For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’Jesus Christ, Matthew 15:4
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, Joyce Hicks Rothdram, my Granny, to escape an abusive father, and they settled in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Granny’s sister, Lois Hicks Desico, lived with Robert M. Desico, a French Canadian who ran Montreal’s American offices of Bulk Stevedoring. Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob had settled in a single story, middle class, three bedroom home with a large yard in the Sherwood Forest subdivision, walking distance to Westminister Elementary School and a golf cart ride away from the Sherwood Forest Country Club. They had no children, and Wendy and Granny each had their own room while Granny looked for work; she taught herself to type with a book and typewriter at public library, scored a minimum wage secretarial job at DuPont Chemicals, and left Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob’s home to rent a two bedroom house in Baker, near the airport and closer to DuPont and close enough to Glen Oaks Elementary School for Wendy to take the school bus.
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 put 20% down on a small but comfortable 680 square foot home under the airport flight path. Her yard was a corner lot, with a narrow, bent elbow of a creek that wrapped around the back yard and exited along the front, parallel with the driveway, like a moat, providing Granny the privacy she sought. The creek doubled as storm drainage, but was surprisingly clean and supported a year round ecosystem of frogs, crawfish, minnows, and little brown brim. 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 for the western facing living room window and front door. A sidewalk passed the far side of that tree, and it led to Glen Oaks Elementary, Middle, and High Schools.
Granny 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, and relished in each evening’s Scotch on the rocks. She’d crack open a tray of cubes and drop a handful into a tallboy glass with a Pavlovian clanking of ice tumbling into the glass, 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. But, she was proud of that two bedroom, one bath slice of independence as American as Cajun crawfish pie. Her humble abode had trees for Wendy to swing from and to climb, and an abundance of azelea bushes bursting with red flowers in every spring, when Baton Rouge weather is crisp and beckoned people outside. 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. But, in the ten years I knew her before she passed in 1990, I never heard her complain about a single thing, even when she couldn’t speak from after radiation and chemo treatments for the throat cancer that ended her life; the summer before that, in 1989, she had just retired from Dupont and vanished on a road trip to Mexico with a group of retired girlfriends chain smoking and cackling the whole way. Granny died without regrets, but her traits didn’t pass to Wendy.
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 a part in a larger family. 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. 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 entrenched southern culture, centered around family and tradition, especially when people, imagining they were friendly, asked probing questions common in the ostensibly religious south: who’s your mamma and daddy, or where do y’all go to church. Wendy was ashamed that Granny had left her husband, though she didn’t yet know why because Granny shielded her from details, and Granny never needed church. She had lost a son around the time she left Canada with Wendy, but I never asked her the details and she never offered what wasn’t asked. Granny was an attractive, cheerful lady with suiters, but she chose to not date and therefore had little need for large social gatherings where people asked why she left Canada. Wendy couldn’t empathize with her mother.
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. 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. She reread the revised versions of Britanica and checked herself against what she knew last, and in 1986 added Paul Prudhome’s Louisiana Kitchen beside her stained Joy of Cooking and all it’s dogeared pages; she donated Wendy’s Nancy Drew books and began adding magic books for me, mostly from the inexpensive Dover book collection, the Karl Fuvees series on coins, cards, ropes, and handkerchiefs. At the end of a long day, instead of climb trees with her boisterous daughter, she reposed, read, and got schnockered. 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 finest 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 Ed. She had an older boyfriend who graduated Glen Oaks and was drafted and shot and killed in Vietnam two weeks after arriving, just after mailing Wendy a letter saying he was okay; he died in August of 1971, just before her 16th birthday.
Wendy had a small nervous breakdown and reacted strongly, crying out that Canada didn’t make boys go to war and that she wanted to live with her father. Granny was a woman of few words who never lectured and believed in hands-on learning and that everything’s a choice, and she paid for Wendy’s plane ticket to Canada and scrimped on Scotch, cigarettes, meat, and gas to balance her checkbook that month. Wendy arrived at the Toronto airport and was picked up by Aunt Mary, Granny and Auntie Lo’s sister, and stayed with her and Uncle John. They arranged for her to meet her father for the first time in ten years. He agreed to see her, but 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. Wendy returned with a disturbing memento that she never explained to me: her father’s thick brown leather belt with sharp, unworn edges and a hefty buckle. She kept it in her room, and began her junior year at Glen Oaks in the fall of 1971, 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 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 in Granny’s neighborhood but far enough away from the flight path to be quiet. 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, about $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 a few lingering relatives would 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, but they never agreed on the details and I never asked Granny her version, 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; that would become a burden no one could have forseen, and I’ll return to it in a bit. 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 birth size would have been expected if you had seen the hulking and intense Partin men; my grandfather was called Big Daddy for a reason. 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 in school. 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 conflict still escalating because of Johnson era policies, and the draft was still enforced for those not in college or who had fled to Canada. The wistful lyrics would have tempted me, too, if I had been in her shoes, I told her when I finally matured enough to listen to her generation’s music with an open mind. 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, hoping for a life with less violence and anger, less war, and more people who cared about things like that. She was a young uneducated idealist with a crying baby and an absentee husband, and she made a choice.
