Edward Grady Partin & Wendy Anne Rothdram
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
“And Kennedy made him an All American hero?” my neighbor, Carleton summarized. We were sitting on the balcony enjoying some freshly brewed herb tea from the edible and medicinal garden across the street and had nowhere else to be that day.
“And that’s the only reason he didn’t go to jail for rape, murder, kidnapping, and, ironically, perjury? And that’s why all those people tried to kill your family?Just for Kennedy to get Hoffa? Wow.”
His wife, Lysandra, nodded enthusiastic agreement at “Wow.”
Carleton was a 32 year old visual artist who had attended film school and earned his livelihood designing web sites for local businesses. Lysandra was a pilates and yoga instructor with a handful of local clients. They had flexible schedules, and they sometimes joined me and Cranky Ken on the balcony for happy hour. But, they rarely chimed in, and we mostly listened to Ken. They had become interested in the books on my shelf after seeing the Irishman in one of the downtown theaters, and were perplexed why my grandfather had such a small role, especially because all the books went into much more detail, as if trying to get someone’s attention about a bigger picture than just Hoffa and Kennedy.
To most people younger than about 50 or 60 years old, Hoffa and Kennedy were ancient history. As Frank said in The Irishman, much more succinctly than I have:
“Nowadays, young people, they don’t know who Jimmy Hoffa was. They don’t have a clue. I mean, maybe they know that he disappeared or something, but that’s about it. But back then, there wasn’t nobody in this country who didn’t know who Jimmy Hoffa was.”
To my younger neighbors, Hoffa was like Amelia Earhart, someone who disappeared without a trace and had a few television specials or movies made about them, and became a source of jokes on The Simpsons, often mixed with other references, like a cartoon sketch of Jimmy Hoffa and Amelia Earhart flying a plane over the Bermuda Triangle with a caption, “What could go wrong?” Few people other than those investigating Hoffa’s disappearance or Kennedy’s assassination recall my grandfather’s name, and when it comes up in a deep conversation, most people are surprised by how blatantly unjust his testimony against Hoffa – or anyone being prosecuted in our court systems, which is what my neighbors distill Hoffa down into – and how confusing it seems that his records continue to vanish.
“And hardly any records remain,” I emphasized. “As recently as 2005, Baton Rouge made news headlines when a handful of men claiming to be FBI raided the police station and removed all of my grandfather’s records, including records of when Walter Sheridan and Bobby Kennedy got him out of jail for kidnapping and manslaughter in 1962. Doug said he checked the Mississippi courthouse records for the 1949 rape trial; I never did. Regardless of each detail, I think it’s fascinating that, bit by bit, the records about my family’s part in history are vanishing. The more I research a book, the more I’m relying on my memory – and we know how bad that is – or here-say from other books.”
We chatted about that a bit, and pulled up a few court records. A brief internet search shows that my grandfather was nationally famous in the 60’s and 70’s and showcased on national media as an All American hero; but, because of other records not as easily accessed back then, it’s also obvious that Edward Grady Partin Senior had, for practical purposes, always been a dishonest person. Though many records continue to disappear, it’s difficult to eliminate Supreme Court records and retrieve all books published at the time, or to edit and tweak copies of books libraries.
The head of the FBI’s “Get Hoffa” Task Force, Walter Sherdidan kept many of his FBI records, and in a book he published in October of 1972, coincidentally my birthday and including events up until my birth (though I’m not mentioned), Walter summarized my grandfather’s history:
“Partin, like Hoffa, had come up the hard way. While Hoffa was building his power base in Detroit during the early forties, Partin was drifting around the country getting in and out of trouble with the law. When he was seventeen he received a bad conduct discharge from the Marine Corps in the state of Washington for stealing a watch.One month later he was charged in Roseburg, Oregon, for car theft. The case was dismissed with the stipulation that Partin return to his home in Natchez, Mississippi. Two years later Partin was back on the West Coast where he pleaded guilty to second degree burglary. He served three yeas in the Washington State Reformatory and was parolled in February, 1947. One year later, back in Mississippi, Partin was again in trouble and served ninety days on a plea to a charge of petit larceny. Then he decided to settle down. He joined the Teamsters Union, went to work, and married a quiet, attractive Baton Rouge girl. In 1952 he was elected to the top post in Local 5 in Baton Rouge. When Hoffa pushed his sphere of influence into Louisiana, Partin joined forces and helped to forcibly install Hoffa’s man, Chuck Winters from Chicago, as the head of the Teamsters in New Orleans.”
