had a base at Guantanamo and used it to detain prisoners without a trial or attorney, ironically out of American jurisdiction just like the mob had done long ago. Maybe “why” is a better word than “how,” because I could read all about the legalities involved on Wikipedia. But, for me, nothing beats hands-on learning to develop deeper understanding, and the “why” would be deeper than the government’s answers about American citizen security, but more of a “why” Cubans and Americans tolerate such a violation of the values we advertise. I wanted to understand Guantamano, if possible, by reading all the things I could read from anywhere in the world, but while there and perhaps bumping into a few American guards or Cuban residents and listening with an open mind.
Secondly, I was there to research my grandfather’s trips to Cuba in the 50’s and role in President Kennedy’s assassination that had bothered me since 1996, when I first learned about him knowing Castro and traveling there in the late 1950’s, when Lee Harvey Oswald was still living in New Orleans and tried to make it to Havana via Mexico City.
The band took a break and I stopped stretching and leaned against the bar nonchalantly and ordered ceviche and asked for a side of the mango salsa and opened file on my phone labeled JiPBook and opened an old letter about my grandfather from Mamma Jean, my dad’s mother, Norma Jean Partin, like the Norma Jean who probably dated president Kennedy and is better known by her stage name, Marylin Monroe. Like the famous model and actress, Mamma Jean was known to be one of Louisiana’s most beautiful women, a quiet woman focused on her church and children and cooking catfish who married the most handsome man in Mississippi, Edward Grady Partin Senior, shortly before the moved to Baton Rouge.
You may not know Mamma Jean by name, but if you’re familiar with Jimmy Hoffa and Bobby Kennedy you may know my grandfather, Edward Grady Partin Senior, whom we all called Big Daddy. He was famous in the 1960’s and 1970’s as the Baton Rouge Teamster leader who infiltrated Hoffa’s inner circle and sent the Teamster president to prision. He was big and handsome and charming and had a southern accent that people adored back then, and Bobby posted my family across national media for several years to emphasize that the witness against Hoffa was an honorable man. He was portrayed by Brian Dennehy in 1983’s Blood Feud about the rivalry between Hoffa and the Kennedys, but faded from fame and I hadn’t thought much about him until after I decided to visti Cuba and Craig Vincent, the actor portraying Big Daddy in the upcoming Martin Scorcese film, called to discuss his role. The film was scheduled to be released that summer in 2019 and was about Hoffa’s disappearence. It was well funded, around $250 Million, which to me sounds even bigger if I call it a quarter of a billion dollars, and Scorcese had secured the rights to former Teamster Frank Sheeron’s memoir “I heard you paint houses,” a reference to mafia lingo used to hire an assassin to paint the walls red with a victom’s blood. Frank claimed to have killed Hoffa on behalf of the mob, to hide all of their involvement with the Kennedy assassination, and the film raised so much money becasue to spark interest so long after the events probably required using all of America’s favorite ganster actors, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Ramono, etc., and I can’t imagine how much they charged just to look at Scorcese’s script, which changed the book a lot to focus on entertainment and selling enough tickets to recoup costs. Craig Vincent had worked with Scorcese before, in the film Casio, and was a big, rough looking man cast to portray Ed Partin, and he called the surviving Partins who remembered Big Daddy and asked for tips on portraying him correctly. We were easy to find – Uncle Keith is the current Baton Rouge Local #5 president, similar to how Hoffa’s son, James, is still the international president. Some things, like old habits, don’t seem to change, including America’s facination with Hoffa and Kennedy and the mob.
Speaking with Craig about the past had been on my mind, especially how we mostly discussed, not Big Daddy, but his love of his deceased parents and recent diagnosis with hairy cell leukemia, which is as horrible as it sounds, and the brevity of life. I told him that I always thought Mamma Jean or Wendy could be a more motivational and realistic movie topic than Big Daddy or Hoffa or any of the films that were written by men and focused on the men involved. He agreed, and he spoke highly and at length about his love of his mother and his own family’s background and mob involvement, but he said he had a job to do and had been given the opportunity by Scorcesse and Pacino and was going to do his best. It may be his last role. He hand’t told many people about his hairy cell luekimia yet. That conversation may have added to my worry about Wendy, because life is short and we rarely know what’s really going on in someone’s life, much less their mind.