I’m not sure how long she was gone. My dad wasn’t sure, either, because he was 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.
My dad could have easily spent time all over Caribbean, even without a visa, because everyone from Miami to Cuba knew my family back then, wspecially because he knew Jimmy Hoffa, and my dad could 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., several 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, which was the port for most, if not all, of South and Central America. His Teamsters would receive goods loaded by stevedores and truck them along the newly constructed I-10, elevated over the tops of downtown Baton Rouge and slicing through Texas and nicking New Mexico, crossing Arizona into California, and arriving at I-10’s terminus at the Santa Monica Pier near Hollywood; Jimmy Hoffa Hollywood contracts and Hoffa had even sponsored some films, and Teamsters hauled sets and supplies and actors’s trailers, and he also funded and trucked goods to build hotels and casinos in the nearby burgeoning city of Las Vegas, and shipped goods to and from Las Vegas and the port of New Orleans, and Big Daddy’s contacts grew. If you wait through the small font of scrolling credits of most films from back then, the final image is paused and shows a full screen of the Teamster’s logo, two horse heads, like the severed on in 1972’s Godfather epic, and a steering wheel. Jimmy Hoffa wasn’t subtle. Big Daddy was one of his lieutenants, once called his bodyguard, a sergeant at arms to guard the door against anything Hoffa couldn’t handle himself; if that helps you envision the type of man my dad’s father was.
After Big Daddy’s testimony sent Jimmy Hoffa to prison in 1966, 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 he’s unsure of the details around that time. Most of his friends, whom I grew to knew well and still see in Baton Rouge occasionally, would admit they don’t recall much about any of the 70’s, 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 and was soft spoken, among other attributes.
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. 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, 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, he let my dad to keep me overnight once every month or two, though my dad was often gone and missed many months.
Wendy persisted and saw me whenever she could, filed for divorce from my dad, and moved in with Cindi’s family and tried to find work as a teenage high school dropout with no marketable skills, married to the mob, and shouldering risks associated with our last name; as Uncle Doug said, people either loved or hated Edward Partin, there was no in between. Everyone knew us by name. 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 was the one who tucked me in on my couch every night, kissed my cheek and cheered me up when I was sad, and put Band-Aides on my booboos and gave me a chocolate chip cookie or two when I was hurt and cried. I saw Wendy once a month, and loved her like an older sister. She had a kind smile, and fun girlfriends, and laughed whenever we lurched forward at every stop sign; she never learned to drive a manual transmission, and that was fine with me, because it was fun.
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, jerking forward after each stop. 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 and followed her friends.
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, 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 languished 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 shouting and just have a cookie.
My custody records form part of my memories as a kid, and my thoughts as an adult, shaping my view of the world and politics and justice. I don’t believe the timing with 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. Yet, he doesn’t mention it in our court report, and I can’t imagine that not being relevant to my case, especially with Big Daddy’s history of kidnapping kids after unfavorable custody rulings, and my dad’s extensive arrests for dealing drugs that never landed him in jail, as if Louisiana judges let him go without needing to justify decisions made behind closed doors.
I had downloaded the 1976 court report to my iPhone before my flight to Havana, because I was considering writing a book about Big Daddy and Hoffa, with a link to the long-term cause and effect of presidential policies, maybe using examples from my experience from the first Gulf war (only I called it that, like a few began calling The Great War WWI after WWII). Over the decades, I had read almost everything I downloaded before, but, like Granny, I liked to revisit old beliefs with new information or an open minded perspective gained from more revolutions around the sun. Each four or eight years, a new president releases a bit more of the 1979 JFK Assassination report, and Frank Shenan’s 2014 memoir claiming to have killed Hoffa offered more clues to the 60 year old puzzle. My phone had my 1976 custody report, other court records about Hoffa and the mafia, archived news articles about my family, and an abridged version of the massive congressional JFK and Martin Luther King Jr Assassination Report; my eReader had a few books that centered around Hoffa and Big Daddy. I wanted to correlate my early memories with facts. It was a lot to process, and it was all in a synced Dropbox folder called JipBook – I’m Jason Ian Partin – that I could read anywhere I had time to relax and focus, and here’s what Lottingger had to say about my family in 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. The “trial judge” was Judge Pugh, and I assume he was being kind; I’d be surprised to learn he had actually committed suicide. Judge Lottingger never followed through with assumptions he used to make his decison.
My dad and the Whites appealed in the appellate court, and I languished in the foster system a few more years. 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. His charges were theft, racketeering. and jury tampering, and he was sentenced to eleven years in a Texas federal penitentiary. 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.
Judge Pugh was on my mind when I first heard Wendy’s voice mail, which may have contributed to the sense of dread I experienced when I first heard her voice mail. I had been living in my memories, researching the past and immersing into the time period to empathize with people back then. Wendy and I experienced violence and loss until I was old enough to leave, and my emotions swirled every time I read my childhood records. It was worth the swirls, I believed, 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 says that Wendy had a nice ass and my dad’s an asshole (which was and is the consensus of almost everyone I’ve known who knew them), and 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 my aunt, Janice, who never had an opinion on Wendy’s butt, but 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 I read The Irishman, originally published as I Heard You Paint Houses in 2014, and a seed was planted. I began scouring the internet for official documents and scanning in old family letters, and planned to use my sabbatical to digest the massive pile of information between diving and climbing excursions.