My grandfather’s records began disappearing as early as 1962, when Bobby released him from jail for manslaughter and kidnapping. Even the highest levels of our judicial system couldn’t uncover factual evidence, to the chagrin of Chief Justice Earl Warren, a forty year veteran of the supreme court and author of the famous 888 page Warren Report on Kennedy’s assassination.
“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. Shortly after Partin made contact with the federal authorities and told them of his position in the Baton Rouge Local of the Teamsters Union and of his acquaintance with Hoffa, his bail was suddenly reduced from $50,000 to $5,000 and he was released from jail,”
Earl Warren wasn’t the only person perplexed by Big Daddy’s vanishing criminal history. Jimmy Hoffa had hundreds of millions of dollars at his disposal, and he hired the best lawyers possible to discredit Big Daddy, men who defended high profile cases and mafia bosses and knew how to find information and intimidate witnesses, yet even they found nothing in the years of appeals between Big Daddy’s 1964 testimony. Their comments about Ed Partin in all of their books ooze frustration; and, at the same time, admiration. They were the best of the best at hiding and finding records, and they were stumped by whatever force was behind Partin.
Warren summarized Hoffa’s attorneys efforts in Hoffa vs The United States:
“Partin underwent cross-examination for an entire week. The defense was afforded wide latitude to probe Partin’s background, character, and ties to the authorities; it was permitted to explore matters that are normally excludable, for example, whether Partin had been charged with a crime in 1942, even though that charge had never been prosecuted.”
“I cannot agree that what happened in this case is in keeping with the standards of justice in our federal system, and I must, therefore, dissent.”
Lysandra said, “Of course he did. Your grandfather had every reason to lie to a jury.”
Carleton chimed in, “And his charges of perjury were available to the supreme court.”
Few people of any age, much less my apolitical neighbors, understand the supreme court system or realize how rare it is to bring a case to it. Out of eighty thousand or so cases, only forty to sixty ever see the supreme court. Once the supreme court makes a decision, all future somewhat similar cases refererence it, and the court’s decision has ripple effects for decades. Warren was a household name even before the Warren Report, because he had overseen landmark cases like Roe vs. Wade, Brown vs. The Board of Education, and the case that led to Miranda Rights being read at every arrest.
I looked at Carleton and Lysandra, and chose my words, trying to explain a few things without seeming like a lecture.
“Warren was the only one of nine judges to vote against allowing my grandfather’s testimony to send Hoffa to prison,” I said. “Two refrained from voting, and six sided with the prosecution even with all of the obvious meddeling with out judicial system. J. Edgar Hoover had personally vouched for Ed Partin and had even overseen his lie detector tests. Of course, Hoover is now famous for blackmailing politicians and military leaders with FBI surveillance – people like to keep their private livers private – and I’ve always suspected that he had something on the other supreme court justices.”
Lysandra laughed delightfully and said that it must not be that supreme of a court.
“And all of this was in plain sight?” Carleton said, rhetorically and to himself. “I wonder what they’d say if they knew Hoover turned out to be a crossdresser himself? Would that erase McCarthism from our history books? What happens when a supreme court case is reexamined decades later? Do all of the cases that used it change, too?”
“And it gets better,” I said, reaching for a book on my bookshelf.
