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,” 1975
I had just landed in Cuba on an entrepreneurship visa when I first suspected Wendy would commit suicide; she wouldn’t, and I had no reason to suspect she would, but that was my first reaction when I listened to her voice mail while standing in the small Plaza de San Francisco de Asi, which I was told was one of only two places a gringo could catch public WiFi, even in 2019.
I was wearing a sun faded black carry-on backpack with short black scuba fins strapped to the outside, stretching and listening to voice mail with an iPhone pressed tightly to my ear, partially muting the din of downtown traffic and the sounds of live music wafting from bars circling the plaza, with a hint of waves crashing on the malecon. When I heard Wendy’s voice pausing more than usual, something ineffable arose inside of me, a feeling I had never experienced, something akin to a tenebrous premonition. I stopped moving and stared at the phone in my left hand, wondering what to do. I’m not prone to worry, but I had felt a surge of dread that she was reaching out before it was too late, and I almost called her right then. But, gut instincts can be wrong, so I put my earbuds in and listened again, leaning in and looking for nuances that few, if any, other people would have noticed or understood.
“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.”
“It’s not a big deal,” she said quickly and continued at a similar pace, clumping words into one long expression of emotion: “I’d just like to add Cindi as executor because you travel so much.”
She usually rushed her words after a few glasses of wine, imagining no one would notice her sluggishness if she picked up the pace. The sense of dread had tempered, but was still lingering, and I rotated my wrist and glanced at my old Seiko analog dive watch, despite the smart phone in my hand. I had landed in Havana on a Tuesday in early March after a long day of transfers, and the watch was still on San Diego time. I did the math. Wendy was a hour behind, which meant I could still call her back before she passed out that evening.
I sighed. She had called about her will several times the past ten or fifteen years. It was almost happy hour in Havana.
Wendy was my mother, Wendy Anne Rothdram Partin, but she taught me to call her by her first name when I was a child in the Louisiana foster system and she was a 16 year old single mother. She had abandoned me twice, and I was placed in a guardian’s home when I was toddler learning to speak. She was ashamed, and taught me to call her Wendy so people would think I was her baby brother when she tool me around Baton Rouge once a month. Old habits are hard to break, and I still called my mother Wendy.
“And I thought…,” she said, followed by a pause long enough for me to take two average breaths. “It’s not important. Call me back when you can.”
There was another pause and a slight, barely noticeable sigh, as subtle as the b in subtle. I doubt most people would have noticed.
“Tell Cristi I said hello, and I hope y’all are enjoying San Diego,” she said quickly, always tried to sound upbeat at the end a call.
“If I miss you,” she finished, “Have fun in Cuba and we’ll talk when you get back.”
I rewound the message – an archaic term for cassette answering machines I still used in my head – and listened two more times. After she said, “And I thought…” I held my breath and leaned in to the silence. I may have heard something, but I wasn’t sure. I thought I heard her inhale a bit, followed by a hint of a sound, “I…” but ending without fully forming, as if she had caught herself before sharing more. I looked down at my feet, took a deep breath, sighed, and hung up the phone.
I avoid eye contact when something’s on my mind, just like Wendy had as long as I can remember. Some mannerisms stick with you no matter where you move or how long had passed. I had moved away from Louisiana almost thirty years before, and Wendy had only left Louisiana once in that time, to visit relatives in Toronto. She retired young, around 2009 or 2010, just after the housing crash when homes were a bargain and she had cash in the bank from inherited IRA’s and an early retirement from Exxon Plastics. She lived in an affluent golf community near St. Francisville, a town of 1,300 people an hour upriver of Baton Rouge with an economy centered around three prisons, one state, one federal, and the infamous private Angola prison, named after the nearby Angola plantation, which was named after a region of Africa where they bought their slaves. Her community was The Bluffs on Thompson Creek, perched on a pristine location on one of the rare cliffs and clear running streams in Louisiana, overlooking vast pine forests that drove the lumber mill and trucking industry along the rural highway leading to I-110, chemical alley, the airport, and finally downtown Baton Rouge. A nuclear power station was nearby. There wasn’t a lot to do there if your back hurt and you couldn’t golf any more, and she began drinking at home alone, usually starting around two in the afternoon, though sometimes earlier if she felt depressed, which was more common after she began drinking to be happy.
I looked up, took out my earbuds, and sighed again; but intentionally this time, inhaling more slowly and deeply than usual, but not so much to be noticeable, and exhaled slowly until I emptied my lungs, purging all CO2; in addition to emotions, automatic breathing is triggered more by the presence of CO2 than a lack of O2, and I wanted to purge all CO2. I inhaled normally and resumed breathing, then glanced around the plaza to see if anyone was paying attention. There were only a handful of people scattered here and there, most on their phones, and a few walking around, peering into the bars and chatting with their group about what they saw or heard inside. No one seemed to notice much. I made a decision.
I never learned for sure what she wanted to say during that pause, and I didn’t try to retrieve the message after she died. I’ve never felt that reliving the past is useful. But, a brief backstory could help someone my relationship with Wendy, a demure, private lady who loved dogs and gardening and drank too much, and who died a few months before her 64th birthday. Her doctor recorded her death at 9:36am April 5th, 2019. I felt it was six minutes later, but I don’t know how to define death. I read once that an imprisoned monk or priest was scheduled to be beheaded by a French guillotine, and told his colleagues he’d try to blink as long as his head could blink. They counted something like 21 blinks on the ball that had rolled to their feet. They may have missed a few blinks as it rolled.
Wendy had what most people would consider a turmoiled history. In the fall of 1961, a six year old Wendy fled Richmond Hill, a suburb of Toronto, with her mother to escape an abusive father, and they settled in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Granny’s sister and Uncle Bob, a French Canadian who ran Montreal’s American offices of Bulk Stevedoring, had settled in a comfortable middle class, three bedroom home in the Sherwood Forest subdivision. She a cheerful but feisty lady in her early twenties, a hard worker with a high school diploma, and when she landed in Baton Rouge she taught herself to type with a book and electric typewriter in public library near Auntie Lo’s home. In the winter of 1962, a month after President Kennedy died, she scored a minimum wage job typing paperwork for engineers at DuPont Chemicals in the burgeoning chemical alley north of the airport. Gainfully employed, Granny left Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob’s home and rented a small house in Baker, a half hour closer to DuPont and near schools for Wendy.
Minimum wage was around $2 an hour back then, and Granny scrimped and bought cheap Scotch and cigarettes in bulk and stashed cash in the bank and her IRA, and when her father, Grandpa Hicks, died in 1965 she inherited a bit of money and added that to her savings and put 20% down on a small but comfortable 680 square foot home under the airport flight path in the winter. For $36,000, she scored a deal. The yard was a corner lot, with a narrow, bent elbow of a creek that wrapped around Granny’s back yard and exited along the front, parallel with the driveway, like a moat, providing Granny the privacy she appreciated without needing a fence. A sprawling and aptly named stately oak tree stood majestically between the driveway and water, draped in grey Spanish moss like bundles of old men’s beards, and provided shade and privacy for Granny’s western facing living room window and front door that faced the sidewalk.
The creek was also a drainage canal for storm runoff, but surprisingly clean and full of crawfish and bullfrogs and little brim that attracted a few neighborhood kids with cane fishing poles and a styrofoam cup of night crawlers from a refrigerator in nearby convenience store. They’d sit on the opposite bank, and point upward at each plane and wave at the faces peering down. For them, it was a paradise full of wonder and beautiful things, and Granny agreed. She was private but cheerful, and laughed with neighborhood kids rather than engage in small talk with adult neighbors. She wasn’t as outdoorsy as Wendy, and she adjusted to the sweltering summers of Baton Rouge by splurging on the best window air conditioner money could buy, and arranged her freezer to hold several ice cube trays, the old metal ones from before plastic molding and twistable trays, with levers to pop out ice, for evening cocktails. She’d crack open a tray of cubes and drop a handful into a tallboy glass with a satisfying and Pavlovian clanking of ice tumbling into the glass, and top it off with Good Scotch, sigh, and plop down in her recliner to relax. Granny was content.
