In the summer of 1977, my dad pulled into PawPaw’s gravel driveway in his big, new Ford F150 truck and opened the passenger door for me. I tossed my weekend backpack onto the seat and crawled up and in, kicking empty beer cans out of the way so I could step into the floorboard and heft myself onto the bucket seat. I was anxious to show him my new pocketknife, the Old Henry PawPaw had given me and taught how to use after I killed Stretch Armstrong with a screwdriver. I was safe, kept it sharp, and always had it in my pocket, ready for action should there be trouble.
“Hey Justin, I mean Jason, I’m happy to see you, son,” he said softly for him, but still loud and deep and resonating. I told him I was happy to see him, too, and he rubbed my head and grabbed it and rotated it towards the open door.
“I can’t even see that scar any more,” he said. It was still there, but MawMaw had let my hair grow so long it was hidden. My hair wasn’t nearly as long as my dad’s, and it was auburn, not black, but he rarely commented on that. He was only fascinated by the scar; most people were, it had been huge and formed a giant, backwards C shape across the back of my head where the flap had lifted and been resewn back on with 82 stitches, and where PawPaw said they had put the second brain that made me so smart. My dad held my head and rotated it back and forth and pushed it down and parted my hair and said it was still there, but didn’t say anything about my second brain or ask about school; I was doing well, and PawPaw said that was because I was smart and had more brains than most adults.
“How’re your teeth?” my dad resonated. I couldn’t answer, because he had opened my mouth by putting his left hand in my forehead and his right on my chin, and had tilted my head up and was peering down into my mouth like a circus lion tamer showing the crowd he wasn’t afraid of being bitten. He looked this way and that, and rotated my head to get better light inside my mouth, and said, “Good. No cavities.”
Satisfied with his inspection, he released his hold and reached across me and pulled the door shut and cranked the ignition and lowered the steering wheel gear shift into drive and peeled out of the driveway and onto the blacktop, kicking up gravel that bounced along the road behind us. As we passed the oak tree and store, he told me to not use toothpaste, because toothpaste companies made money by convincing people it mattered, and that all toothpaste did was make your breath smell good.
I listened but didn’t argue. Wendy said the opposite, and I had learned to never mention one of their opinions to the other, and to do whatever MawMaw and PawPaw did. He kept talking about other things companies and governments do, and how he liked Carter because he was doing the right thing and had gotten rid the draft (he hadn’t, that was the guy before him whose name I can never recall) and that all the Teamsters hated him because gas prices had gotten so high and that the war mongering assholes were probably plotting to invade Saudi Arabia and take their oil; and soon we were flying over Baton Rouge along the raised I-10 highway and the wind noise was so loud I couldn’t understand everything he said.
He drove his big new Ford with his knees and rolled a joint, lit it and cracked his window and took a few hits and exhaled most of the second hand smoke outside. He always stopped talking about companies and governments after a few hits, and I had learned to be patient before saying much. I sat happily, with my hand outside the window held flat and rotating it this way and that and paying attention to how it seemed to be alive and flying up and down based on how which way and how much of an angle I made.
He saw me playing and smiled broadly and patted my leg enthusiastically and exhaled and said, “Guess where we’re going, son.” I had no idea, but always had a good time and got excited whenever he did. He had taken me hunting and fishing and gardening in his secret garden hidden deep in the swamp on a relatively dry hill with fewer alligators than under the culverts we waded through, and we had carried our guns through the culverts and held them above our heads in deeper water and kept quiet so the alligators wouldn’t hear us and had a grand time, just like soldiers or wild west heroes in movies, except as dad and son. I was either imaging those adventures or high, and I forgot about showing my knife, but with childlike excitement asked him to tell me where we were going today.
He took another hit and somehow spoke without exhaling, like Debbie could do, and he beamed in a slightly strained voice, “To see Stevie Nicks!” He exhaled smoke and coughed just a bit and laughed and beamed, “She’s fine!” He pointed to the floorboard and told me to pick up an eight-track cassette, and he put it in the new truck’s player and showed me how to push the play button; it was hard, and I had to use both hands, and he laughed and said I should try to get stronger, and I said I would. I had never told him what happened to Stretch, and he never asked, but I remembered how he told me I’d become as big and strong as him and Big Daddy and I was sure I’d find some way. Until then, I had my knife and PawPaw.