“This one, In Hoffa’s Shadow, came out recently. It’s about Chucky O’Brien, the guy Pecci portrays in The Irishman. Chucky was Hoffa’s stepson and a low-level enforcer in the Teamsters, but fiercely loyal to Hoffa. Chucky’s stepson wrote this book, and he’s now a famous lawyer in the White House. In his book, he expounds on Hoffa vs The United States because that case was used by the Bush Administration to justify tapping the phones of all Americans without a warrant in the Patriot Act. In other words, if the original 1964 trial was bullshit but the 1966 supreme court allowed it, despite Warren’s warnings, then our judicial system can keep referencing bullshit, and the cycle continues.”
“Wow,” Carleton said again.
“And this bit is interesting,” I said, pointing to a line about my grandmother, Mamma Jean.
“… Partin’s wife received four monthly installment payments of $300 from government funds, and the state and federal charges against Partin were either dropped or not actively pursued.”
I said, “Unless my memory is really, really warped, I recall Mamma Jean saying she was paid up until Big Daddy went to prison in 1980; and all of us knew she had a house bought for her in a nice Houston suburb. And my Grandma Foster, Big Daddy’s momma, mentioned to me several times how grateful she was for Bobby buying her a house, too, and for her bills to somehow vanish over the years, as if by magic or a fairy godfather. Walter said similar things. I met Walter once, and for what it’s worth, I felt I could trust him; I think even he didn’t know about money being funneled to my family for decades, and Mamma Jean only talked about it with me and the other cousin my age, the ones who were old enough to think about bigger picture things when Big Daddy was dying. I never heard her talk about those things with my aunts and uncles – I don’t know why – and that cousin has been gone a long time, so I may be the last one alive who sees patterns that no longer have a paper trail to follow.”
We chewed on that for a while and got up and went to our respective kitchens and came back with a cornocopia of snacks to share. We didn’t discuss anything serious for a while, and got a little high and threw Frisbee the rest of the day until Cristi and Hope came home from their own adventure in Balboa Park. As wonderful of a day as that was, I was still distracted, thinking about my father, and I kept thinking about him in the back of my mind. Mostly, I began wondering what my father, Edward Grady Partin Junior, knew or had heard when he was a kid. To me, the stories of my dad and my grandfather are woven into one, and those stories go in and out of each other in a series of cause and effect that linger to this day.
My dad was born in 1954 as the third of five children to Norma Jean Partin and Edward Grady Partin Senior. Norma Jean was a gorgeous, confident, well spoken redhead with dark brown eyes and a voluptuous figure. She was from Spring Hill, Louisiana, near Texarkana and the tri-state border of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. She was so stunning that people compared her to the famous model and actress Marilyn Monroe, whose real name was also Norma Jean, and by 18 years old the beautiful Norma Jean that would become my Mamma Jean was courted by almost every man who meet her, and many made the comparison to Marilyn Monroe in efforts to flatter her.
Her family was spread across the south, and when she visited her cousins in Woodville, Mississippi, she met my grandfather, Edward Grady Partin, a physically large and fit man who was remarkably handsome, with clear skin and rosy cheeks and bright blue eyes and wavy blonde hair with hints of red, and with a charming smile and slick southern accent and sweet words. He was a 26 year old up-and-coming labor union leader who ran unions for both the Woodville sawmill workers and the truckers that delivered raw lumber and carried away cut timber. Almost everyone in Louisiana and Mississippi called him Big Daddy; the moniker stuck, and that’s what all of my cousins and I called him, and how my mind sees his name to this day.
As soon as Mamma Jean met Big Daddy, she wrote to her family that she had found a handsome, hard working man who she believed would make a good father. She said that he adored his mother and took care of her, and had ever since his father had run out on them. She said she thought he was a good man.