Her liquor cabinets rattled every time a jet engine passed directly over her roof, every twenty minutes, like clockwork, which it was, because FAA guidelines that controlled when planes could take off or land on the same strip. But, she was proud of that two bedroom, one bath slice of independence with a back yard, as American as Cajun crawfish pie. Her humble abode had a stately oak in front for Wendy to swing from the long and undulating branches, and a back yard full of gumball trees for her to climb, and an abundance of azelea bushes bursting with red flowers blooming in every spring to sniff and pluck and make bouquets. In spring, Baton Rouge weather is crisp and flowers are abundant, and after every mild winter it beckoned people outside, and Wendy was lucky to have a natural playground in Granny’s back yard. It was as wonderful as it sounds, though the rattling cabinets and deafening drone of jet engines wore on your nerves after a while. It’s no wonder Granny drank.
Wendy and Granny lived near Glen Oaks Elementary, Middle, and High Schools, and Wendy walked home five days a week, passing a convenience store that sold cheap booze and cigarettes along the way. And, though one one knew it yet, she passed a street leading four blocks away, to my Grandma Foster’s home, my dad’s grandmother on his dad’s side. Grandma lived in a home almost identical to Granny’s, but far enough away from the flight path to be more quiet, without rattling, and therefore out of Granny’s financial means. Sort of. Those houses began around $45,000, and Granny said she made a wise choice between going $10,000 more in debt for a bit more quiet, versus ignoring the planes and stocking your liquor cabinet with cartons of Kent and bottles of Good Scotch. Granny and Grandma lived a half mile apart, but had no reason to meet yet. Grandma, like her oldest son – my grandfather – never drank. Granny and Grandma wouldn’t have had much in common before I was born.
Wendy was home alone often, because Granny carpooled from DuPont, a half hour north at best, with a carload of engineers trying to conserve gas during one of the crisis’s of the 70’s, when Granny was trying to save money; engineers make more money than most secretaries. They, too, would say Granny was cheerful yet fiesty, and when she drove she’d flick her cigarette out the window and laugh until someone cut her off, then she’d give them the bird with her cigarette clipped between her first and middle fingers, calling them an asshole before resuming laughing with her carmates. She’d drop off her passengers at the end of the day, adding another half hour to her commute to save money.
Wendy was what neighborhood housewives called a latchkey kid, arriving home and unlocking the door and waiting for Granny to come home. In crisp springtime weather, she’d wait outside instead of in, climbing a gumball tree with a red azelea plucked from a bush and tucked over her ear, highlighting the red that was more predominant in her strawberry blonde hair after a winter with less sun, and from the top of Granny’s trees she could see faces peering down at her from airplanes passing to and from the airport. She felt she didn’t fit in with the neighborhood kids who fished on the other side of the canal, though it was only a frog’s leap across.
Wendy, like Granny, was reticent. Unlike Granny, she wasn’t content. Wendy grew up wanting to travel and be with a larger family, and, though I wasn’t there, I imagine she sat in her tree sighed the same wistful sigh I grew to recognize and still use myself when daydreaming about my next sabbatical. It’s not a sad sigh, nor is it intentional. Sounds sometimes follow emotions, and her sigh was wistful of an imagined past that’s pleasant to recall, and with a dash of daydreaming about the future sprinkled in like cayenne in Cajun seasoning, just a bit of daydreaming to awaken hope like cayenne wakes up taste buds. Wendy spent a lot of time alone, waiting for Granny to come home, staring skyward at planes flying all over the world, smiling and sighing.
Wendy never fit into the entrenched southern culture, centered around family and tradition, especially when people, imagining they were friendly, asked probing questions common in the ostensibly religious south, like who’s your mamma and daddy, and where do y’all go to church. Wendy was ashamed to admit her mamma had left her daddy, though she didn’t yet know why Granny left, and Granny never had a need for church, and was through with dating. She had lost a young son around the time she left Canada, but I never asked her the details and she never offered what wasn’t asked.
Rather than spend Sunday in church or flirting with engineers from DuPont, Granny preferred to enjoy lounging in her back yard, or taking Wendy to the Sherwood Forest Country Club, where Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob were members with guest passes. Granny would drink with Auntie Lo, and Uncle Bob would drink and play tennis with Wendy, using his bare hand like he had growing up playing on handball courts in Prince Edward Island. It wasn’t until Wendy began winning that he used a racquet, and then he’d sometimes play with a lit cigarette in the other hand, just to keep it interesting for him; he never let anyone win anything, but would handicap himself to make games fair. On weekdays after school, Wendy would sit in a tree and watch the planes and daydream of traveling back to Canada, where she imagined fitting in. The Cajuns of Louisiana had come from Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, and Uncle Bob spoke fluent French and laughed with the local Cajuns in their accent, and she assumed her comfort with him was what she’d feel with her father back home, but all the time, and not just on Sundays in Sherwood Forest.
Granny wasn’t fun, Wendy thought. She’d come home and cook dinner and wash dishes and laugh a surprisingly cheerful laugh at whatever Wendy said (she did it with me, to) and collapse in her beige Laz-y-Boy recliner with a tall boy glass of Scotch on the rocks in her hand, clink the ice again, shaking the stuck ones loose, sigh contently as soon as her feet were in the air, and reach for a Kent and one of the books from a three tier bookshelf that doubled as a side table with a lamp and ashtray. She stocked the shelves with her monthly subscription to Reader’s Digest, Wendy’s Nancy Drew series (later replaced by The Hardy Boys and a few magic books for me), a couple of investment books I can’t recall, a stained copy of The Joy of Cooking (a play on her name, Joyce, nicknamed Joy by a few friends back in Toronto), and a complete Encyclopedia Britanica; an astronomical $2,000 investment with an annual revision subscription for around $200, depending on how many updates were published. That encyclopedia subscription would have bought a lot of Good Scotch back then, but for what Granny lacked in motivation to be outdoors, she had more drive to sharpen her mind than most people I’ve ever known. At the end of a long day, Granny reposed and read and got schnockered rather than climb trees with her boisterous daughter. That’s fair, given the situation, but Wendy craved more.
Over the next few years, Wendy matured into a 5.1″ young lady, athletic and attractive, with with more blonde than strawberry in her hair s each summer progressed, a few freckles by the beginning of each fall’s school semester, and hazel eyes that crinkled like crows feet when she laughed. Though she never excelled academically, she was on the school swim team and on a teenage tennis league at Sherwood Forest Country Club. After swim practice and on weekends, she’d relax by smoking joints with a few of her girlfriends, like Cindi from her voice mail, and their friend, Linda White, and a gaggle of girls from Glen Oaks who liked to spoke pot and laugh and sing along to popular music on the radio. Boys who knew her used colloquial words of teenagers to imply she was voluptuous. My dad and Uncle Keith said she had the best ass in Glen Oaks and probably in all of Baton Rouge; that was their words, and Keith still laughs when he tells me about the first time he saw her with my dad and stared, amazed, wondering what a girl with an ass like that saw in an asshole like his big brother.