Suddenly, the speakers started playing Stevie Nicks and her band, Fleetwood Mac, and their Rumors album. It was a phenomenon, selling 10 Million albums in the first few months after its release in February of 1977. The first song, Second Hand News, opens with a brief guitar strumming that sounded a lot like I heard my dad and his friends play. It’s good, and even then I started wiggling in my seat to the rhythm, possibly influenced by my dad tapping his fingers on the steering wheel and bobbing his head back and forth, his joint dangling from his lips. We jammed together, flying high above downtown Baton Rouge.
He took the joint from his lips and reached across me and pointed through my window, towards downtown, and said, “There! that’s where they’ll be performing!” He was pointing at the Old State Capital overlooking the Mississippi River on top of the only hill in Baton Rouge, other than the Indian mounds sprinkled around the LSU campus, the hill PawPaw took me sledding down on an opened cardboard box with all the other father and sons. It was only about 20 feet high and gently sloped, just enough to keep it dry during a hurricane flood and more like a ramp leading up to the castle-themed capital building, but it was the biggest mountain I had ever seen, and PawPaw said it was the biggest in Louisiana.
I asked if we’d go sledding on Mount Capital, and my dad’s voice raised and he looked stern and said, “No, son. Look. Look where I’m pointing.” He clasped my head from the top with his massive hand, spreading his fingers across my entire scalp like a basketball player holding a ball glued to his palm and upside down, like I’d soon see the Harlem Globtrotters do at the Baton Rouge Centeoplex when Wendy would take me there later that summer, and that’s when I first it. The newly built Centroplex, a few blocks away from the Old State Capitol. It was huge. It wad built in 1976, over a year when I hadn’t been sledding, and to me it was as if a wizard had made a giant dome appear next to the castle on top of Mount Capital. It could seat 10,000 people, and Fleetwood Mac would be performing there on their Rumors tour, and my dad was taking me to see the magic building and meet Miss Nicks.
The next song came on, Dreams, and my dad cheered up again and flicked his spent roach out his window and cranked up the volume, and shouted over Dreams, “That’s Stevie! Man! She’s fine!” His countenance radiated admiration and his fingers tapped to the constant, simple drum line, and I heard Miss Nick’s voice. It’s spectacular. Her voice, the rhythm, and the lyrics all combine to form a perfect moment. Even today, Dreams is an internet video meme with people singling along, and, like Led Zepplin’s 1971 album, Led Zepplin IV, Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 Rumors album is still one of the world’s best selling albums. My dad and I flew across Baton Rouge singing along with Dreams of Miss Nicks.
We arrived at one of his houses. He had a couple, though they were really Big Daddy’s, and this one was in Belaire subdivision, directly across from Belaire High School, a deteriorating part of town that still had cheap three bedroom, two bath houses. Bigger houses in nicer neighborhoods with less disreputable schools than Belaire were more popular by then, and in 1977 my dad was there because Belaire had become a discrete and relatively inexpensive place with big enough houses and diminishing police presence, and he was using one of the rooms to dry his marijuana plants.
They hung upside down, ceiling to floor, wall to wall, and he kept the windows shut and the air conditioning running so neighbors wouldn’t smell their unmistakable dankness that permeated the house. I was fine with that; it was summer in Baton Rouge, hot and muggy and swarming with mosquitoes, and PawPaw didn’t have air conditioner, and the holes in the screens let im determined bugs, and it was a treat to visit my dad and play inside, nice and chill, without flies and listening to him and his friends play guitar and talk about things I didn’t understand but seemed like a lot of fun so I listened and enjoyed the chill air and dank smells with them.
When we arrived, I knew that Cousin Donald was home when we pulled up, because his van was in the carport. It had an elevator to lift his wheelchair, and all kinds of levers around the steering wheel so that he could drive using only his hands. It was before noon when we walked in, and Donald was already drunk and had a can of beer tucked between his legs and was swerving through the living room in his wheelchair, laughing maniacally. I don’t know how tall he was, but he was thin and had bushy hair and looked a lot like Craig, but with Kieth’s blue eyes and a subtle smile I was just beginning to associate with anyone related to Bog Daddy, other than my dad and me.
He had lost use of his legs in a drunk driving accident, before I knew him, but every time I saw him he told about it, as if he didn’t recognize me. He’d say me how scary it was to wake up in the hospital after a few days covered in bandages. He had never asked about my scar, but he’d get drunk and talk about how bad it was to be crippled, that he had a tube shoved up his dick-hole so he could pee, and would hold up the plastic bag of dark yellow urine dangling from his wheelchair and connected to a tube that disappeared into his pants and sometimes laugh and sometimes cry.