They were married six weeks after they met, and they began having children nine months later. Aunt Janice was born first, followed by Cynthia, my dad, Theresa, and then Kieth. They outgrew Woodville, and moved to Baton Rouge, where Big Daddy took over the Teamsters Local #5 and forcibly installed one of Hoffa’s men into power in New Orleans. Hoffa was so impressed with Big Daddy’s tactics and that Big Daddy quickly became one of Hoffa’s most trusted lieutenants. My dad was five years old then, and that’s when Big Daddy stopped going to church with Mamma Jean and took my dad with him to business meetings and ocassional elk hunting trips to Arizona, where I assume he overlapped business with pleasure. I never learned what my dad may have overheard; but, I know he became really good at gutting deer and elk with the big knife Big Daddy gave him.
In 1962 Mamma Jean said that Big Daddy was becoming “rough” on her and she was finding stacks of bloody $20 bills amounting to thousands of dollars taped to Big Daddy’s stomach when he came home with knife and gunshot wounds. He was dealing with dangerous people, including the New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcello and, of course, the Baton Rouge Teamsters who used brutal tactics to get only Teamsters hired. And, being an astute woman, Mamma Jean began to suspect that Big Daddy was killing people and perhaps planning something greater. Finally, as a last straw that broke the camel’s back, he topped going to church on Sundays. Instead, he went to Teamster meetings and took my seven year old dad with him; I don’t know what he overheard or told Mamma Jean, but one day she gathered all five of her children and fled Big Daddy and hid the children among different relatives throughout the south in hunting and fishing camps that were relatively undocumented and difficult to find. In 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated, and Mamma Jean suspected that Big Daddy had been involved; she remained hidden.
In 1964, Big Daddy helped Sydney Simpson, a 22 year old Local #5 Teamster, kidnap his two young children after losing them in a custody trial in the same East Baton Rouge Parish courthouse that my records would begin appearing a few years later; simultaneously, he was charged with manslaughter in Mississippi, and would have faced trials for both federal crimes, but President Kennedy’s little brother, U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, had him freed and provided him immunity and cleared his criminal record in exchange for infiltrating Hoffa’s inner circle and reporting “any attempts at witness intimidation or tampering with the jury,” “anything illegal,” or “anything of interest.” Immediately after Big Daddy’s release from the Baton Rouge jailhouse, the director of the FBI’s Get Hoffa Task Force, Walter Sheridan, located Mamma Jean and her children and offered her a deal: if she remained silent and didn’t divorce Big Daddy until at least after they convicted Hoffa of something, the federal government would buy her a house big enough for her and her five children and pay her a monthly stipend equivalent to what she would have received in alimony. She agreed, and later that year Big Daddy became famous as the surprise witness that sent the world’s most powerful Teamster leader to prison; Jimmy Hoffa was said to be the most famous man in America, after John F. Kennedy. Big Daddy testified that Hoffa had asked him to bribe a juror in a relatively minor case against Hoffa using $20,000 from Hoffa’s petty cash safe, and though there were no witnesses or recordings, Hoffa was sentenced to eight years in prison based on Big Daddy’s testimony and the jury believing my handsome, smiling, charming, grandfather. Immediately after the trial, Big Daddy and his children were showcased across national media, without Mamma Jean but implying they were happy, and Big Daddy became was called an All American hero for helping Bobby Kennedy stop corruption in the Teamsters by putting Hoffa in prison.
J. Edgar Hoover hand picked federal agents to protect the Partin family from inevitable retaliation by the Teamsters and mafia. After several attempts on our family’s lives, Hoover increased the agents. All of that seemed to die down when Hoffa was pardoned by Nixon in 1971, though a few stragglers took pot shots or blew up a house or two, not unlike Japanese WWII soldiers who never learned the war was over and would take pot shots at anyone stumbling onto their remote mountains or islands.
By 1971, my dad was ruggedly handsome and admirably defiant against teachers and anyone in authority, and, as per many young people in 1971, adamantly against the war in Vietnam that had escalated so quickly after Kennedy died. And then his father was suspected of killing a famous actor from about 40 war films, Audie Murphy. My dad may have had a slight nervous breakdown, just like my mom had around the same time, when her boyfriend was shot and killed in Vietnam, and that’s when Edward Grady Partin, Jr., was living with his grandmother, my Grandma Foster.