For reasons I don’t understand, Wendy had the first a series of small nervous breakdown in the summer of 1971 and Granny paid for her ticket to Canada to live with her father, if that’s what she wanted. Wendy arrived and met the father she hadn’t seen in ten years, but he had a new wife and four daughters and refused to let her live with them. He sent her back to Baton Rouge, with a message to Granny that he never wanted to hear from either of them again. For reasons I never learned, Wendy returned with a disturbing memento: her father’s thick brown leather belt with sharp, unworn edges and a hefty buckle. Distraught, she began her junior year at Glen Oaks, but quit the swim team, didn’t smile as much, smoked more pot than before, and stopped visiting Uncle Bob to play tennis.
She met my biologic father, Edward Grady Partin Junior, at Glen Oaks High in the fall of 1971, when she was a 16 year old junior and he was a 17 year old senior and the school’s drug dealer, estranged from his mother, unwelcome by his father’s new family, and living with Grandma Foster. He was the epitome of tall dark and handsome, with long straight black hippie hair and brown eyes so dark they seemed black. He rarely smiled around school, but would laugh when high and playing music with his friends at parties. Wendy got high with him at a party around the New Year leading to 1972 and lost her virginity. Two weeks later, she realized she was pregnant with me from that one time high with my dad. I’m unsure if she ever recovered from the shock.
She couldn’t afford an abortion, which was around $150 back then, so she accepted my dad’s proposal and they dropped out of school and eloped an hour and a half away to Woodville, Mississippi, where Grandma Foster and Big Daddy had been born and they’d have a couch to crash on, and where state laws didn’t require parental consent for two kids to marry. She had felt estranged from Granny, and they never agreed on the details about what happened and I never asked Granny, and in the end it doesn’t matter. Louisiana recognizes Mississippi marriages, and there wasn’t much anyone could do to change the facts that led my parents to be Mr. and Mrs. Edward Grady Partin, high school dropouts expecting a child and needing a place to crash.
They moved into one of Big Daddy’s houses on the outskirts of Baton Rouge, near the muddy Achafalaya Basin and a nondescript concrete bridge over the murky, slow flowing Comite River, where he dumped safes and bodies. Conveniently, no names needed changing on any paperwork, because Big Daddy was Edward Grady Partin Senior, and rarely, if ever, used “senior” on paperwork. They settled in quickly and my dad began preparing relatively dry, elevated patches of land in the basin for that year’s crop of weed. I was born nine months later.
Gestation takes ten weeks, not nine, as we’re told when births happen nine months after weddings, and I was born at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital at 9:47AM on October 5th, 1972. I weighed nine pounds and eight ounces, a huge undertaking for Wendy’s petite 5.1” frame, especially after carrying me in her belly over an exceptionally muggy summer and living in Big Daddy’s house without air conditioner, but my above average size was unsurprising if you had seen the hulking and intense Partin men – my grandfather was called Big Daddy for a reason – or had sat between men like them in a long airplane ride or cramped car. It’s a wonder she stayed around as long as she did.
About a year or so after I was born, Wendy had two small nervous breakdowns within less than a month. She left my dad and me the first time, but returned within a few days. A few weeks later, my dad was gone and she abandoned me at a now defunct, home-based daycare center near Glen Oaks High, where she still had friends. She listed her best friend, Linda White, as my emergency contact.
Satisfied she had done all she could in the time she had, she fled to California in a car with a young man she had met that morning, a young idealist in the middle of posting a hand scribbled note on the community board at Coffee Call, seeking someone to share gas on the long drive to San Francisco. Back then, California was the epicenter of America’s anti-war movement in the 60’s and 70’s, and Led Zepplin had just released their classic song, “Goin’ to California” on the 1971 Led Zepplin IV album, and practically all teenagers wanted to go there and be with like minded people, especially with the Vietnam inexplicably still escalating, and the draft enforced for those not in college or who had fled to Canada, ironically. The wistful lyrics would have tempted me, too, if I had been in her shoes. She and her friends had sang to it on the radio, and listened to scratchy versions from coveted vinyl albums played on cheap record players that, somehow added to the song’s mood. It was mellow, poetic, and spoke to their generation:
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
Took my chances on a big jet plane
Never let ’em tell ya that they’re all the same
Oh, the sea was red and the sky was grey
I wonder how tomorrow could ever follow today
The mountains and the canyons start to tremble and shake
The children of the sun begin to awake (watch out)
Wendy felt the note was fate, a sign to change her situation, and she fled Louisiana like her mother had fled Canada eleven years before.
I’m not sure how long she was gone. My dad wasn’t sure, either, because he was absent, riding motorcycles with a few of his friends to Miami and taking a boat to Kingston, Jamaica, to see The Wailers and buy a ton of prescription opioids from a Jamaican cartel obtained, I think, from a U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Puerto Rico. He could have easily spent time all over Caribbean, even without a visa, because everyone from Miami to Cuba knew my family back then, and my dad was able to navigate the Caribbean waters long before we had smart phones or guide books. According to family lore, Big Daddy knew Miami mob boss Santos Trafacante Jr., Puerto Rican Teamster officials, Fidel Castro, and most labor union leaders in the area, because Big Daddy was president of Teamsters Local #5 and controlled most trucking to and from the port of New Orleans and all of America.
After Jimmy Hoffa went to prison in 1966, based solely on Big Daddy’s testimony, Frank Chavez, the Puerto Rican Teamster president, proclaimed publicly, “I’m gonna fucking kill Ed Partin!” Chavez was assassinated in 1967, and in 1973 the new Puerto Rican Teamster president, whose name I don’t recall, never spoke ill of my family. It’s probable that my dad and his motorcycle friends had a few couches to crash on in Miami and the Caribbean. No records exist, other than my dad’s arrest records for dealing prescription opioids a year later, and my dad’s unsure of the details around my abandonment. Most of his friends, whom I grew to knew well and still see in Baton Rouge occasionally, would admit they were so high that they don’t recall much about the 70’s at all, much less which couches they crashed on when going to a Bob Marley show. They would, however, all agree with Keith’s assessment of my mother; she had a nice smile.
Wendy had thought my dad was in Cuba and unsure when he’d return. She did all she imagined she could do for before leaving for California with an achin’ in her heart, while she had time and an opportunity with a like minded idealist. She seized the moment and ran with it, and the daycare didn’t know what to do with me – this was before social services were common – so they allowed me to go home with the first person who said they knew me, the custodian and groundskeeper of Glen Oaks High School, Mr. James “Ed” White, Linda’s dad, and my PawPaw.
Wendy returned from California on her own, but it was too late, because Judge Pugh had assigned PawPaw as my legal guardian. Pugh was the only family court judge in East Baton Rouge Parish’s 19th judicial district, which is a quirky place, partially because France’s Napoleonic code has lingered since the Louisiana Purchase. Napoleonic law, simplified, is based more on each judge’s discretion and less on predicate cases, unlike the rest of the United States that leans more heavily on decisions from higher courts. With Judge Pugh’s blessing and signature across a piece of paper with a raised stamp of Louisiana, a stately pelican nurturing it’s nest of baby birds, PawPaw became my guardian and allowed Wendy to see me once a month or so, but never overnight, and, for reasons I never learned, he let my dad to keep me overnight once every month or two.
She persisted, filed for divorce from my dad, and moved in with Cindi’s family and tried to find work as a teenage high school dropout without marketable skills, married to the mob, and shouldering all risks associated with her last name. And, she was a single mom with a hectic schedule centered around chances to see her infant son, and I may have cried a lot and been more nerve racking than the rattling of liquor cabinets. She taught me to call her Wendy, and I was too young to know what a biologic mother was. MawMaw tucked me in on their couch every night, and kissed my cheek and cheered me up when I was sad, and put Band-Aides on my booboos when I was hurt. I saw Wendy once a month, and loved her like an older sister.