Big Daddy’s notariety obviously influenced Wendy’s reactions in the 70’s, and to better understand Wendy’s dilemma when she won custody of me it’s useful to know that before I was born, Big Daddy was arrested in 1962 and placed in a Baton Rouge jail cell for allegedly kidnapping the two and six year old children of fellow Teamster Sydney Simpson, immediately followed by charges of manslaughter from police in Mississippi, and a few other accusations that began to trickle in as soon as people began to think Big Daddy was safely locked away. Big Daddy used his phone call to reach the New Orleans FBI director, and US Attorney General Bobby Kennedy freed him 48 hours later. In exchange, he asked Big Daddy to keep tabs on Hoffa, and chamges Big Daddy’s history to make him appear loke a reliable witness; 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.”
It turns out that Big Daddy was one of the world’s best escape artists, and could have taught Harry Houdini or The Amazing Randi a thing or two. His first recorded escape from going yo jail was when he was 17, and he and his little brother Doug stole all the guns in Woodville Mississippi. Big Daddy had lowered Doug through a hole in the roof with a rope tied around his waist, pulling him back up hand-over-hand until Doug had scurried around and piled up all the hunting rifles, shotguns, and pistols. They sold most in New Orleans to buy a set of motorcycles and were caught and arrested. The Woodville judge let 12 year old Doug go, but gave my 17 year old eventual grandfather a choice: go to jail or join the marines. It was WWII, and Big Daddy didn’t want to leave Mississippi or go to jail, so he agreed to join the marines and immediately knocked out a captain with one punch and took a watch off the unconscious body to add insult to injury. He was dishonorably charged and returned to Woodville a free man; stealing had gotten him arrested, and violence and stealing had set him free, and I’m sure there’s a lesson there somewhere for anyone wanting to escape from jail or war.
That story is one of many, and is partially documented in Walter Sheridan’s 1972 opus, “The Rise and Fall of Jimmy Hoffa,” released the month before I was born. Walter knew our family well for decades, and he had this to say about Big Daddy’s adolescence:
“There is no question that Edward Grady Partin was and is a controversial figure. Perhaps he broght some of his problems on himself. He is a proud, tough, and cunning man operatin in a section of this country with its own unique tradition of justice and an unusual tolerance for corruption.“
“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.”
Walter mistakenly assummed Mamma Jean was quiet: he had never heard her expound on how to fry catfish, or invite the black suited Jejovah Witnesses who kept knocking on her door inside, where she would serve them homemade oatmeal cookies with raisins inside and quote the bible for hours, telling them a thing or two about life, the universe, and everything; except anything about Big Daddy or Hoffa. She never wavered on that, even with us. Other than the understandable mistake that Mamma Jean was quiet, Walter nailed Big Daddy’s history like Hoffa to a cross. Hoffa, who almost always disagreed with Walter and had no love for him or my family, had to agree about Big Daddy’s past. He said in his authorized biography, “Hoffa: The Real Story,” published a couple of years after he was pardoned by Nixon and just before he vanished from a Detroit parking lot on July 30th, 1975:
Let’s take a look at this “all-American boy” and his record, which was carefully kept from the jury by Judge Wilson and the government.
In December, 1943, he was arrested in the state of Washington for breaking and entering. Pleading guildy, he was senteneded to fifteen years in the state penitentiary, from which he escaped twice.
Freed, he joined the Marine Corps and was dishonorably discharged. He had been accused of raping a young black girl.
Becoming head of the Teamster local in Baton Rouge, he was charged by certain members with embezzling $1600 in union funds and he had been indicted on thirteen counts of falsifying records and thirteen counts of embezzlement.
While out on fifty thougsand dollars’ bond, he had been indicted in Alamama in Septermber of 1962 on charges of first-degree manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident.
One day beofe the Alambama incictment, he surrendered on September 25th, 1962, to Louisiana authorities on a kidnaping charge, the “minor domestic problem” to which Life magazine had referred. He had assisted a friend in snatching the friend’s two small children from the friend’s wife, who had legal custody of the children.”
The facts being have always been publicly available in many popular books and in court records, but Americans are notorious for only reading the highlights and following media influence, magazines and films back then, and President Kennedy and Attorney General Bobby Kennedy’s influence with magazines like Look! and Life were why Big Daddy was known nationally as an all-American hero and trustworthy informant; no one should doubt his word, and his word was used to send Jimmy Hoffa to prison. Life magazine highlighted our family, and FBI J. Edgar Hoover personally endorsed Big Daddy and showed America his newfangled lie detector machines hooked up to Big Daddy, with an army of white lab coat wearing scientists showing the squiggly line results and declaring that yes, Jimmy Hoffa had plotted to assassinate Bobby, and if Big Daddy hadn’t testified that Hoffa was bribing jurors, Bobby and his family may have been blown up; Big Daddy kept explosives from Carlos Marcello hidden in the walls of his homes, and Life brushed that aside. Behind the scenes, Bobby ensured no state or federal court would find his star witness guilty of anything that would tarnish his reputation, and countered attempts by Hoffa’s team of attorneys to illuminate the facts by adding more positive coverage in media.