Within a few weeks of my grandfather being suspected of killing Audie Murphy, my dad met my mother, Wendy Anne Rothdram, at Glen Oaks high school. He was a senior, and she was a junior, and he thought she was fine. She lost her virginity to him in January of 1972, and, as Judge Lottingger wrote in my court records, I was born ten months later.
In 1972, around the time of my birth, Big Daddy was arrested again, charged with stealing $450,000 from the Local #5 safe, and the only two witnesses were found beaten and bloody. The safe was recovered in a river near where I, as a baby, was living with my dad and Wendy, and Big Daddy’s arrest made front page headlines nationally. In other words, it wasn’t subtle, and Wendy would have begun learning more about the family she had just become a part in (pun intended). My dad left her and me at home and rode off with friends on motorcycles to Miami and then took a boat to a Carribbean island to buy drugs wholesale; and, as Judge Lottingger documented in my 1970’s custody reports, Wendy felt emotionally upset, alone, scared, and confused; and she felt she had no where to turn. I’m sure Lottingger would have known about my Partin family, though that’s not mentioned in my court reports, and I’ve always wondered why he detailed so much of Wendy’s family in Baton Rouge: her aunt and uncle, Lois and Robert M. Desico, and her mother, Joyce Hicks Rothdram.
My mother was born Wendy Anne Rothdram on August 14th, 1955, in Richmond Hill, Ontario, an upper middle class suburb of Toronto, to Joyce Hicks and a man whose last name was Rothdram, but whose first name I never learned. Joyce was 18 years old and the youngest of three daughters of my Great Grandpa Harold “Hal” Hicks and Grandma Hicks, French Canadians who settled in the English speaking metropolis of Toronto; he’s easily found online, too, because he was a professional hockey player with 90 professional games with the Montreal Maroons, Detroit Couars, and Detroit Falconsl and though Wikipedia omits his brief stints with the Toronto Mapleleafs and Boston Bruins, Joyce – my Granny – had kept one of his Mary kept one of his Bruins jerseys, and I trust her more than Wikipedia.
Grandpa Hicks retired his jersies, and thirty years later he retired as an upper manager for the Canadian railway system, and local newspapers and coworkers mentioned him and his work and, of course, his hockey career respectfully in his 1960 obituary.
Grandma Hicks was a homemaker and attended to her daughters, Joyce, Mary, and Lois. Because of Grandma Hicks time and their dad’s stable career, the three sisters wanted for nothing in their upper middle class home; but, in full disclosure, a part of their lifestyle came from their aunt, my great-great-great aunt, Edith Lang. She, too, was well known in Canada, because at age 80 and after a lifetime of being a spinster, she married Canada’s wealthiest man and almost ten years her senior. She had been his secretary for forty years, and it was quite the scandal in newspaper gossip columns. Aunt Edith donated her ex husbands extensive artwork to museums all over Canada and traveled extensively and enjoyed time with her nieces, taking them to fancy country clubs and dinners when she was in town. Though somewhat aloof and cantankerous and ostentatious with her wealth, she didn’t have children of her own, and she ensured her nieces had a comfortable life and wanted for nothing. Granny and her sisters would all say they had a loving home and every opportunity imaginable.
Granny and Auntie Lo were partiers, embracing the post WWII prosperity of the 1950’s and enjoying Canadian rye whiskey on the rocks and an occasional splurge on Good Scotch. Aunt Mary was more of a homebody and, like her Aunt Edith, almost never drank alcohol except for wine with good meals. She married a young, mild mannered and family oriented man named John and they lived the rest of their lives in Toronto, raising their daughter without any events that would lead to Wikipedia pages.