Craig was big but his role was small, maybe 20 minutes or so, and would probably be shaved down to about 5 minutes for Scorcese to cram a lot into a three hour film. Craig’s role was reshaped to fit the film, accomodating Craig’s New York Italian accent to match the mobsters and skipping Big Daddy’s southern accent, and eliminating the parts about Big Daddy and Audie Murphy and President Nixon in order to focus on the story about Hoffa and Big Daddy’s brief role as a Teamster strongman and then the government’s surprise witness against Hoffa. What most people don’t know, including the supreme court justices reviewing Hoffa’s appeals, not even Chief Justice Earl Warren, who had authored the Warren Report inaccurately saying Oswald had acted alone when he shot and killed Kennedy, was that Mamma Jean had fled Big Daddy before Hoffa’s trial, taking her five children with her and hiding them in hunting and fishing camps throughout Louisiana and Texas, and had only returned when Bobby Kennedy asked her to, and paid her to remain silent about Big Daddy. None of that would make it into the film, which mostly used Big Daddy’s Wikipedia page for facts.
I was the second oldest of Mamma Jean’s grandchildren by about ten months, Tiffany being the oldest and Jennifer and Damon trailing us by about three years and barely remembering Big Daddy. Tiffany and I had begun questioning Mamma Jean after the 1992 Hoffa, starring Jack Nicolson and Danny Devito, and Oliver Stone’s JFK film based on New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison’s book that had prompted the American public to demand that incumbent President Clinton release the 1979 JFK Assassination report. He released a part of it, and it was a lot for us to process. Mamma Jean tried to explain what she could in a letter to us, but her breast cancer returned and Tiffany killed herself and Mamma Jean was overwhelemed for a couple of years and died before finishing it; I’m sure that thought was on my mind when I was worried about Wendy and felt, inexplicably, that her depression could one day overwhelm her.
Stories like that are what Craig and I mostly discussed. I thought that maybe, by rereading Mamma Jean’s letter in Havana, I’d see something I had overlooked before, or I’d understand what she wrote better now that I was older. I paused before reading the letter, realizing that I had never grouped her with Granny and Wendy, single undeducated mothers fleeing abusive husbands. I was right, I thought, I do see things differently the older I get.
I leaned in and reread the letter, hearing Mamma Jean’s in my mind’s eye and seeing her as I recalled in 1996, still as gorgeous as Marylin Monroe, but finally allowing her hair to show its natural grey instead of the maroon red she had maintained for decades. A devout Christian who believed with all her heart to never lie and to not bear false witness, but also acknowleding her right to remain silent and focus on caring for her children the best she could. Walter Sheridan, via Bobby Kennedy, had bought her a house in Houston, close to her family yet far from Big Daddy’s Teamsters, and paid her a monthly living allowance as long as Hoffa was in prison. She didn’t see anything wrong with accepting Walter’s offer, she had said, because she had five children to raise and the Lord worked in mysterious ways.
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. – Love, Janice>
I hadn’t thought about Mamma Jean’s letter in years and I was unsure what I was seeking in Havana. Perhaps I was looking for 60 year old Cubans with sky blue eyes and charming smiles who didn’t know who their father was. Maybe I was seeking someone who would remember him – Big Daddy was rememberable – or had worked with some of his associates or boxing buddies back then. As I mentioned, I trust in-person experiences much more than anythign I could read in almost any media, and after hearing about The Irishman I wanted to use at least a small part of my time in Cuba to be open minded to learnign something about my family.
The ceviche and salsa arrived and I sighed behind my smile and put away my phone and thought about Wendy while I ate. Focusing on the moment is not as easy as saying it. My thoughts swirled and I resisted the temptation to order another dacquiri and was distracted as I stretched to the band, wondering about Wendy more than rehashing my family history. But they’re inseperable: knowing a bit more about my Partin family in 1972, you can imagine the shock a 16 year old girl would experience stepping into their world, and it’s not surprising that she had a nervous breakdown and fled. What’s remarkable is that she returned and spent seven years fighting the courts and the Partin family, with all of their mafia connections and legal immunity, and won. She hadn’t known anything about the Partins until she hastily married my dad, which isn’t surpising if you consider that back then the media portrayed my family as All Americans, and most of Big Daddy’s criminal history was hidden from the public while Hoffa was in prison.