All of that was public fodder back then, daily chit chat around the water cooler, and Lottingger must have watched the news or read the paper or feature stories in Look! and Life magazines, especially as a state legislative attorney in the downtown capital building, which was only a hob, skip, and holler away from Big Daddy’s Local #5 headquarters on Airline Boulevard. I don’t know for sure, but I assume he was a good man who focused on the facts at hand and was trying to shield Wendy from the reporters who lurked around town sniffing for dirt on Ed Partin.
To better understand Wendy’s dilemma, a bit of time travel to 1994 is necessary. I wouldn’t know a lot of our history until then, because that’s when Frank Ramano published his book, “Lawyer for the Mob,” one of a flood of books from hundreds of people associated with Hoffa and the mob in the 60’s and 70’s. They flowed because of the financial success of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s book, “JFK,” about the only trial against people for Kennedy’s murder, which led to the well known and lucrative 1992 Oliver Stone film, “JFK” implicating the CIA in Kennedy’s assassination (Garrison had a cameo portraying Chief Justice Earl Warren), and the grossly flawed but profitable 1992 film, “Hoffa,” staring Jack Nicholson as Hoffa. The dam had burst and books and films spilled out because newly elected president Bill Clinton had released a part of the classified 1979 congressional report on the assassination of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., and it reversed the Warren Report that mistakenly said Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed Kennedy, and Jack Ruby acted alone when he shot and killed Oswald 48 hours later. The report concluded that Kennedy’s assassination had probably been a conspiracy, and the three leading suspects with the means, motives, and opportunities were Hoffa, Marcello, and Traffacante, all names I grew up knowing but not understanding, like you may hear stories about distant or deceased relatives, but I didn’t put those names in context until 1994, after a long time of reading in the library and scribbling notes in a few books from home, like Walter’s and Hoffa’s. Ramano had been an attorney of all three suspects and knew Big Daddy well, writing about him extensively in throughout his expose on organized crime, and it was then that I began to connect the dots, add my memories, and assemble a picture of what had happened with Wendy and me.
Ramano and a handful of other authors 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 pieced together from Frank’s book and a few dozen others 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 he would spend his entire eleven year sentence in prison if Ed Partin died, and that he’d stop loaning money to the families – he still controlled the fund from prison – and eventually get out, and he’d 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 spoke in mafia lingo, like how Frank Shenan’s memoir “I Heard You Paint Houses” is what Hoffa once said to Frank, a Teamster leader who also knew Bug Daddy: to paint houses is to splatter a wall with red blood and grey brains. Hoffa 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 that Partin must be alive, but could be influenced in any way imaginable. In my experience, low intellect strongmen need as few rules to remember as possible, and they’re like water buffalo crossing a river: it takes a whole herd for just one to make it. I assume the hit on Kennedy was similar, with men like Jack Ruby blindly marching forward without seeing a bigger picture, but much more orchestrated than we experienced.
The 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.
After the shitty apartment evicted us because of a bacon grease fire that ignited the stained dangling chads of wallpaper, we shifted between Uncle Bob and Auntie Lo in Sherwood Forest subdivision, Cindi’s family in the same shitty apartment complex off Florida Blvd, a house painted in colorful psychodelic patterns by Craig Black, PawPaw’s son-in-law and filled with Wendy’s high school friends who had graduated but no longer feared the draft after Vietnam ostensibly ended in 1975, and Wendy’s boyfriend, Brian the one armed drug dealer, in his single wide, lopsided trailer off Goodwood Blvd; he was never worried about the draft.
Wendy was hired as a secretary at Exxon Plastics and quickly saved enough for a deposit on another rental, this one a tiny home in Baker, for the same reasons Granny had. But, I set that 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 the ‘gators mouth ignited the moldy and flaking clapboard walls, and we moved again and bounced around in ways that my memory muddles into one long series of shitty places.
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 early in the morning when Wendy rushed to make breakfast and get me to school before headed to work, sometimes stymied by a flat tire. 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, and that I just had a lot going on at home and in Arkansas, where similar accidents plagued me, though those were almost entirely a result of my dad’s careless driving on narrow winding mountain roads on the way home from picking up cases of beer in Clinton, and irresponsibility with guns and flammables, and bouts of intemperance that lasted weeks or more while we lived in a cabin without running water, electricity, a phone, or timely access to an emergency room. The stories are plenty; I have many scars. Fortunately, Exxon had a generous healthcare plan, and Wendy stitched me up and sighed often and persevered.