Lois was rarely sober, and she married a navy veteran and delightfully indulgent French Canadian named Robert, a middle manager of Montreal’s Bulk Stevedoring Company, and they accepted a transfer to manage the loading and unloading of America’s second largest shipping port in New Orleans and bought an upper middle class home an hour upriver in the smaller, more affordable river port and capital city of Baton Rouge. They couldn’t have children, and medical technology back then never determined why. Instead, they embraced their lifestyle and enjoyed cocktails at The Sherwood Forest Country Club near their home, and kids around the neighborhood called them Mr. Bob and Mrs. Lois and they never wanted for anything.
Joyce was the only daughter left at the Hicks’s home, and one night she stayed out too late and had too much to drink and became pregnant with Wendy and then married the father, a man who’s first name I don’t remember but who gave Wendy and Granny their last name, Rothdram, a man who claimed to be a cartoonist for Walt Disney; though I never found evidence to support his claim. A few years later, Granny fled for reasons she never explained and took Wendy to Baton Rouge. They stay with Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob. They had rooms to spare in their newly built, upper middle class home, and they welcomed Granny and Wendy when Wendy was a five year old girl.
Granny was not one to sit idle, and though she was a single uneducated mother in the deeply ingrained culture of southern Louisiana that insisted women were homemakers and looked down upon unwed mothers, she persisted and exhibited confidence and found a job in the newly created “chemical alley” of industry north of Baton Rouge’s airport, a long rural road of chemical processing plants and oil refineries that processed oil from offshore oil rigs in Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. She was a secretary and taught herself to type and studied and learned the lingo CoPolymer’s processes, and in return CoPolymer allowed Granny health insurance – something that had been free in Canada and she had taken for granted until she was a single mother – and they increased her pay equitably, and soon Granny was able to save enough money to put a down payment on a small, 680 square foot home on a relatively large acre of land in a new housing development under the airport flight path. Her commute to work drastically reduced and Wendy had safe streets to play in and public schools and parks nearby. The home had three tiny bedrooms and two bathrooms and a modest kitchen, and Granny’s liquor cabinets rattled every ten to twenty minutes from jet airplane engines above her roof, but Granny was proud that despite her setbacks and obstacles, she had achieved what some people called “The American Dream” of home ownership as a single mother who immigrated to America without an education.
Granny would work for CoPolymer for almost 30 years. She was respected for being a self-driven learner, and for being polite but honest, and forthcoming with useful information, never shy, and she was recognized for never having come to work late or missed a day except for a brief period in 1975 when she was coming home from work and was sidestruck by a careless driver who had likely been drinking.
Granny was an alcoholic, but a responsible one and abomished foolish actions by ignorant people. Even before the accident, Granny had been adamant against any type of driving after having had a drink, and she drank every day without concern for what other people thought about it. She would come home from work and relax with a tall glass or two of the best Scotch on the rocks she could afford, and she so enjoyed her lifestyle that she rarely drove anywhere to socialize. Instead, she focused on being home as soon as she returned from work, which was only 20 minutes north of the airport, and she tried to be home when Wendy came home from Glenoaks Elementary and then Glenoaks Middle and then eventually GleanOaks High, and her routine was always to relax then cook dinner for her and Wendy.
Granny was happy. She was proud of her home she worked so hard to afford, and was happy simply reposing in her recliner with a bottle of Scotch and a carton of Kents and her monthly Reader’s Digest books, including a section of cookbooks, like Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Paul Prudhome’s Louisiana Kitchen and the ubiquitous Times Picayune Creole Cookbook. She was a self-taught chef, embracing the Cajun culture of making delicious food from scratch using frugally purchased ingredients and never shying away from adding extra sherry to her turtle soup or a splash or two of wine in her tomato sauce while enjoying a glass or two for herself.
