Michael J. Richard

A rose is a rose is a rose; a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet

Many times and many ways throughout history

One cool summer evening, after we had spent the day climbing trees in Balboa Park, Hope asked me if I were okay. I was surprised; I hadn’t realized it had been so obvious that I had been lost in the past for a few months, ever since my mother passed away. I had been talking about PawPaw more in the previous few weeks than I had in thirty five years.

I thanked her for asking and told her I was okay. It wasn’t really a lie; I don’t know what “okay” means to her.

I knealed and faced her, and I said, “I love you; and I wish you happiness.” I said that was the most truthful thing I could tell her. And that I didn’t know what it meant to be okay, and I listed to her try to express what it meant for her. And that led to a conversation with the three of us, and we chatted a bit about what was okay to repeat, and what was not; which secrets are okay to keep, and which should be shared. Cristi told a quick story or two, and so did I. We chatted about Santa Clause and Jesus, and The Easter Bunny, too. In the end, none of us understood anything any better, but at least we understood that there were no simple answers, and that’s why I usually avoided them and let Hope learn a bit for herself.

A bit later, just before we thought we were through, Hope asked something that surprised me.

“How come you never found PawPaw?”

Not even Cristi had ever asked me what Hope had. Perhaps that’s because Hope saw things simply, as a child should, and if you love someone and they love you, why would you not find them? But, she grew up where you could say someone’s name into your phone, and The Universe told you where they lived, their phone number, email address, arrest records, custody records, obituaries; and, in many cases, their thoughts and opinions from social media sites and sites that snag posts and maintain them even when the authors evolve and change their thoughts or opinions. Cristi and I had grown up with phone books and the yellow pages, and to find someone in another city, we had to call people to do work for us, or go to a public library and look up other cities phone books and microfeesh films of newspaper archives, day by day, going back dozens of years. I can’t imagine anyone today realizing what it was like back then.

“I didn’t know his full name,” I said. “I sort of remember remembered people calling him Ed, but that had confused me because my dad and grandfather were also called Ed. I remember a few people calling him Mr. White. But, he was my PawPaw, and that’s how I still see him in my mind. He died before I saw him again, and I only recently stumbled across something that told me his name was James “Ed” White, and here we are now.”

She asked a few more questions.

“Well,” I said, mulling it over in the pause. “My mother lied to me, and told me he didn’t want me; that was wrong, but she had a disease, and couldn’t help herself sometimes. So, for most of my life, I believed he didn’t want me; but that wasn’t true, and it hurt me very, very much. That’s why I will never lie to you.”

Cristi chimed in, and Hope chatted back, and we agreed upon what a few words meant to us, like hope, love, trust, and truth; and I’m still mulling it over.

We paused for a bit for all of that to sink in, and listened for a bit, and chatted a bit more. I told her how that was the nicest gift my dad ever gave me, the right to speak the truth, and that’s why he became a lawyer who helped people in jail, no matter what they did. We took the bible Mrs. Abrams had given me before the war, the one she had engraved Jason Ian Partin; and I told her about my Aunt Janice and the artwork she made for me of my name, Jason Ian Partin, written again and again as fine lines that formed a boy flying a kite; the one I threw away when I couldn’t stop seeing my grandfather’s big leather belt (though I didn’t share that part; that was the point of our chat, to try to let her learn as quickly as possible whom to trust and which secrets to share, and which secrets are okay, even from us. It’s a long story, and we’d let it digest for a while, and check in now and then as she gets older and check our examples of those words, and make sure we still knew which secrets were ok and which were hers alone and what should be fully disclosed.

She may have a long time to get that part, but everyone seemed satisfied with that, and I did a magic trick and didn’t divulge how it was done.


On a positive note, after I left White Oaks Elementary School and began Westdale Middle, and then Wendy met Michael J. Richard.

He didn’t pronounce his name like Richard Pryor and Spider Man did, he pronounced the Cajun way, Ree-chard. He was Mike Ree-chard, and his momma was Mrs. Ree-Chard, the happiest woman I’ve ever met.

Mike was nice to me. He was an engineer at Exxon and was good at fixing things around the house that I broke, and Wendy always seemed happy when he was around. I was happy about all of that, especially since Kieth had had his own daughter by then and stopped coming around to take me hunting or fishing or to the sets of Hollywood movies being filmed in Baton Rouge, like 1985’s famous football film, Everybody’s All American, and a host of other small films that used our plantation homes for movies about life during the civil war.

Mike also took me to fun movies he liked, like Star Wars and Indiana Jones and the Karate Kid, and he chatted about local news with his friends. Everyone seemed to like Mike, and his friends and family were always kind to me, though I still didn’t talk about anything I saw or heard, out of habit.

In one of my favorite memories with him, soon after I Wendy had paid for me to join the neighborhood cub scouts, I stood alone in the Baker community, holding my failed box car that had gotten stuck on the down ramp half way down. I had been embarassed, and grabbed it and ran away. Mike found me, and squated down to look me in the eye, and he asked if he could help me.

I showed him my failed box car. I cried and said I didn’t know why it wouldn’t work. I had glued extra weights on the bottom, because I thought gravity would pull it down the ramp faster.