If you’re surprised you haven’t heard more about Big Daddy, there’s a supreme court record that explains why his records have mostly vanished in 1966’s Hoffa vs. The United States, Chief Justice Earl Warren was the only judge to vote against using Big Daddy’s testimony to send Hoffa to prison. He explained his logic, and was discrete enough to not suggest that Bobby Kennedy or J. Edgar Hoover had influenced the other judges, or that national media had anything to do with it, like Hoffa strongly suggested almost every day as he fought Big Daddy’s testimony for two years. Here’s a part of Warren had to say:
Here, Edward Partin, a jailbird languishing in a Louisiana jail under indictments for such state and federal crimes as embezzlement, kidnapping, and manslaughter (and soon to be charged with perjury and assault), contacted federal authorities and told them he was willing to become, and would be useful as, an informer against Hoffa, who was then about to be tried in the Test Fleet case. 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 entanglements with the State and Federal Governments. And it is interesting to note that, if this was his motive, he 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 serious federal charges for which he was at that time jailed, and the state charges have apparently vanished into thin air.
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.
Here, the Government reaches into the jailhouse to employ a man who was himself facing indictments far more serious (and later including one for perjury) than the one confronting the man against whom he offered to inform. It employed him not for the purpose of testifying to something that had already happened, but rather for the purpose of infiltration to see if crimes would in the future be committed. The Government, in its zeal, even assisted him in gaining a position from which he could be a witness to the confidential relationship of attorney and client engaged in the preparation of a criminal defense. And, for the dubious evidence thus obtained, the Government paid an enormous price.
Warren would even mention Mamma Jean, without mentioning her name.
Upon his arrival in Nashville, Partin manifested his “friendship” and made himself useful to Hoffa, thereby worming his way into Hoffa’s hotel suite and becoming part and parcel of Hoffa’s entourage. As the “faithful” servant and factotum of the defense camp which he became, he was in a position to overhear conversations not directed to him, many of which were between attorneys and either their client or prospective defense witnesses. Pursuant to the general instructions he received from federal authorities to report “any attempts at witness intimidation or tampering with the jury,” “anything illegal,” or even “anything of interest,” Partin became the equivalent of a bugging device which moved with Hoffa wherever he went. Everything Partin saw or heard was reported to federal authorities, and much of it was ultimately the subject matter of his testimony in this case. For his services, he was well paid by the Government, both through devious and secret support payments to his wife and, it may be inferred, by executed promises not to pursue the indictments under which he was charged at the time he became an informer.
I had Warren’s missive and a few other court records in my phone files, but Mamma Jean’s letter was the only reference I had linking Big Daddy to Fidel; all others had vanished over the years, like the records of Barry Seals and other Baton Rouge people known nationally at that time. The most recent removal I had noticed was in 2005, fifteen years after Big Daddy died, when a couple of small blurbs about Baton Rouge made national news, paroding our police and fire forces, highlighting local news of when firefighters rushed to a call and left eight gallons of peanut oil boiling with a turkey in it that caught fire and burnt down the fire station while they were gone, and of the police station turning over all records of Edward Partin and Barry Seal to men claiming to be federal agents, but the FBI denying they had the records and everyone admitting they were probably gone forever. A few commedy shows even highligted the stories, and most people not named Partin probably quickly forgot about it and moved on to the next piece of news. Most of our history was only studied by law students and Kennedy or Hoffa conspiracy hobbiests. Hoffa vs The United States is still studied in law school because it’s one of the main predicate cases used to justify most surveillance to this day, including the legal team that justified President Bush Jr.’s monitoring the cell phones of millions of Americans without a warrant after 9/11.