Wendy was eventually given a part time job with Kelly’s Girls, a national organization that obtained work contracts for temporary or seasonal work that had flexible schedules and required few skills, and then hired young mothers who were trying yo attend school or find higher paying work with benefits. She earned $512 a month delivering the Yellow Pages to suburbs around Baton Rouge from the back of a beat up Datsun hatchback with a manual stick she managed but never mastered, jerking forward after each stop sign, and she scrimped and saved a security deposit and was able to rent a two bedroom, one bath dilapidated apartment in a shitty part of town near the ramshackle neighborhood around Belaire High School, in the same complex Cindi’s family had moved, because Wendy craved family.
The court began monitoring her progress to gain me back, meeting guidelines about her job, living situation, and temperence. In the August of 1975, two weeks after Jimmy Hoffa disappeared and almost exactly on Wendy’s 20th birthday, Judge Pugh allegedly committed suicide and was replaced by Judge J.J. Lottingger, a thirty year veteran of Louisiana legislative law who knew my family well, because he had worked for three governors trying to rid Louisiana of Big Daddy ever since Big Daddy had moved to town and took over Local #5 in 1957. Governor McKeithen, in particular, was would rant and rave and tell the newspapers in 1968 that “I won’t let Partin and his gangster, hoodlum Teamsters run this state!” McKeithen didn’t receive Big Daddy’s endorsement on behalf of the Teamsters, and wasn’t reelected.
Lottingger left legislative law and took over my case in family court, and a year later he reversed Pugh’s decision and assigned my custody to Wendy September 26th, 1976. But, my dad and PawPaw both appealed, both trying to get custody in a three way series of lawsuits, and I lingered in the system for a couple of more years because they fought for me. It’s nice to be wanted, and I was a lucky kid, though I wished everyone would stop fighting. I don’t believe the part about Hoffa was a coincidence, because our family was protected by federal oversight and J Edgar Hoover himself until Hoffa vanished, and at that point the Partin privileges ended. The only thing keeping Big Daddy out of jail was Hoffa either being in prison or dead. I can’t imagine Lottingger not knowing that, or not realizing Edward Grady Partin Junior was Big Daddy’s son.
I’m not sure when I began living with my mom, because my memories at that age are as murky as the Comite River and a we bounced around a lot. But, by 1979, I remember Big Daddy finally going to a Texas federal penitentiary for stealing $450,000 from the Local #5 safe and a few other, lesser charges; the two witnesses about the safe were found beaten and bloody, and the survivor refused to testify, so none of the more serious charges stuck. I was living with Wendy by then, and that’s when my memories clear up and I become a more reliable, but still imperfect, witness. I rely on news, court reports, and family lore for a lot of what happened before then.
Before I was born, Big Daddy was arrested and placed in a Baton Rouge jail cell for allegedly kidnapping the two small children of fellow Teamster Sydney Simpson after a disputed custody case. Forty eight hours later, Bobby Kennedy freed Big Daddy from a Baton Rouge jail cell in exchange for infiltrating Hoffa’s inner circle, and that’s why Hoffa snarked that Bobby used national media to whitewash Big Daddy’s kidnapping of small children as a “a minor domestic problem.” Bobby’s influence was why my family name was privileged in all courts, and Big Daddy was showcased as an all-American hero and trustworthy informant, solidifying a false reputation for the key witness who finally toppled Bobby’s nemesis; at the time, the decade long feud between the two goliath’s was dubbed “The Blood Feud” because of the vocally and sometimes physically intense confrontations between America’s Attorney General and the president of the world’s most powerful labor union. In some of my favorite bouts, Hoffa often called Bobby “Booby,” or “spoiled brat,” and when President Kennedy was shot, Hoffa ordered the American flag at all Teamsters building flown at full mast, and was quoted in news as saying, “Booby’s just another lawyer now.” Hoffa even leaped across a debate podium and tried to strangle Bobby once, and only a powerful man could do that and not go to jail.
Hoffa was 5’6″ and surrounded himself with bigger men, like my grandfather, so he looks shorter than he was in a lot of old photos. Bobby was a tall, athletic, and competitive man buoyed by a legacy family, and he countered Hoffa’s aggression by freeing Big Daddy from jail and portraying him as an all-American hero for would-be jurors for prosecuting Hoffa, and voters for his inevitable presidential run. Many people in Baton Rouge knew better, and remembered Sydney Simpson’s kids being kidnapped, among many other things, and Wendy treaded lightly around my family after winning custody from Judge Lottingger, even after Big Daddy was finally locked up on an eleven years sentence in 1980. I can’t blame her.
She didn’t throw her court decision and 110 pounds or so of weight around the Partin family. In 1979, my 6’2″ lean and physically fit dad poked his finger down into her face and shouted to see me more. The seven year old boy who was once me watched Wendy’s transition, and saw her happy fun crinkly smiley eyes sadden, and her gaze turn towards her feet, and heard her sniff and realize that she could withhold her sobs until later that evening. She had been fighting for seven years and was tired, but my dad didn’t like it when people cried around him. He had a lot of pent up anger, but, given his father, that’s no wonder; Keith and my aunts always said Big Daddy was rough on him, but still won’t elaborate or don’t know how to explain it precisely. He was rough on your dad, they’d all say, again and again. I can’t imagine what that was like, just like I can’t imagine what was really going through Wendy’s thoughts when she sobbed and tried to explain things to me later that night.
Wendy didn’t know what was best for me, but saw three choices: keep fighting, send me away for a third of the year, or risk me being kidnapped. My dad held his finger to her face and demanded an answer, and I spent the next few years living with her during the school months and with my dad in summers and winter holidays, eight hours away and deep in the woods of the Ozark Mountains, only accessible by 4×4, helping him tend a few patches of weed to bring back and sell in Baton Rouge each fall school year. I have a nasty, jagged, unevenly healed scar across my left forefinger from cutting down male plants with a machete so females would produce sinsemilla, and a long time ago learned to lie at the beginning of each year in written assignments about what I did over the summer, or how I got the scar on my hand, or how I knew that sinsemilla was from either Latin or Spanish for without, “sans,” seeds, “semillia,” and I was often called imaginative and good with languages by teachers who didn’t know better.
I was with my dad in 1985 when we were arrested in our Arkansas cabin by 15 deputized but otherwise unemployed men from the town of Clinton, 33 miles away. They plowed through the Little Archie Creek in a small fleet of privately owned 4×4’s, a motley crew of hunting and farm vehicles, packing hunting rifles and shotguns, surrounding our cabin by the creek and demanding our surrender. It was during Reagan’s war on drugs, and Reagan funded the war by granting broad privileges to sheriffs and deputies and gifting all confiscated property to be split equally between the deputies, sheriff, and prosecuting district attorney who authorized the raids; you may recall that Reagan used similar sleight-of-hand to fund Nicaraguan Contra rebels using weapons sold TOW and HAWK missels to Iran in the Iran-Contra affair. Reagan got off thanks to Oliver North and the ACLU, and claims of not remembering authorizing the deal, but my dad didn’t have that privilege, and he was assigned a public defender and went to federal prison in 1986 for “cultivation of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.” The deputies had scraped two pounds of shake from cracks in the barn floor, mostly comprised of mostly dead bugs and rat turds, but the bag of evidence met the government’s requirements of two pounds to be a felony. The sheriff read my dad his Miranda Rights, and before that Big Daddy was the only one I had seen get my dad to stop talking, so it made an impression on me. We were arrested, though of course I wasn’t handcuffed because I was only 13 (though I was pretty sure I could have escaped, like Houdini or The Amazing Randi). The district attorney took our land and my dad’s trucks, sold it and kept a third, used a third to pay the sheriff and deputies, and paid a third to the prosecuting attorney. I don’t know how my dad’s public defender was paid, but, according to the Miranda Rights, he was entitled to one. After a while of floundering with my dad’s friends in Arkansas, I returned to living with Wendy in Baton Rouge full time. Coincidentally, 1986 was the same year Big Daddy was released from prison five years early due to declining health, and he moved in with Grandma Foster to live out his days. They never crossed paths again. Granny and Wendy avoided both of them.
