My Mother’s Story
Wendy was born Wendy Anne Rothdram in 1955 in Richmond Hill, Ontario, an upper middle class suburb of Toronto, to Joyce Hicks and a man who’s last name was Rothdram and I met once but whose first name I don’t recall. Joyce was my Granny, and at the time she was 18 years old and the youngest of three daughters of my Great Grandpa Harold “Hal” Hicks and Grandma Hicks, French Canadians who settled in the English speaking metropolis of Toronto; he was relatively well known in Canada because he was a professional hockey player for the Montreal Maroons, Detroit Couars, and Detroit Falcons. Wikipedia says he played 90 professional games but omits his brief stints with the Toronto Mapleleafs and Boston Bruins; Aunt Mary kept one of his Bruins jerseys, and I trust her more than I trust Wikipedia. He would retire later in life as an upper manager for the Canadian railroad system, and local newspapers and coworkers mentioned him and his work respectfully in his 1960 obituary. Grandma Hicks was a homemaker and attended to her daughters, Joyce, Mary, and Lois; they wanted for nothing in their upper middle class home, in part because Grandma Hicks’s aunt, Edith Lang, was an elderly woman without children who enjoyed time with her nieces; she, too, was relatively well known as a socialite and philanthropist and former spinster who worked for one of Canada’s wealthiest men as his secretary for forty years and marrying him at 80 years old; he died soon after, and she inherited his fortune and the country’s largest private art collection and donated many valuable pieces of art to museums. Though somewhat aloof and cantankerous and ostentatious with her wealth, she didn’t have children of her own and ensured her nieces had a comfortable life and wanted for nothing. Granny and her sisters would all say they had a loving home and every opportunity imaginable.
Granny and Auntie Lo were partiers, embracing the post WWII prosperity of the 1950’s and enjoying Canadian rye whiskey on the rocks and an occasional splurge on Good Scotch. Aunt Mary was more of a homebody and, like her Aunt Edith, almost never drank alcohol except for wine with good meals. She married a young, mild mannered and family oriented man named John and they lived the rest of their lives in Toronto, raising their daughter without any events that would lead to Wikipedia pages. Lois was rarely sober, and she married a navy veteran and delightfully indulgent French Canadian named Robert, a middle manager of Montreal’s Bulk Stevedoring Company, and they accepted a transfer to manage the loading and unloading of America’s second largest shipping port in New Orleans and bought an upper middle class home an hour upriver in the smaller, more affordable river port and capital city of Baton Rouge. Joyce was the only daughter left at the Hicks’s home, and one night she stayed out too late and had too much to drink and became pregnant with Wendy and then married the father, a man who’s first name I don’t remember but who gave Wendy and Granny their last name, Rothdram, a man who claimed to be a cartoonist for Walt Disney. A few years later, Granny fled an abusive relationship with her husband and took Wendy to Baton Rouge to stay with Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob; they could never have their own children, and they had rooms to spare in their newly built home and they welcomed Granny and Wendy when Wendy was a five year old girl.
Granny was not one to sit idle, and though she was a single uneducated mother in the deeply ingrained culture of southern Louisiana that insisted women were homemakers and looked down upon unwed mothers, she persisted and exhibited confidence and found a job in the newly created “chemical alley” of industry north of Baton Rouge’s airport, a long rural road of chemical processing plants and oil refineries that processed oil from offshore oil rigs in Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. She was a secretary and taught herself to type and studied and learned the lingo CoPolymer’s processes, and in return CoPolymer allowed Granny health insurance – something that had been free in Canada and she had taken for granted until she was a single mother – and they increased her pay equitably, and soon Granny was able to save enough money to put a down payment on a small, 680 square foot home on a relatively large acre of land in a new housing development under the airport flight path. Her commute to work drastically reduced and Wendy had safe streets to play in and public schools and parks nearby. The home had three tiny bedrooms and two bathrooms and a modest kitchen, and Granny’s liquor cabinets rattled every ten to twenty minutes from jet airplane engines above her roof, but Granny was proud that despite her setbacks and obstacles, she had achieved what some people called “The American Dream” of home ownership as a single mother who immigrated to America without an education.