I remember that the Baton Rouge Advocate showed similar things with other Partins, and my last name was often on the front of the newspaper left on Wendy’s doorstep every morning, sometimes with pictures of Big Daddy, always smiling, or his little brother, Doug, who was just as big and smiled just as often, after Big Daddy went to prison and Doug was elected in his place. Big Daddy had been shot several times in one of his businesses off Airline Highway and in a hotel he sometimes used near there, and shotgun blasts blew out windows of Local #5 when his agents were inside. Doug’s home was blown up with Don, his paraplegic son, still inside. Don escaped, incidentally, in a handicap accessible van Doug had splurged on, one with levers and gadgets around the steering wheel, like the setup Brian rigged on his motorcycle. They knew each other, because Baton Rouge was a surprisingly small capital city, with only a few known drug dealers and a sprinkling of Partins in the phone book, all of whom had followed Big Daddy from Mississippi and settled down and began having families. We were all related, though some only by marriage, like Wendy.
Other than omitting that history, which no one knew yet, Lottingger nailed it. He just didn’t have all the facts, and probably no idea of the understatement behind 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.” For readers watching from the inexpensive seats: We were living in Edward Grady Partin Senior’s house, a man who’s family was hunted by the then unknown nationally organized crime syndicate, the people who had assassinated President Kennedy and made Hoffa disappear, a man protected by the President Kennedy’s little brother, the U.S. Attorney General, and soon to be president Richard Nixon (more on that later) despite being a rapist, kidnapper, murderer, thief, lier, adulterer (I’ll explain that later), racketeer (whatever that means), embezzler (thief) who had escaped jail by killing many people and influencing blind juries, a man who beat witnesses and dumped their bodies in a murky river by our house. And, to top it off and according to Mamma Jean and verified by me later in life, Big Daddy stopped going to church on Sundays; that was a sin to Mamma Jean, a violation of one of the ten commandments, though even Jesus himself argued against that commandment being a valid interpretation of the law (Matthew 12:1-13). She never had an answer for that challenge, and I share more about Mamma Jean in the next chapter. For now, in Big Daddy’s defense, none of the ten commandments tell you to not rape, kidnap, or influence a jury; and, there’s still debate between “murder” and “kill,” so the jury’s still out if God would be offended by all of Big Daddy’s crimes. Personally, I’m opposed to, among other things, rape, beating someone just because you can, beating people to the brink of death without taking them to the ER immediately afterwords (some times, in defense, we go to far trying to save someone we love from things like being beaten or raped or killed, but I wouldn’t fault anyone who tried their best to adhere to the commandments), and any form of killing not in self defense or to stop an immediate threat to a defenseless life. I’m opposed to the death penalty, despite Reagan’s vocal admiration of its merits, just like I’m opposed to torture in Guantanamo Bay, spanking in school by Teachers, and using the last sheet of toilet paper without replenishing it for the next person, even if you don’t know them. A lot of my beliefs, which I rarely share, stem from lessons I learned from my family.
In 1976, after Lottingger’s ruling and the appeals, Wendy finally had me full time. But, she didn’t throw her 110 pounds or so of weight around the Partin family, for reasons I hope are now obvious. In 1979, my 6’2″ lean and physically fit dad, Ed Partin Jr., narrowed his dark brown eyes and poked his massive finger down into her face and bellowed that he wanted to see me more. Her happy fun crinkly smiley hazel eyes saddened, her gaze turn towards her feet, and she sniffed; she would withhold her sobs until later that evening; my dad didn’t like it when people cried.
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. If she disappeared again, my dad would get custody full time. I don’t know what was going through her mind, but I watched him hold his finger about a thumb tip distance from her nose and demand an answer, and I spent the next few years living 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, when he’d drop me off with Wendy just in time for her to scramble and buy school clothes and get me stitched up each fall.
Wendy’s troubles continued, because I was with my dad in 1985 when we were arrested by 15 deputized but otherwise unemployed men from the moderate sized town of Clinton, Arkansas, 33 miles away, while working on gas generator powered tablesaw inside our cabin. They had a piece of paper signed by a judge, and 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. We gad to turn off the generator to hear what the sheriff was shouting through his bullhorn. 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, and his presidency was known for unconstitutional acts to pay for campaign promises. Reagan got off the Iran-Contra charges thanks to General Oliver North pleading the 5th Amendment and support from, ironically, the ACLU, and Reagan claimed he didn’t remember authorizing the deal and Iran-Contra faded from public memories; Reagan, one of the most elder presidents in history, would pass away years later from Alzheimers, which a lot of people also forget.
My dad didn’t have support from the ACLU, 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 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 gave a third to the prosecuting attorney, per Reagan’s policies that ended before being challenged by the supreme court as violating our constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial; though, in fairness, his trial happened very quickly. He was found guilty, and I don’t know how my dad’s public defender was paid, but, according to the Miranda Rights, he was entitled to an attorney and therefore he received what I hope was the best public defender in Clinton. He was sentenced to a year and a half, and served his time in a federal prison an hour from Clinton, near Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas. (Incidentally, he’d eventually graduate from there with a dual degree in political science and history, and then with a juris doctorate and an axe to grind. I share more about him later.)
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. Granny and Wendy avoided him.