Granny encouraged Wendy to be independent and to play with her friends on bike in their safe streets or explore her spacious yard with it’s large pecan trees and gumball trees and, typical to old Baton Rouge homes, at least one majestic stately oak tree with branches that reached out and bounced against the ground in heavy winds. Inside, Granny encouraged Wendy to read books from the copiously stocked bookshelf she kept with her other luxuries, an expensive collection of the Encyclopedia Britanica and a subscription to it’s yearly updates and several subscriptions to fiction and nonfiction books for a range of ages. Granny’s bookshelf was so well stocked that some of Wendy’s friends would use it for homework rather than Glen Oak Elementary’s library resources, just like I would, and Granny was generous with her time and would sit and learn with them, if they wanted, just like she would with me. Wendy had her own bookshelf for whichever books she chose for fun, and the encyclopedia’s were down low where she and other kids could reach them.
Wendy grew up playing with her best friends nearby, Linda White and the sisters Cindi and Debbie LeBoux, and they were what most people called Tom Boys, cheerful and playful but preferring jeans over dresses and bicycles over dolls, a rarity in the traditional southern culture where women wore dresses and didn’t get dirty often. They climbed the sprawling stately oak trees in Granny’s yard and caught minnows and crawfish in the drainage canal that wrapped around half of Granny’s yard, and rode bicycles for miles around the relatively sparsely populated subdivision with it’s meandering streets that navigated around waterways and oak grooves. As Wendy got older, she began swimming on Glen Oaks Middle School’s team and playing tennis and golf with Uncle Bob and Auntie Lo in the country club near their home thirty minutes south of the airport.
Wendy grew to be a beautiful young lady with hazel colored eyes that crinkled when she smiled, and long straight strawberry blonde hair that blew in the wind behind her when she rode her bicycle. She was petite, like Granny, and only 5’1” tall, but whereas Granny was thin as a twig, Wendy grew to be full figured and attracted the attention of boys at Glen Oaks High School. Like most of her friends and for reasons I don’t understand, she dated older boys and her first serious boyfriend was an 18 year old senior when she was a 15 year old sophomore. He graduated in the spring of 1971 and was immediately drafted and shipped to basic training and then to the conflict in Vietnam, where he was immediately shot and killed before Wendy would begin her junior year.
Wendy was devastated by his loss. He had faithfully written her letters, but she had procrastinated responding – a trait she would maintain all her life – because she had wanted to send him the perfect picture to remember her and had borrowed Uncle Bob’s fancy and rare color film camera and had Linda and Debbie take her photo dancing under one of Granny’s trees with the last of that season’s red azalea flowers tucked above her ear and augmenting the strawberry hints in her hair. Photos took a few weeks to develop back then, and Wendy enjoyed playing outside during the summer and forgot to pick up the film, and time passed and then she heard he had been shot and killed.
She had what I consider a minor nervous breakdown, and she rebelled against everyone and everything and told Granny she wanted to return to Canada, where there wasn’t a draft and the government didn’t make young boys go to war and die and people could live happily, she thought. But, she hadn’t told Granny she had been dating an older boy and that he had died, so she simply demanded to return to Canada and live with her father, a man she hadn’t seen in more than 10 years but had built up in her mind as a man who loved her more than Granny, and she imagined he would be more fun and supportive than her boring mother who just sat at home ever day and drank Scotch and cooked meals and read books.
Granny was a woman of action and preferred experiential learning over long lectures, and she forewent her good bottles of Scotch to buy Wendy a plane ticket to Toronto for Wendy to see her dad for the first time since they had immigrated to America eleven years prior. Wendy boarded the plane and she saw the trees in her yard from above after having spent her life looking up at them passing over their home, and she thought she’d never return to Louisiana. But, only a few days later she used the return ticket Granny had had the foresight to purchase and returned home, because her father wouldn’t even hug her and said he was happy with his new family and that Wendy was Granny’s problem now. He gave her a hastily drawn cartoon caricature of a drunkard with a 1940’s hobo hat, and Wendy returned to Baton Rouge even more distraught than before, and Granny resumed buying the good bottles of Scotch and, in her pragmatic way, encouraged Wendy to focus on being happy.