Unlike Wendy, I wasn’t prone to depression. But, like my dad, I was fiercely independent and probably a pain in the ass when it came to following rules. Wendy kept me over a summer for the first time in her life and was unsure how to handle the situation, especially with added stress from daycare piled atop her bills, ironically, given that a daycare is where I had started my part in this story, and she never had paid her bill for that day because the center went belly up. I wasn’t the most calm kid for Wendy to deal with, and she began leaving me at Granny’s to save on daycare costs and keep me out of trouble around her neighborhood, and to allow her to keep dating and find the family she still craved.
A couple of years later, Wendy and I were living with Michael J. Richard, pronounced the Cajun way, Ree-chard. He was a good man from a large and growing Catholic family, a former engineering manager at Exxon, and Macintosh computer buff who never wanted biologic children, but was cheerful and even playful with me and neighborhood kids, teaching us to toss basketballs in the hoop he hung over our carport. Things were looking up when a perfect storm landed atop Louisiana’s typical hurricane season: Our only three Canadian family members in Baton Rouge, Granny, Auntie Lo, and Uncle Bob, began dropping like flies from cancer and alcohol and tobacco related diseases, and Mike and Wendy’s home flooded that year, bringing in waves of floating fire ants colonies clinging for life in rotating spheres, and several alligators drifting from the overflowing basin. We made a national televised news blip, though only from a helicopter birds-eye view and you can’t tell it’s us. I remember the helicopter looking down from far enough overhead to not cause ripples and upset the balls of fire ants as we waded through the water carrying hastily packed overnight bags, because it was the first time I had seen on in real life and it was just like the one I watched every week with Mike and Wendy on the opening scenes of MASH. When Mike showed me the VCR of us on the news, I wondered why the helicopter didn’t land, like the pilots on MASH, and help us save my comic book collection and avoid the floating balls of fire ants.
Mold and rot followed the flood, and my comics were ruined and we needed a new home, all while Wendy was juggling our family’s meager estates and settling their wills; hence, her lifelong insistence that her will be unambiguous, with an executor who can deal with the minutia that had swallowed her time and energy. Mike quit his desk job at Exxon and became a home builder, focused on safer and nicer homes, and he was distracted by his business, MR Homes, a pun on his name, like Mr. Homes. He wanted to leave Baton Rouge and its flooding, and left us – almost like a divorce, but they weren’t married – to seek out an investment opportunity for an Arnold Palmer endorsed golf community called The Bluffs on Thompson Creek, a half hour east of the chemical plants north of the airport, near St. Francisville, where he imagined that other higher-paid engineers in the otherwise agricultural and industrial driven economy would want to live and play. Wendy said she’d follow after I graduated, and they made it work. He filed bankruptcy in 1989, a result of record high 13.9% mortgage rates in the late 80’s and owning many cheap rental properties with high defaults on rent, and imagined that wouldn’t happen in a wealthier neighborhood, like The Bluffs on Thompson Creek aspired to become. Wendy had perfect credit, and a stable job she detested, and she signed her name on his investments.
Shortly after Mike’s bankruptcy, Uncle Bob got cancer and suffered for three months before dying, and Mike was unfaithful. Not with a woman, but with living and working in the same community and never turning off, and Wendy felt alone and had another small nervous breakdown and shouted at me I had to leave home after graduating, that she had to grow up at 16 and I could, too. But I had no where to go, no aspirations for California yet, and I just wanted to finish my senior year as co-captain of the Belaire Bengals, and was to young to sign my own contracts for a driver’s license or other things I thought I’d need to leave. I was a young senior, and would graduate at 17 and five months from my 18th birthday and legal freedom.
I had spent those three months living with Uncle Bob and was tired of it all, and the day after after giving Uncle Bob’s eulogy, at 16 years old, I petitioned the 19th judicial district to emancipate me. I scraped together $180 for court costs, and learned that a coincidently named Judge Robert “Bob” Downing had taken over after Lotttingger had retired, and Bob knew my family well and had seen me in the news in wrestling tournament results, and a one-time, full color, two page focus on me in the Sunday edition for performing and teaching magic at the children’s wing of Uncle Bob’s hospital. I was proud of that one, and had inspired by David Copperfield’s Project Magic, a nonprofit that facilitate hand-eye rehabilitation and installed confidence by teaching sick and disabled kids to do what adults couldn’t. Judge Bob tolerated my penchant for calling adults by their first names, granted me freedom, and said he enjoyed my “Immaculate Connection” torn card routine, which I has seen David butcher more than once, most notably on his 1986 television special where he made the Statue of Liberty disappear. It’s back, and you can rewind the special a few dozen times and learn how to do the Immaculate Connection, like I had on Mike’s VCR.
I became a legal adult on paper in the summer of 1989. I immediately joined the army, and left Louisiana after graduating with a respectable wrestling record of 54-13 and sporting a nifty orange letterman jacket, with “Magik” as a big back patch, and a chest full of medals from major tournaments, with 36 diminutive gold safety pins clipped to the blue Belaire B in clusters of five, one for each time I pinned an opponent that season, and a big brass colored foot with wings for lettering in cross country track, a laughing and crying face for theater, and an often ridiculed homoerotic Greco-Roman wrestlers in doggie style for wrestlig. I never even placed in a cross country meet, but I showed up to every practice and they gave me the letter for two years of persistence, and I was rarely on stage, but I helped design sets for productions that transformed quickly, like magic, swapping sets between scenes for houses and swamps for A Midsummers Night Dream in the blink of an eye by rotating panels rather than rearranging them, something I learned from a library book. I wore that bright orange jacket to Big Daddy’s funeral on March 11th, 1990, and a few months later Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and on the evening of August 3rd the 82nd Airborne’s Defense Ready Forces 1, 2, and 3 deployed and drew a line in the sand against the world’s largest tank fleet and the oil rich country of Saudi Arabia. Other troops followed over the next few months, and the 82nd’s line in the sand became Desert Shield and then Desert Storm, with 560,000 allied soldiers against about 400,000 Iraqis and a ton of surplus Soviet T-54 and T-55 tanks. Because of my emancipation, I was the youngest American soldier in the war, and I have a minor disability rating from it. Wendy never forgave herself. But, we joked about me having a “minor” disability for years, and how ridiculous it is to send kids to war.
In a hilarious coincidence, I was a gunner for both TOW-II missiles and .50 cal machine guns with hyperbolically named armor-piercing rounds, even against thin skinned T-54 and 55’s, and fought against TOW missiles lingering from the Iran-Contra affair that had been sold to or stolen by Iraqis and were now pointed at Americans. I was an anti-tank infantryman and paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, and we did a lot over the next few months, even after the ground war officially ended. I sat atop a HUMVEE before they added bullet shields for months, through firefights and dust storms and pitch black days of smoke the burning Kuwait oil fields. We did a lot more than the news reported, and for a lot longer. Fifteen years later, President George Bush Jr. would stand on an aircraft carrier in pilot garb from his days if skipping Texas Air National Guard weekends and proclaim the Afghan and Iraq wars over, and ten years later a few hundred thousand soldiers were still there and many were maimed after Bush said it was over. To this day, I never fully believed any news article I’ve read, and try not to jump to conclusions.