Though a poor student academically, like Wendy, I grew up with a remarkably large vocabulary of legal jargon and a penchant for calling Ronald Reagan an asshole. I was the school feral kid, smelly and covered in lice and with a bad habit of walking around naked at home and peeing in our back yard wherever I wanted. I did it at home, too, to the shock of neighbors who glared at Wendy with judgement shooting from their eyes. I was okay with everything. Unlike Wendy, I wasn’t prone to embarrassment, shame, or depression. I was fiercely independent, and probably a pain in the ass when it came to following rules. Wendy often sobbed when I was suspended, and said I was just like my dad. After he went to prison, she 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. 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 without leaving me again; Brian had broken up with her, because he didn’t want children, though he was always cheerful and fun and patient around me, even when I damaged the cables on his custom motorcycle and peed in his yard. But, in her defense, after all that had happened, she still loved her smelly, lice covered, foul mouthed son, and she stocked up on the best de-lice shampoo money could buy and hoped things would improve.
A couple of years later, the lice were gone and I was less smelly, and after a few suspensions from school I was cursing less. 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 who had been LSU’s saledictorian, and a Macintosh computer buff who never wanted biologic children, but he was cheerful and even playful with me and neighborhood kids, teaching us to toss basketballs in the hoop he hung over our carport and sporting his basketball league’s jersey with his nickname, Blade, (because he was so thin) stitched across the back. 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 ant colonies clinging for life in rotating spheres, and several alligators drifting from the overflowing basin. We made a national televised news blip about the consequences of unbridled development, concreted land that pooled rainwater and a loss of wetlands that could absorb spikes in weather, and our new neighborhood, Cimmaron Subdivision in Central, in which Mike had invested, was used as an example for others to learn from. You could see us from a news helicopter birds-eye view, though you can’t tell it’s us wading through the water, hoisting bug-out bags over our heads to shield us from the rain. I remember the helicopter looking down from far enough overhead to not cause ripples or upset the balls of fire ants, 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 reruns 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. Wendy was upset, but, as I mentioned, we were used to remarkable things happening to our homes, and the flooding was just another drop in the bucket. She no longer sighed, and she loved Mike dearly and they persevered.
Positive attitudes didn’t change the mold and rot followed the flood, and my comics were ruined along with Wendy’s mementos from our Canadian relatives, 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 when dealing with her three relatives wills, which were muddled because everyone died so closely together. Mike quit his desk job at Exxon to focus on becoming a custom 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 school redistricting that plummeted home values, and left us – almost like a divorce, but they weren’t married and he had no reason to stay – to seek out an investment opportunity for an Arnold Palmer designed 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 had a lot to overcome, because entrepreneurship isn’t always the easiest or most lucrative path, and he filed bankruptcy in 1988, a result of record high 13.9% mortgage rates in the late 80’s and owning many cheap rental properties undesirable school districts, with high rent defaults in districts that had been rezoned to comply with federal bussing laws. He imagined those things wouldn’t happen in a wealthier neighborhood without kids, 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, and became a co-founder of The Bluffs.
Just after Wendy signed on for The Bluffs development, Uncle Bob got spinal cancer in May of 1989 and it progressed rapidly and he suffered for three months before dying, which almost overwhelmed Wendy, who was working full time and sometimes commuting from home construction at The Bluffs, an hour away, to visit Uncle Bob and me; and Mike was being unfaithful, not with a woman, but with his focus. He lived and worked in the same community and never turned off, and, by his own admittance, wasn’t there for Wendy because of his own growing fatigue and depression and trying to sip water from a fire hydrant as a contractor with dozens of employees, each with their own problems that he helped solve. She had another small nervous breakdown, and pointed her finger up at my face and spoke loudly and unambiguously that I had to leave home after graduating, that she had to grow up at 16 and I could, too, and that she wanted to start having fun for a change, that all of her problems started when she met my dad and had me. She apologized later, but by then I had reacted and it was too late.
I had no where to go, no aspirations for California yet, and I just wanted to finish my senior year of wrestling for the fledgling Belaire Bengals team. I 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, five months from my 18th birthday, without being able to obtain a driver’s license or do anything without a legally responsible adult’s signature. I had spent three months living with Uncle Bob, learning from him, as he died painfully, and I was tired of it all. The day after after I delivered Uncle Bob’s eulogy to a room of about 60 of his neighbors, friends, and coworkers – and a few straggler relatives from Prince Edward Island I didn’t know yet – 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 Lottingger had retired, and Bob knew my family well and had even seen my name in The Advocate during wrestling season and a feature, color article about me performing magic in the children’s wing of Uncle Bob’s hospital while I stayed there with him. Judge Bob signed my paperwork across the same raised seal as my custody reports, wished me success, and asked to see a card trick.
I became a legal adult on paper in August of 1989, just before Wendy’s 35th birthday. I immediately signed my delayed entry contract for Airborne Infantry and the GI Bill, and finished my senior year at Belaire with a respectable wrestling record of 54-13 and sporting a nifty orange letterman jacket, and “Magik,” with a k, as a big back patch (to not confuse with Magic Johnson, who had AIDS, and The Orlando Magic, a new basketball team that snatched Shaquel O’neal from LSU in 1989), and a chest full of medals from major tournaments, including a silver medal from city finals on March 3rd, 1990, against the returning three time state champion, hilariously named Hillary Clinton, like a boy named Sue; and, though none of the other wrestlers but me knew, also the name of Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton’s wife, which I had learned living with my dad a few years before.