Wendy turned 16 a few weeks later and began her junior year at Glen Oaks High School, but was so depressed that she dreaded being stuck inside and all of the questions that permeate southern culture ostensibly to be friendly but usually only mindless of diverse households, like “Who’s your momma, and what church do y’all go to?” and “What’s your daddy do?” and, for those people who know a bit about you already, “Have you heard from your boyfriend?” She had always been friendly but shy, and in her junior year she became reticent and smiled less and less frequently. To tolerate the anxiety of going to school, she began smoking marijuana with her friends and relaxing in class, comfortably numb and passing time until she could go home and smoke again.
She met Edward Grady Partin Junior that fall, a 17 year old senior who was the Glen Oak’s main drug dealer. He was tall and physically strong and ruggedly handsome, with long black hair and dark brown eyes so dark they seemed black. He rarely smiled in school, and usually frowned or scowled to express his discontent with the system and disdain for authority. He always had abundant marijuana and new cars that attracted attention, especially in the lower economic school district of Glen Oaks, and he had been arrested for selling drugs but somehow a judge set him free, and that added to his reputation as a “bad boy” and confident young man that seemed to attract 16 year old girls going through issues with their fathers. He told his friends that Wendy was “fine,” and soon they were skipping school to ride in his cars and sneaking out at night to meet; coincidentally, he had recently moved in with his grandmother, my Great Grandma Foster, who lived a few blocks away from Granny.
Wendy and my dad snuck out one night in January of 1972 and got high, and they listened to a new album that had just come out, Led Zepplin IV, and the song that was the most popular in America at that time and would become prophetic for Wendy, “Going to California.”
Spent my days with a woman unkind
Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine
Made up my mind to make a new start
Going to California with an aching in my heart
Someone told me there’s a girl out there
With love in her eyes and flowers in her hair
She smoked his stuff and got high and lost her virginity to Edward, and almost immediately realized she was pregnant. She didn’t have enough money for an abortion and didn’t tell Granny for fear of judgement, and when she told my dad she was surprised by his insistence on getting married; his father had had several illegitimate families and, in my dad’s mind, had abandoned him and my dad wanted to be a better father and insisted they get married. Wendy agreed, and they dropped out of school and drove an hour and a half away to Woodville, Mississippi, where state laws didn’t require parental consent for a 16 year old girl to marry a 17 year old boy. They returned to Baton Rouge as Mr. and Mrs. Edward Partin and resided in one of his father’s many homes while my dad started growing marijuana in a dry patch of land in a nearby bayou.
A few months later, Wendy abandoned me at a daycare center and left for California. A judge acted ex-parte for my safety and placed me in the first foster home he could find. As my records indicate, that was the home of Mr. and Mrs. White. To me, they were my PawPaw and MawMaw; and if I spent a lifetime wondering how to honor my mother and father, part of that pondering was how to define a mother and a father. Was it the people who gave birth to me, or the people who took care of me and shared their love? Both? More? Do I include Father Time and Mother Earth?
Carleton and Lysandra listened to my summary and then we sat silently for a while. They talked about their families – it had always been obvious that Lysandra was estranged from hers – and we agreed that we didn’t know how to define mother and father, much less how to honor them. In the end, we tossed a Frisbee some more and had another beer and made a delightful dinner to share and had a wonderful evening with a bit of laughter and deeper connections.
We ate from Mother Earth and shared Father Time and that seemed enough for us, and perhaps that’s all there is to honoring our mother and father. But, for me, I still would like to understand my family a bit better, and to share any lessons that I hope benefits posterity. Maybe that’s it, too; honor by acknowledging the present and paying forward lessons from the past. Or, perhaps I’m too attached to my story to see a bigger picture, and this book is a distraction from a deeper conversation on what’s important. If so, that would be for you, the reader, to decide; obviously, if I knew the answer, I would have just started there instead of going on this journey with you.