Granny would work for CoPolymer for almost 30 years. She was respected for being a self-driven learner, and for being polite but honest, and forthcoming with useful information, never shy, and she was recognized for never having come to work late or missed a day except except for a brief period in 1975 when she was coming home from work and was sidestruck by a careless driver who had likely been drinking. The accident shattered her right ankle and she was immobilized for a few weeks and couldn’t drive to work, and Wendy volunteered to move back home and care for her. They had been estranged ever since Wendy had eloped with my dad, but Wendy had been maturing and knew she should help her mother, especially because the driver that hit Granny was uninsured and CoPolymer’s health insurance policy wouldn’t cover at-home care until Granny could drive again.
Even before the accident, Granny had been adamant against any type of driving after having had a drink, and she drank every day without concern for what other people thought about it. She would come home from work and relax with a tall glass or two of the best Scotch on the rocks she could afford, and she so enjoyed her lifestyle that she rarely drove anywhere to socialize. Instead, she focused on being home as soon as she returned from work, which was only 20 minutes north of the airport, and she tried to be home when Wendy came home from Glenoaks Elementary and then Glenoaks Middle and then eventually GleanOaks High, and her routine was always to relax then cook dinner for her and Wendy. She was proud of her home she worked so hard to afford, and was happy simply reposing in her recliner with a bottle of Scotch and a carton of Kents and her monthly Reader’s Digest books, including a section of cookbooks, like Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Paul Prudhome’s Louisiana Kitchen and the ubiquitous Times Picayune Creole Cookbook. She was a self-taught chef, embracing the Cajun culture of making delicious food from scratch using frugally purchased ingredients and never shying away from adding extra sherry to her turtle soup or a splash or two of wine in her tomato sauce while enjoying a glass or two for herself.
Granny encouraged Wendy to be independent and to play with her friends on bike in their safe streets or explore her spacious yard with it’s large pecan trees and gumball trees and, typical to old Baton Rouge homes, at least one majestic stately oak tree with branches that reached out and bounced against the ground in heavy winds. Inside, Granny encouraged Wendy to read books from the copiously stocked bookshelf she kept with her other luxuries, an expensive collection of the Encyclopedia Britanica and a subscription to it’s yearly updates and several subscriptions to fiction and nonfiction books for a range of ages. Granny’s bookshelf was so well stocked that some of Wendy’s friends would use it for homework rather than Glen Oak Elementary’s library resources, just like I would, and Granny was generous with her time and would sit and learn with them, if they wanted, just like she would with me.
Wendy grew up playing with her best friends nearby, Linda White and the sisters Cindi and Debbie LeBoux, and they were what most people called Tom Boys, cheerful and playful but preferring jeans over dresses and bicycles over dolls, a rarity in the traditional southern culture where women wore dresses and didn’t get dirty often. They climbed the sprawling stately oak trees in Granny’s yard and caught minnows and crawfish in the drainage canal that wrapped around half of Granny’s yard, and rode bicycles for miles around the relatively sparsely populated subdivision with it’s meandering streets that navigated around waterways and oak grooves. As Wendy got older, she began swimming on Glen Oaks Middle School’s team and playing tennis and golf with Uncle Bob and Auntie Lo in the country club near their home thirty minutes south of the airport.
Wendy grew to be a beautiful young lady with hazel colored eyes that crinkled when she smiled, and long straight strawberry blonde hair that blew in the wind behind her when she rode her bicycle. She was petite, like Granny, and only 5’1” tall, but whereas Granny was thin as a twig, Wendy grew to be full figured and attracted the attention of boys at Glen Oaks High School. Like most of her friends and for reasons I don’t understand, she dated older boys and her first serious boyfriend was an 18 year old senior when she was a 15 year old sophomore. He graduated in the spring of 1971 and was immediately drafted and shipped to basic training and then to the conflict in Vietnam, where he was immediately shot and killed before Wendy would begin her junior year.
Wendy was devastated by his loss. He had faithfully written her letters, but she had procrastinated responding – a trait she would maintain all her life – because she had wanted to send him the perfect picture to remember her and had borrowed Uncle Bob’s fancy and rare color film camera and had Linda and Debbie take her photo dancing under one of Granny’s trees with the last of that season’s red azalea flowers tucked above her ear and augmenting the strawberry hints in her hair. Photos took a few weeks to develop back then, and Wendy enjoyed playing outside during the summer and forgot to pick up the film, and time passed and then she heard he had been shot and killed.