I wore that bright orange jacket with a big blue B on the front to Big Daddy’s funeral on March 16th, 1990. Of course, the FBI agents mingling in the crowds of police and reporters and rubberneckers noticed my jacket, and we chatted; I’ll come back to that. A few months later, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait with the world’s largest fleet of tanks, and on the evening of August 3rd, President Bush Sr. sent the 82nd Airborne, nicknamed The All Americans and America’s Guard of Honor, and who still serve as the president’s Quick Reaction Force, on call to leave Fort Bragg within two hours and drop in unannounced. 3,000 of the 82nd’s first three Defense Ready Force Battalions landed in 117 degree heat and draw a line in the sand against the world’s largest fleet of tanks. (Please ponder that and nuclear weapons and current safety measures.) I soon joined the 82nd as a cherry fresh out of jump school, and was assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The Delta Dawgs are still the 1/504th’s anti-armor company, 90 to 100 men with M16’s and 9mm’s and a few .12 gage shotguns and M203 grenade launchers; and about 30 Humvees armed with TOW-II missiles, .50 cal machine guns shooting 1,800 armor piercing rounds a minute, and MK-19 grenade launchers that 400 armor melting grenades a minute, each with a 5 meter kill radius. (The Arkansas deputies who surrounded my dad and me with hunting rifles would have been impressed.) Half of my new team of Dawgs had parachuted into Panama the year before, Christmas to January of 1989-1990, and had overtaken the small country and captured President Noriaga as part of the continued war on drugs. (Bush Sr. was VP to Reagan for eight years, and continued the policies with more legitimate funding and resources, like the entire 82nd Airborne Division, a company of Marine Force Recon, a SEAL team, and couple of Delta Force guys). In Desert Storm, I recognized soldiers I had seen the news, the ones surrounding Noriaga’s compound with their guns and stacks of giant concert speakers blaring Van Halen’s “Jump!” and “Panama” 24 hours a day until everyone inside surrendered. They had listened to Guns-N-Roses’s “Welcome to the jungle blared over the C-141 and C-130 speakers as doors opened 800 feet over the compound while Noriega’s soldiers fired machine guns into my friends as they drifted down through the air. Others were vets of other long forgotten campaigns, and my First Sergeant and Sergeant Major were former prisoners of war in Vietnam, more than a year each, and knew a thing or two about how to treat people. I was lucky to have them as my mentors in the first Gulf war.
I fought with the Delta Dawgs against American TOW systems supplied by the Iran-Contra affair that seemed to continuously swap hands between whichever enemy of our enemy needed them or captured them. We persevered and overcame, but that’s a long story not useful now. After four days of fighting, the Dawgs led the entire allied ground force to the battle for and the inevitable capture of Khamisiyah Airport on March 4th, 1991, setting off an unknown stockpile of the chemical nerve agent Serin following laying down a literal ton of explosives and calling in two 15,000 pound bombs dropped from C-130’s. The explosion sent a mushroom cloud up like a nuclear bomb, and the shock wave shook our Humvees sprinkled our helmets with sand and dust. I, at 18 (nicknamed ScarHead by a few, Dolly by most), and my 26 year old friend and mentor, Parrot Head (he had a colorful parrot tattoo on his left shoulder blade, and hummed Jimmy Buffet between firefights), won a handful of medals for capturing 14 of Saddam’s Republican Guard deep in a bunker guarding Khamisah in what was deemed hand to hand combat, but that’s not true. Parrot had a newfangled 9mm Berretta, and I had a .12 guage shotgun with an outdated Vietnam era M bayonette, and a baggy cargo pocket stuffed with modified .12 gage shells. Two years before, Big Daddy and Doug had taught me how to slice the plastic near the metal primer to launch slugs that splattered into makeshift grenades. By the time we reached Khamisiyah, the Delta Dawgs were out of most other ammo, and we made due. I was lucky to have learned a thing or two from my grandfather.
We radioed in our capture and military intelligence intervened. I told them what had happened and they took our records, and someone authorized us to destroy Khamisiyah. Thirty years later, I’m updated about congressional investigations that I had been assigned to since 1991, because of what has been deemed “Desert Storm Syndrome,” a range of symptoms in 60,000 people who were within a 100 miles of the Khamisiyah explosion, took the experimental Bromide anti-serin pills, and are still affected. After thirty years and countless VA sponsored, double blinded, randomized studies across dozens of thousands of soldiers and civilians, not much has changed. I felt fine then, and for about 10 years I was included in the control group of asymptotic soldier. But, I was young and intensely focused on other things back then.