I grew a lot in the war, almost four inches and fifty pounds above my high school wrestling weight of 145 pounds, and was given several medals for being part of a two man team that captured 14 of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard deep inside a bunker during the battles to secure Khamisiyah Airport on March 3rd of 1991, almost exactly a year after Big Daddy’s funeral and wresting Hillary Clinton in the Baton Rouge city finals for 145 pounds; he pinned me 42 seconds into the second round and I earned the silver medal, which was on my letterman jacket at Big Daddy’s funeral, and is, to this day, the toughest battle I ever fought. Hillary Clinton was a monster.
After the war, I served on quick reaction teams for Presidents Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton, and, despite a poor performance in high school, excelled at new technologies, and somehow made the post wrestling team at 181 pounds, only needing to cut a dozen or so pounds in the weeks leading up to a match; that was much more attractive than squaring off against the beasts at 194 pounds. I became an instructor for the new SINCGARS radio systems that united all communication methods across all branches of the military, and was granted a diplomatic passport in 1993 to serve as an unarmed communications liaison and peacekeeper in the Sinai peninsula buffer zone between Israel and Egypt, near where Moses was exiled and received the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai; Moses was a communications liaison, too, the four of us with fancy passports quipped. I was honorably discharged the weekend of Martin Luther King’s birthday, January 14th, 1994, with a chest full of medals that would have impressed myself when I thought my letterman jacket was impressive.
I had my fill of death and orders, and began LSU two days after being discharged. I attended LSU’s school of business and engineering, using my $36,000 GI Bill (coincidentally the cost of Granny’s first house, which Wendy sold for a whopping $84,000 to a newly single mom) and received a waiver for LSU’s $1,800 tuition for being bored once weekend a month and two weeks a summer in Louisiana’s National Guard. Wendy had reconnected with Mike, and I reconnected with her, and we built our relationship together and finally began talking about our past and the Partin family and became friends. I graduated from LSU’s school of engineering in 1997, with a penchant for programming and embracing a newfangled technology called “the internet.” I left Louisiana again, scored a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, got married, and moved to San Diego, where the economy was geared towards independent people not attached to rules. I scribbled old-school letters to Wendy, who wasn’t as interested in email as I was.
Mike was unfaithful again in 1999, this time with a woman who stayed at home and had three kids in school an absentee husband, while Wendy was working all day at Exxon. They split. She remained in St Francisville, because she loved the rustic, forested area and Cajun influenced homes that reminded her of growing up in Granny’s back yard, free from indoor constraints. She retired early from her desk job, accepting a generous cash payout for 20 years of service, and using it to design and build what most people would consider a luxurious mansion, in the Cajun style, perched over a fishing pond and surrounded by trees. It’s gorgeous, and well built. She joked that she must have learned design from Mike through osmosis. She relied on the untouched retirement accounts of Granny, Uncle Bob, and Auntie Lo as a safety net for her long-term retirement. All our Canadian family had all passed away before 64 and hadn’t touched their IRA’s, and neither could Wendy, without penalties, so all she had to do was be patient. Granny had invested wisely, along the lines of Warren Buffet, value and long term gain focused, and the compounding interest left Wendy wealthy, if she could wait until 64, the legal age to begin withdrawing from an IRA. She always said that’s when she’d begin traveling, and she lived vicariously through my post cards and infrequent phone calls while she ticked away the years and bought bottles of white wine by the case to save money. She would have turned 64 the summer after she passed.
Judge Pugh was on my mind when I first listened to Wendy’s voice mail in Havana. I had read about him on the plane ride, in Wendy and my dad’s 1976 court report, though he wasn’t mentioned by name and you’d have to have known to whom “the trial judge” referenced. I had downloaded it for the flight, because I was considering writing a book about Jimmy Hoffa and Big Daddy, an idea sparked by the upcoming summer of 2019 Martin Scorcese film about Hoffa’s disappearance, “The Irishman,” set to release in theaters soon after my trip to Cuba. The big, burly actor Craig Vincent would portray Big Daddy, and he had researched his role by reaching out to Byron Keith Partin, the one who still thought Wendy had a nice ass, who ran Local #5, like his father and uncle, Douglas Wesley Partin, had. Keith was easy to find on the International Brotherhood of Teamsters website, and Craig had called him and Aunt Janice, who was also easy to find even though she had long since married and changed her name, because she coordinated a Partin family tree project on a popular genealogy website that I avoid. They told me about Craig, and a seed was planted.
I thought I was pretty good at connecting dots to form a picture, and I planned to research the Kennedy assassination while in Cuba. I had downloaded my custody records along with a handful of court documents and news articles, along with a big slice of the congressional JFK Assassination Report to read on the plane ride, adding them to an e-Reader that’s soft on the eyes and had a remarkably long battery life. When I landed in Havana, I was pondering what would make a judge take his own life, and, though I had no reason to, I wondered if Big Daddy had been involved in the judge’s death by alleged suicide. He probably wasn’t, but with my grandfather you never know for sure. All of that was on my mind when I was listening to Wendy’s voice mail in the Plaza de San Francisco de Asi.
We rarely discussed my Partin family, and I hadn’t told her about that part of my trip to Cuba. She probably assumed it was like every other year’s sabbatical, mostly for fun, and she’d be right. The part about researching Big Daddy was a coincidence that popped into my mind after I spoke with Craig. I didn’t see a reason to mention it to Wendy, who seemed to drink more every time my dad was in the news or some prime time TV special said they’d unearth Jimmy Hoffa’s body from a vault or buried on a 50 yard line in plain sight all along; they were surprisingly popular in the 90’s, with big mustached celebrity newscasters hyping events to stir up ratings.
On a whim, standing in the Plaza de San Francisco, I opened a Dropbox folder on my phone titled JipBook – I’m Jason Ian Partin – and touched the 1976 court report I had downloaded from an archive before syncing it with my e-Reader. Knowing what you know now, you may see more than if you hadn’t had read the backstory once or twice. Here’s what Judge Lottinngger had to say about my family on September 21st, 1976:
This is a suit by Edward Partin, Jr., plaintiff, seeking a divorce from his wife, Wendy Rothdram Partin, defendant, after having lived separate and apart for more than one year following a judgment of separation from bed and board. Plaintiff also seeks custody of the minor child, Jason Ian Partin, and the defendant reconvened asking that she be granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child.
The Trial Court had previously, by ex parte order, awarded the temporary care, custody and control of the minor to Mr. and Mrs. James Ed White. Following trial on the merits, plaintiff was awarded a divorce as well as the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child, with the temporary physical custody of the minor child to remain with Mr. and Mrs. James Ed White. The defendant has appealed this judgment as it regards the custody of the child.
This couple was married when plaintiff was 17 and the defendant was 16 years of age. Nine months following the marriage, they gave birth to young Jason. While we are not concerned with the facts surrounding the separation and divorce, it was apparently one of incompatibility as defendant testified that at the age of 17 she found herself married to a man who did not love her and so she left. Her testimony was as follows:
“As I say I was emotionally upset. I was receiving little support from Edward. I was scared, very confused. I didn’t know exactly which way to turn. I felt I had no one to listen and help with the situation at hand.”
Several weeks later she returned and lived with her husband again. She found that the situation hadn’t changed, and felt she had to get away again. She heard of a man who wanted someone to share expenses on a trip to California, so she quit her job and with her last wages left with him. She testified that she had no sexual relations with this man, and plaintiff does not accuse her of such. Following this trip she returned to Baton Rouge still emotionally upset. Her husband was suing her for separation and told her he was going to take custody of Jason. She went to live with her aunt and uncle, got a full time job with Kelly Girls paying $512.00 per month.