She had what I consider a minor nervous breakdown, and she rebelled against everyone and everything and told Granny she wanted to return to Canada, where there wasn’t a draft and the government didn’t make young boys go to war and die and people could live happily, she thought. But, she hadn’t told Granny she had been dating an older boy and that he had died, so she simply demanded to return to Canada and live with her father, a man she hadn’t seen in more than 10 years but had built up in her mind as a man who loved her more than Granny, and she imagined he would be more fun and supportive than her boring mother who just sat at home ever day and drank Scotch and cooked meals and read books.
Granny was a woman of action and preferred experiential learning over long lectures, and she forewent her good bottles of Scotch to buy Wendy a plane ticket to Toronto for Wendy to see her dad for the first time since they had immigrated to America eleven years prior. Wendy boarded the plane and she saw the trees in her yard from above after having spent her life looking up at them passing over their home, and she thought she’d never return to Louisiana. But, only a few days later she used the return ticket Granny had had the foresight to purchase and returned home, because her father wouldn’t even hug her and said he was happy with his new family and that Wendy was Granny’s problem now. He gave her a hastily drawn cartoon caricature of a drunkard with a 1940’s hobo hat, and Wendy returned to Baton Rouge even more distraught than before, and Granny resumed buying the good bottles of Scotch and, in her pragmatic way, encouraged Wendy to focus on being happy.
Wendy turned 16 a few weeks later and began her junior year at Glen Oaks High School, but was so depressed that she dreaded being stuck inside and all of the questions that permeate southern culture ostensibly to be friendly but usually only mindless of diverse households, like “Who’s your momma, and what church do y’all go to?” and “What’s your daddy do?” and, for those people who know a bit about you already, “Have you heard from your boyfriend?” She had always been friendly but shy, and in her junior year she became reticent and smiled less and less frequently. To tolerate the anxiety of going to school, she began smoking marijuana with her friends and relaxing in class, comfortably numb and passing time until she could go home and smoke again.
She met Edward Partin that fall, a 17 year old senior who was the Glen Oak’s main drug dealer.
He was tall and physically strong and ruggedly handsome, with long black hair and dark brown eyes so dark they seemed black. He rarely smiled in school, and usually frowned or scowled to express his discontent with the system and disdain for authority. He always had abundant marijuana and new cars that attracted attention, especially in the lower economic school district of Glen Oaks, and he had been arrested for selling drugs but somehow a judge set him free, and that added to his reputation as a “bad boy” and confident young man that seemed to attract 16 year old girls going through issues with their fathers. He told his friends that Wendy was “fine,” and soon they were skipping school to ride in his cars and sneaking out at night to meet; coincidentally, he had recently moved in with his grandmother, my Great Grandma Foster, who lived a few blocks away from Granny.
Wendy and my dad snuck out one night in January of 1972 and got high, and they listened to a new album that had just come out, Led Zepplin IV, and the song that was the most popular in America at that time and would become prophetic for Wendy, “Going to California,” and they sang the lyrics they knew well by then:
Spend my days with woman in kind
Smoked my stuff, and drank all my wine
Goin’ to California with an achin’ in my heart
Heard there’s a woman out there
With love in her eyes and flowers in her hair
Wendy got high and felt good and lost her virginity to Edward and soon realized she was pregnant. She didn’t have enough money for an abortion and didn’t tell Granny for fear of judgement, and when she told my dad she was surprised by his insistence on getting married; his father had had several illegitimate families and, in my dad’s mind, had abandoned him and my dad wanted to be a better father and insisted they get married. Wendy agreed, and they dropped out of school and drove an hour and a half away to Woodville, Mississippi, where state laws didn’t require parental consent for a 16 year old girl to marry a 17 year old boy. They returned to Baton Rouge as Mr. and Mrs. Edward Partin and resided in one of his father’s many homes while my dad started growing marijuana in a dry patch of land in a nearby bayou. A few months later, as JJ Lottingger wrote, I was born; and Wendy soon abandoned me and left for California.
It’s interesting that Lottingger never mentioned my dad’s history. I was removed from both of their custody, and he was obviously at the trial, yet only Wendy was blamed for abandoning me. No one explained where my dad was when he left. I heard from many people that he had temporarily abandoned both of us as soon as I was born to buy drugs in bulk from some Carribbean island, leaving Wendy, as she mentioned, “emotionally upset, scared, very confused, and not knowing where to turn, without help with the situation at hand.”Go to the Table of Contents