Because of my emancipation and Louisiana’s quirky French-colony era laws, what Walter Sheridan called “a unique system” that uplifted Big Daddy, I was (I was told in debriefings) the youngest American soldier in the war. One out of 560,000. Not quite the odds of winning a lottery, but close enough to attract attention from a few generals and senators who happened to have a file on me because of Big Daddy and the FBI. I ended up with a minor disability rating from it ten years later (short story: bone spurs into my spinal canal from too-low altitude parachute landings to reduce the time people can shoot at you, negligible cartilage everywhere, asthma, sinusitis, memory issues from either being knocked around or being coated in serin, and a disposition to having a young whippersnapper with a college degree as my boss, called PTSD). Wendy never forgave herself, but we would joke that only kids can receive “minor” injuries in wars, and I was luckier than many others. I laughed it off, and told her, truthfully, that war was nothing compared to wrestling Hillary Clinton. He was a monster, and I had lost to him seven times between being emancipated in 1989 and Big Daddy’s 1990 funeral. Hillary Clinton could probably take on the entire Republican Guard and win without complaining as much as I sometimes do.
In 1993, I had a chest full of medals and was granted diplomatic privileges for six months in the Middle East in 1993 as part of an experimental program of four unarmed “communication liaisons,” and returned to North Carolina with new perspectives. In 1994, I had my fill of death and orders and hypocrisy from a nation claiming to be under God, and I had witnessed the Dead Sea’s 1993 parting into two bodies of water that made world news, hinting to what would be called Climate Change, and I began studying civil and environmental engineering at LSU. two days after being honorably discharged. I started classes the Tuesday after Martin Luther King’s birthday and three day weekend.
To receive a waiver for LSU’s $1,800 per semester tuition, I joined the Louisiana national guard as a medic, and was bored one weekend a month and two weeks every summer. I worked as an EMT for Regional Ambulance at $4.50/hour, and that gig kept me focused; we covered the remote stretch between Saint Francisville and the airport, which was beyond city ambulance services. For fun, I performed magic once a week at a local restaurant and the new riverboat casinos that had been pushed into existence by Governor Edwin Edwards after he got out of jail and was reelected because casino owners financed his campaign. I lived in a tiny apartment on the run down West Chimes near campus that I loved like Granny had loved her home, and I knew a sense of freedom unlike most other students, and I could walk to class and jog to wrestling practice along the LSU lakes road, flirting with girls along sorority row. I learned Wendy had reconnected with Mike. I reconnected with her, and we built our relationship together and finally began talking about our past and the Partin family. I couldn’t talk about it with anyone else, and neither could she; who would believe us?
We grew close from a shared history we never discussed with anyone else. Mike became something of a mentor, sharing his mistakes with entrepreneurship, and he told me about a 1996 law passed to make patents easier, creating provisional patents that would hold your place at the USPTO for one year and only cost $100 if you were an individual, $200 if a small organization or LLC, which Mike also described. You could file a provisional patent for and focus on finding investors to join your LLC, rather than risking your life savings on patent attorneys and advanced prototypes, like he had more than once. He also mentioned becoming a patent agent, simply by studying and passing that part of the bar exam without paying for law school, which made sense to me; that part of the legal code was free to peruse in the LSU law library. Mike was a gifted communicator, and I was lucky. PTSD made me want to never have a whipersnapper of a boss, and sparked my drive to innovate and use my degree towards bigger goals. Some things barely change; I was a rambunctious kid with no respect for authority.
I graduated from LSU’s school of engineering in 1997, with a degree in civil and environmental engineering, summa cum laude, 7th and not 2nd, like Mike had, but with a penchant for programming and interest in a newfangled technology called “the internet,” probably sparked by a childhood memory of Mike’s outdated Macintosh with a screeching and modem connection that flowed like cold molasses and hadn’t impressed me ten years earlier. And, of course, I had unique experience with SINCGARS and international communication standards, amnd time as a communications liaison among 17 countries stationed in the Middle East. I left Louisiana again, and was given a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1997, magna cum laude. I married the love of my life and moved to San Diego, where the economy was geared towards independent people not attached to rules and who wanted to have fun. Over the years, I scribbled old-school letters to Wendy, who wasn’t as interested in email as I was, and never understood what I did to earn my livelihood.
Mike was unfaithful again in 1999, while Wendy was working all day at Exxon, this time with a neighbor who stayed at home and had three kids in school and an absentee husband who was a senior manager at one of the oil refineries. They split, and he moved away with the woman and her kids. Wendy 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 in 2008, when the housing crash made homes and lots cheap, accepting a generous cash payout for 25+ 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.
Wendy counted 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, focused on value and long term gain, and compounding interest made Wendy ridiculously 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 and read books with her dogs curled up on her legs and sprawled out on her couch. She never smoked, having learned that lesson from Granny’s throat cancer, which killed her before liver failure could. My family history is probably what made me lean in to developing life saving medical devices, which Wendy finally understood once I phrased it that way.
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 mostly be right. The part about researching Big Daddy was a coincidence that year, and only because of The Irishman, which she wouldn’t have heard about yet. Wendy and I never discussed our history in detail, and she never reacted well to me asking questions or mentioning their names. Almost every time we reminisced about the 70’s, though, she mentioned Pugh and laughed and said 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, and a major reason we struggled to coordinate communicating across time zones.
I had been reading old court reports and letters downloaded on my phone during the flight to Havana, and all of that history was on my mind when I was listening to Wendy’s voice mail in the Plaza de San Francisco de Asi. I may have overreacted.
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