In February, 1975, the defendant’s mother was injured in an accident and she moved in with her to care for her. In September, 1975, following the recuperation of the mother she returned to live with her aunt and uncle.
During these above periods of time, the minor child lived with Mr. and Mrs. White. The Whites came to regard Jason as their own and, although the separation judgment awarded custody to the plaintiff with reasonable visitation privileges to the defendant, the Whites decided the defendant-mother could only see the child two days a month and that she could never keep the child over night. The reason the defendant did not contest custody at the separation trial was because at the time she felt unable emotionally and financially to care for her son.
[Judge Lottinger wrote a paragraph of legal jargon here, citing the “double burden” placed on Wendy by the deceased Judge Pugh to go above and beyond what was typically necessary to regain custody.]
We note that the petition for separation was grounded on habitual intemperance, as well as abandonment of the husband and the minor child. There are no other grounds listed for the separation nor for custody. The petition for the separation and custody of the minor child was not contested by the defendant, and a default judgment was granted. Defendant testified in the instant proceedings that the reason she did not contest custody in the separation proceeding was that she was not financially or emotionally capable of caring for the minor, and that knowing the Whites were going to be caring for him, she knew he would be in good hands.
Though the petition for separation had as one of its allegations “habitual intemperance”, the plaintiff in the instant proceeding testified that he had never accused his wife of drinking, nor had he ever seen her drink.
[Judge Lottinger goes on to cite a few precent cases, verdicts from previous judges in higher courts used to justify his opinions, a detail that’s less important in Louisiana’s version of the Napoleonic code, but still useful to show one’s logic and suggest unbiased decisions.]
The welfare of the child is the main issue that the Court is concerned with. This issue is more important than any wishes or wants the parents may have. Fulco v. Fulco, 259 La. 1122, 254 So.2d 603 (1971), rehearing denied (1971). As a general rule, and in particular where children of young age are involved, preference is given to the mother in custody cases. This preference is very simply explained, the mother is normally better able to care for the child and look after the education, rearing, and training necessary. Estes v. Estes, 261 La. 20, 258 So.2d 857 (1972), rehearing denied (1972).
No argument is made that the mother is not now morally or emotionally fit to care for the child, or that the house in which she lives is not a proper place to rear a child. In fact, the Trial Judge admitted that it was a fine home.
The Trial Judge has not favored us with written reasons for judgment, however, we must conclude from various statements by the Trial Judge that appear in the record that he could find no fault with the defendant, nor was there anything wrong with the house in which she lived. It thus becomes apparent to this Court that the Trial Judge applied the “double burden” rule to the defendant. We have already ruled that the “double burden” rule does not apply in this situation, and thus, under the established jurisprudential rules, we can see no reason why the defendant-mother should not be granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor child with reasonable visitation privileges granted to the father.
In consideration of our above opinion, there is no need to discuss the specification of error as to the ex parte granting of custody to the Whites.
Therefore, for the above and foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Trial Court is reversed, and IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the defendant-appellant, Wendy Rothdram Partin, be and she is hereby granted the permanent care, custody and control of the minor, Jason Ian Partin, and IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that this matter be and it is hereby remanded to the Trial Court for the purpose of fixing specific visitation privileges on behalf of plaintiff-appellee Edward Partin, Jr. All costs of the appeal are to be paid by plaintiff-appellee.
Not everything in the report is accurate, like the part about Wendy’s first home being fine; it was shithole infested with ants and cockroaches, a tiny two bedroom one bath ground floor unit with a narrow galley kitchen lined with peeling grease-stained wallpaper. We had no air conditioning in Baton Rouge’s sweltering summers, but resisted opening windows because we could smell rot wafting from the dumpster behind the cheap Chinese restaurant on Florida Boulevard, and it swarmed with flies that would find a way inside our screen-less windows. I assume Pugh was being kind.
Judge Lottingger didn’t follow through after he signed his lofty judgement, because his job wasn’t to follow through on assumptions; no judge I’ve know ever has, though I’ve only worked with a dozen or so over the years, and researched the history of a handful more without knowing them personally. My case went to an appeal court and I floundered here and there after 1976, not unlike continuing to fight after a president declares peace, partly because of that shitty apartment, and partly because of the hitmen pursuing Partins who didn’t know to stop fighting after Hoffa disappeared, and that’s another story I rarely share.
I wouldn’t correlate a lot of Wendy and my history with facts until 1994, when Frank Ramano’s book, “Lawyer for the Mob” was published, along with a flood of other books following the success of Jim Garrison’s JFK, the well known 1992 Oliver Stone film JFK, the 1992 grossly flawed but profitable film Hoffa, staring Jack Nicholson as Hoffa. All were sparked by newly elected president Bill Clinton’s partial release of the until-then classified 1979 congressional report on the assassination of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., that reversed the Warren Report and said Kennedy’s assassination had probably been a conspiracy, and the three leading suspects with the means and methods were Hoffa, Marcello, and Traffacante. Everyone who could wrote a book back then, trying to score a lucrative movie contract. Frank Ramano was an attorney for all three suspects, who were dead or missing by then, and he and a handful of other people acknowledged that Hoffa had been lending money from the approximate $1 plus Billion dollar, unregulated teamster Pension fund to build Las Vegas and casinos and hotels in all the major crime cities. I learned that Hoffa spread the word from prison that he’d forgive all current debt from all families, about $121 Million, if anyone could get Edward Grady Partin to either recant his 1964 testimony or sign an affidavit swearing that Walter Sheridan and the Get Hoffa squad used illegal wire tapping to plan their prosecution, thereby invalidating the case and freeing Hoffa. He emphasized that if Edward Partin died, Hoffa would spend his entire eleven year sentence in prison, and that he’d stop loaning money to the families, eventually get out, and be pissed off at everyone who didn’t help him.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to have Jimmy Hoffa pissed off at someone, but I’m sure no one wanted to find out. He never gave an order that could be used against him in a court of law, he simply relayed facts and conveyed the situation that Partin must live, which is a beautiful statement to swear by in a trial, and what you’d want the FBI to hear if they were bugging you. The implication was that as long as Big Daddy could speak or sign an affidavit with one hand, no holds were barred and $121 Million would be forgiven as soon as Hoffa got out, no matter how it happened. $121 Million was a lot of money back then, and the families spread the word, keeping their boss’s hands clean by emphasizing to low level hitmen of the caliber of Jack Ruby, Frank Sheenan, and other sycophants and egotists, that Partin must be alive, but could be influenced in any way imaginable. In my later experience, low intellect strongmen need as few rules to remember as possible, and they’re like water buffalo: it takes a whole herd of them for just one to make it across a river. I assume the hit on Kennedy was similar, but much more orchestrated than what I experienced.
The attempted intimidation of Partins continued in full force until newly elected President Nixon pardoned Jimmy Hoffa in 1971, just as Wendy met my dad, after receiving untold millions in campaign funding from the Teamster pension fund and the endorsement of Hoffa and presumably all 2.7 million voting Teamsters. Though I’m not sure, I imagine the low level hitmen weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, or on the important contact list of mob bosses, and families didn’t care if intimidation continued after Hoffa was pardoned. It’s likely that a few stragglers kept up their work after 1971, and possibly even a few a few years after Hoffa disappeared. Hoffa’s disappearance from a Detroit parking lot on July 30th, 1975, was the subject of Frank Sheenan’s 2014 memoir that was being made into Martin Scorcese’s 2019 film The Irishman. Despite the film’s success, sixty years after Hoffa vanished, the FBI still keeps a team assigned to finding out what happened; they check in with our family about as often as Kennedy sleuths sniffing around Baton Rouge, asking about Big Daddy, Barry Seal, and Harvey Lee, an alleged alias of Lee Harvey Oswald. As crazy as it sounds, we were witnesses to a lot of unsolved mysteries, though didn’t realize it at the time, and assumed we were just prone to house fires and explosions.