Mike looked at my work and smiled, and kindly said that it was a good first try, but that we could make it better together. I asked him how, and he pointed to the three steel washers I had glued to the bottom of my box car, and he showed me how they would hit the ramp in the curved part of the race, and that I didn’t know that because he hadn’t thought to practice with me before the big event. He said he was sorry, and that he’d help me now, and that we’d start by removing the washers and testing the car on a ramp, when no one was looking, and we’d learn more then.

He pulled out his folding pocket knife and opened the blade and held the car in his left hand with the washers up. But I had glued them real good, like my dad had taught me, and Mike had to force his knife. He slipped, and cut his hand and had to stop helping me to wrap his white handkerchief around it to stop the bleeding. He then pried off the washers and we walked back into the now empty room, and he put our box car on top of the ramp using his bandgaged hand, and he let it loose and it finished the whole ramp. It wouldn’t have been the fastest, but it would have at least made it down, and I saw time for the first time. Next time, I saw, I’d try it out when no one is looking.

“That’s called a prototype,” Mike Ree-chard said. “It’s your best effort in the shortest amount of time. Try it out, see what you learn, and then improve on what you’ve already done. You can’t fail, you can only stop improving your prototype.”

Mike invited Wendy and me to move into one of his homes with him. He had quit Exxon to be his own boss and not work behind a desk all day, and he was buying homes and fixing them up and renting them out, and had invested in building a new home in the fancy neighborhood near Westdale Middle School, and here I am now.

Interestingly, one of the more remarkable things about my grandfather, Edward Grady Partin Senior, is that infamous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the closeted cross dresser who kept senators and presidents in his pocket because he knew all their secrets, endorsed Big Daddy across national media, and personally oversaw Big Daddy’s lie detector tests, and discussed his faith in Big Daddy in Life Magazine, several news reports, The Warren Investigation, and Hoffa vs. The United States. Doug Partin talks about it a lot in his book, From My Brother’s Shadow, and of course what Big Daddy told me is one of my favorite stories among people I trust; but, I’ve always wondered what was it that made Chief Justice Earl Warren – who, incidentally, was never given a middle name – be the only one of nine supreme court justices to rally against trusting him to convict Hoffa. That’s a lot of influence, and I can’t imagine even Hoover having that much influence.

And he fooled Mamma Jean. That was hard to do, and she never lied to me. We spoke often of hope, love, trust and truth; for over 25 years we spoke of hope, love, trust, and truth. No one I know has ever heard her lie. She’s never in any of the interviews, though she’s briefly mentioned by Chief Justice Earl Warren, FBI head of the Get-Hoffa force, and several books and magazines who simply repeat that she was beautiful, gorgeous, sharp, witty, and, they’d emphasize, as beautiful as Norma Jean Marylyn Monroe! She remained silent about Big Daddy until 1996; but by then President William Jefferson Clinton had released the first part in the JFK Assassination Report, and of course no one in my family had read that; most still haven’t, I’d bet. We’re all human, trying to do our best, probably. But, the point is, she never lied, and over time, I’d tell Hope her stories, which were, coincidentally, underlined in Mrs. Abrams bible, and had been underlined in several I’ve stumbled across here and there.

Mamma Jean said the Lord works in mysterious ways, and that she was happy to finally be safe and have a roof over her head and food for her children, and the opportunity to work as a hair stylist and earn her livelihood honorably, even though she was a single mother with a unique and undeniably rough back story. She never once sold a word to anyone to improve her situtation, and when questioned too intently, she pointed to places in the New Testament where Jesus demonstrated to us how to answer. Mrs. Abrams, who never met Mamma Jean and I never discussed either with the other, had the same words underlined. Mine from Desert Storm is on Hope’s shelf; I haven’t underlined it yet, and I look forward to when she finds her own truth.

After the war, Mamma Jean and I added to our vocabulary, and included “honor” and “honor your mother and father.” I’ll let you ponder what we said, but what’s important to this story is how she said she was fooled by Big Daddy, too. She had pondered that many, many times. So had Mrs. Abrams. Both said the same thing; sort of. Mamma Jean laughed and said after someone dies, all you remember are the good things, hopefully. She enjoyed remembering Big Daddy as big and handsome, and writing letters saying he’d make a good father, and she can recall the few years when she was 18 to 20 or so when things were good. But, she’s also say. Mental Illness is a disease. Lying is a disease. An illness. And she would cry and pray for me, because Walter Sheridan had told us we all probably had schizophreneia, and that she knew that was crazy. But she still prayed for me, and I’ll never forget how she said to me, this wasn’t like how Jesus said, but it’s how I feel. I love you, and I wish you happiness. Mrs. Abrams and Mrs. Richard said practically the same thing. All three would quote the same scripture: Even the devil can quote scripture.

I hope that, as Warren put it in Hoffa vs. The United States, posterity ponders these things on a few levels, and checks back every now and then to ensure we’re still using the same definitions of words like hope, love, faith, trust, and truth. What are our values, and how do we agree what they mean? How do we measure if we’re achieving our values? What does that mean?

I love you, and wish you happiness.

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