Now that you know that, maybe it makes more sense why Guantamano was also on my mind in Cuba, and why those thoughts swirled and mixed with Wendy and Mamma Jean and family secrets. I was never paid by the government to remain silent, like Mamma Jean had, but I had had various levels of national security clearnances since I was 17 years old and was used to not discussing what I knew, and I never saw a point in saying what I knew about Hoffa and Kennedy because listening to the conversation was like being in a crowded party where everyone was drinking too much and talking too loudly and was overly opinionated but underinformed, and the best thing I could imagine doing at a party like that is saying nothing and leaving to go do something more fun.
I put down my phone and sighed again. The band was taking a break, probably before people filtered in after work, and I felt I should leave soon. I definitely didn’t want the temptation of standing next to a bar after I had already had two dacquiris. I scratched my cheek through my beard as I pondred what to do, feeling the curly hair tickle my knuckles and hearing the scratch of my fingernails muffled by the brustling of hair. My cheek didn’t itch, it was just a mindless motion to appear to be doing something, anything, other than staring into space; that’s the type of mindlesslessnes that orders another drink, and I knew it. It was time to go.
“La cuenta, por favor,” I said when the bartender walked over. He brought it and we I chatted a bit and he asked how I spoke Spanish so well. I chuckled and said I lived in San Diego, on the border of Tijuana, and couldn’t help but learn Spanish.
The truth is a bit more complex. I rarely practiced Spanish, but I grew up in Southern Louisiana with the Cajun French influence and French and Spanish are similar Latin based languages, unlike English’s Germanic roots, and my understanding verb conjugation gave me an advantage over other Americans learning Latin languages. Mostly, though, I knew that he thought I was more proficient than I was, but I didn’t want to tell him that. If you pay attention to how most people speak, the first five minutes are so similar that you practice the same phatic comments again and again and sound better than you are. I was decent at ordering food and drinks in about a dozen languages, and could fake about a dozen more if the bartenders were used to tourists mispronouncing things, but I’d be lost in a real conversation. I was looking forward to practicing my Spanish so I could listen for more nuances in what people said, but not then and probably not in a crowded bar where everyone was talking loudly to be heard over the music.
The band began plaing again and I paid in U.S. Dollars and said, “No necicitto cambio,” and the bartender picked up the cash and smiled genuinely and said “Gracias! Buen viaje!” and I put on my carry-on backpack and turned to leave. As I walked out and back into the plaza, I dropped a $5 bill in the band’s tip jar and smiled and bowed a thank you to them without interrupting. One of the trumpet players nodded back with his horn without missing a note and I limped to my casa particular, though only people who knew me well would have noticed the limp, because it was sublte and slowed my gait more than altered it, thankfully, and anyone noticing would have assumed I walked slowly because of the tightly stuffed backpack.
I did a bit of yoga and slept well. I woke to a homemade breakfast, walked back to the Plaza de San Francisco de Assi, and bought another WiFi card. Cristi had been unable to reach Wendy, but that was typical both because of Wendy’s remote home and her tendency to be emotionally unavailable for weeks or months at a time. The reporters were already in Vinales and had met the alleged climbing guide – many adventure sports are illegal in Cuba’s free healthcare system, which is reasonable, so he wouldn’t say he was a guide and they wouldn’t call him one – and they were ready for when I’d arrive. I considered waiting a few days longer to see if Wendy replied, but after a night’s sleep I felt more relaxed and decided that I was imagining things, exaggerating Wendy’s emotional state in my mind, because of recent conversations about Big Daddy and reflections on my childhood with the Partins. Wendy had probably been drunk and beginning another bout of depression, and would be easier to speak with when I returned. I decided to continue my trip and check back on Wendy whenever I was in Havana, probably every week or two, maybe more, depending on how much fun I had climbing in Vinales and diving in Playa de Giron, which is what Cubans called the Bay of Pigs, or who I met and what I learned in Guantamano. I returned to the casa particular, said goodbye, put on my backpack, and walked around to find a nice, privately owned 1950’s convertible with updated speakers and a driver willing to take me to Vinales, where I couldn’t imagine anything else being on my mind for the next few weeks.
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