After the shitty apartment evicted us because of a bacon grease fire that ignited the wall of dangling chads, we shifted between Uncle Bob and Auntie Lo in Sherwood Forest subdivision, Cindi’s family in the appartment complex off Florida Blvd, and Wendy’s boyfriend, Brian the one armed drug dealer, in his single wide, lopsided trailer off Goodwood Blvd. She saved enough for another deposit and found another rental, this one a tiny home in Baker, not far from her new job at Exxon Plastics. But, I set our first house’s bathroom on fire by short circuiting the aging wire heater when playing with one of my dad or Brian’s roach clips, what PawPaw had called an alligator clip for electronics, a metal contraption with jagged teeth to clamp tightly, pretending it was a mechanized swamp ‘gator, like Mecha Godzilla on TV, and my hand slipped and the clip touched the metal safety grate and I screamed like Wendy fanning a fire, and the sparks flying from Godzilla’s mouth ignited the ancient and moldy clapboard walls, and we moved again and bounced around a bit in ways that are muddled in my memories. A few major events centered around bursts of emotion stick out, like when our Irish Setter, Anne, shot with a .22 and dead by our front door, presumably shot by kids or hunters in the nearby woods and brought home, or dragging herself home to bleed to death waiting for me to get home from school. We were plagued by vandalism from neighborhood delinquents, like ropes being strung across the porch at night that we’d discover when rushing to school and work. I was always coming home with cuts and bruises from childish absent mindedness while crossing the street and dodging cars, or falling from trees, or being pushed off my bike by neighborhood bullies who didn’t realize what an awesome kid I was. I remember that the news showed similar things with other Partins, and my last name was often on the front of the Baton Rouge Advocate left on our doorstep every morning. Big Daddy had been shot several times in one of his businesses off Airline Highway and in a hotel he sometimes used near there. Uncle Doug’s home was blown up with Don, his paraplegic son confined to a wheelchair, still inside. Don escaped in the handicap accessible van Doug had splurged on, one with levers and gadgets around the steering wheel, like the setup Brian rigged on his motorcycle. Don had lost the use of his legs about ten years before in a drunk driving accident; Brian had lost his arm in a motorcycle accident due to a drunk driver. It wasn’t Don, and I never asked who did it, and Brian seemed unconcerned about rehashing the past, a lesson I still believe in, though I admit it’s nice to finally share a few stories that help explain why I called my mother Wendy, and why our situation was hard to summarize concisely, and why we avoided people who asked personal questions.
In hindsight, the most remarkable thing Lottingger missed was a more thorough description of PawPaw and his side gigs. Everyone I knew knew Ed White, because was the custodian and groundskeeper at Glen Oaks, showcased in the Baton Rouge Advocate’s “local heroes” section for starting a custodian’s union that worked with the teacher’s union in the late 60’s, and that he was southern Louisiana’s most respected and sought after tree surgeon, tending stately oaks on 200 year old plantations, a natural born arborist, born on a farm in the pine forests surrounding the sawmill town of Woodville, Mississippi, where Grandma and Big Daddy were born. I don’t know if they knew each other. PawPaw landed in Baton Rouge after losing an eye in the navy during WWII, and found work doing what he loved: caring for trees and nurturing people. To do that, he accepted a job as custodian and Glen Oaks High School. Everyone in Baton Rouge loved all the stately oak trees surrounding Glen Oaks, and asked how the nearby Houma Plantation had such gorgeous oaks draped in silky Spanish moss; that’s where PawPaw’s son-in-law, Craig Black, was the resident artist and groundskeeper, telling everyone he learned from PawPaw, just like a lot of former prisoners from Angola had, all who now learned to earn a livelihood trimming trees, and he’d joke that he learned his skills in a Black and White household; Craig, incidentally, would retire from Houma Plantation in 2019 after 40 years of service, and retire to his Colorado art gallery to paintwoodland elves in swamps with cypress trees and Spanish Moss, and to this day says that PawPaw still inspires him, just as I do.
As a side gig, when not training people to climb and fix trees, PawPaw ran the local Kelly’s Girls and gave all $512 a month to each young lade, and had a bunch of beat-up cars in the front yard of their two bedroom, one bath home, that he’d work on when he had time, and give them away. He lived near the convenience store Wendy had passed every school day for ten years, the one that still has a stately oak tree outside where PawPaw taught me to climb. Everyone who has described PawPaw to me calls him a force of nature, and that matches my memories perfectly. He was Puck, the mischievous woodland fairy from a Midsummer Night’s Dream, a spry and wiry man no bigger than Wendy, but with a perpetual smile and chain smoking unfiltered Camels and constantly sipping pony bottles of Miller Lite from the shaded convenience store. It would take a force of nature like Puck to stand up to the Partin family, mafia, and sycophants who crawled out the swamps following the will of their idols who were following the will of their idols and never felt the freedom that oozed from PawPaw. I never saw PawPaw cry, other than once when I was in the hospital recovering from a head gash, and on the last day I saw him and he hugged me and didn’t say a word, just sobbed with tears oozing from the corner of his good eye. I never heard him say a harsh word or idolize anyone or covent anything other than, perhaps, me. As Lottingger said, MawMaw and PawPaw grew to view me as their own, which was an understatement: PawPaw loved me like a son. At least, he loved me like I wish all fathers would love their sons, and I believe the world would be a better place with more people like James “Ed” White.
Otherwise, Lottingger summed up our situation well, nailing it like Hoffa to a cross. He just didn’t have all the facts, and probably no idea of the understatement of Wendy’s words: “As I say I was emotionally upset. I was receiving little support from Edward. I was scared, very confused. I didn’t know exactly which way to turn. I felt I had no one to listen and help with the situation at hand.”
Wendy and I never discussed our history in detail. We know that she won the appeals, and almost every time we reminisced about the 70’s she mentioned Pugh, and then she’d laugh and say she was born WAR and got high and made a mistake, and that marrying my dad WARP’ed her and that’s why she drank now. I had lived in San Diego for about twenty years, with a brief stent in Boston with a startup spinal implant company trying to repair the annulus fibrosis and rehydrate or replace the nucleus pulpous. Cristi and I weren’t made for cold weather and we love the ocean, and San Diego has been home since 2004.
All of that was on my mind as I tried calling Wendy back. But, as usual, her cell phone wasn’t getting reception 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. I chuckled to lighten the tone, 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 or email me if it were important. I said I’d stay in Havana longer, if necessary, so we could schedule a time to speak. Coincidentally, I added with another forced chuckle, I was calling from a public square named after Saint Francis de Asi, the patron saint of kindness to animals, and I hoped that put a smile on her face; she loved her dogs more than wine. I reiterated that I’d check messages when I could, and added a perfunctory “I love you.” I hung up and sent a message to Cristi, saying I arrived safely and that the WiFi was less than I had expected, so I would be mostly offline. I paused to emphasize what I was about to tell Cristi, and said that I had a cryptic message from Wendy and was worried. She would know what to do.
I sighed, put down my phone, and tried to not dwell on the past. I was on sabbatical, and had a lot to look forward to over the next few months.
In hindsight, I wish I had spent more time trying to call my mother.
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