The past few times I had seen him, he also talked about how frightened he had been when Jimmy Hoffa blew up his house. He and Uncle Doug, his father, had almost died, he repeated. It was hard to move quickly in a wheelchair, especially when people were shooting shotguns into the burning house, and how wonderful my dad was for letting him stay there.
All of my dad’s cousins and friends all talked about how generous my dad was; the cousins looked like Kieth and Big Daddy, the friends all looked and smelled like all of the friends of Wendy, Debbie, and Craig: like Bob Ross.
I slept on the living room sofa, happily, as was my lot in life as a part in many families. Even with Wendy I slept on the living room floor, though that was at Debbie’s house now. Wendy had been evicted from her home in the same complex, the one by the Chinese restaurant, after setting the kitchen on fire making a roux, sometimes called Cajun napalm, and because she didn’t know better she splashed water on it and the flaming gobs of oil and flour had splashed across the wall and the kitchen almost burned down and she lost her fine home and asked me not to tell anyone and we stayed at Debbie’s, with her mom’s shrieking voice all day and night and thick clouds of cigarette smoke and no air conditioner and lots and lots of Raisenettes and fortune cookies; but no Debbie. She had been committed to a mental institution for progressively worsening schizophrenia, and we had to drive to see her and make art projects together. Coincidentally, the LeBoux’s apartment complex and Wendy were just around the corner from Belaire High School – Debbie’s brother could walk to school there – but I had learned to be a good son and not talk about what happens with Wendy or my dad with anyone else, not matter how fun it would have been to see Wendy and drive to see Debbie.
Though I’d never tell my dad, Debbie, like Wendy, used toothpaste, just like MawMaw and PawPaw.
The third bedroom had a baby’s crib, and a baby inside it. Her legs were wrapped in casts after a surgery to correct intrinsic deformities; doctors would break her legs and restet them slightly closer to straight, wait for them to heal and break them again. It was her third surgery, amd they were expensive. Her mom was there, too, and would tell me how her boyfriend had left them when he saw his daughter born deformed, and she’d swoon and say how wonderful my dad was for paying for her daughter’s surgeries, and how proud I must be of him.
I don’t recall their names or oral hygiene habits.
The next morning we woke up and I helped pack dried weed that had been trimmed of leaves into little plastic baggies and roll them tightly while the mom cooled bacon and eggs for breakfast. We used a big, metal scale to weigh them. It wasn’t the type with two plates, like the one blind lady liberty of justice used, or the Libra scales that my dad said was my birth symbol, but it was mechanical and I had to learn to slide the weights back and forth and add a bit of weed to make 1/8 ounce bags, and then, like my dad showed me, toss in a little Lagniappe, a free extra bit to be generous and give people a gift, even if they didn’t realize it. My dad said it was the right thing to do. He was a generous young man. The eggs were overcooked, but the bacon was as good as always. There was no milk for me, only baby formula and bottles of milk for my dad and Donald, so I begrudgingly drank water.
By evening, Donald was too drunk to leave the house, and I don’t know where the lady and her baby had gone, but my dad was high and happy and said we were ready to go. We loaded into his Ford with a six pack of beer and flew back up I-10 to the new Centroplex.
“Stevie Nicks is fine!” my dad chimed as I put in the eight-track and pushed the button. He rolled and lit a joint and we jammed to Rumors and arrived and parked along the levee, between the Old State Capital and the unfathomly tall new one that stretched all the way to the clouds; at the time, Baton Rouge had the tallest state capital in America, a gift from Governor Long obtained with dubious funds, and the old, squat, castle-shaped capital building that Mark Twain had called an eyesore on the Mississippi that had become a popular cardboard sledding mountain. I would grow to know the spot well, and it’s still a popular place to park when visiting downtown and the now aging Centroplex. As long as the levee doesn’t break, it’ll probably always be a good place to park.
We sat in his truck with the levee behind us, across from the two state capitals, and listened to the rest of Rumors and he finished his six pack of beer and another joint, and slapped my thigh and reminded me that Stevie Nicks was fine and we left his truck and went inside.
The Centroplex was huge, bigger than anything I had ever seen. Not as tall as the new state capital, but cavernous. Walking inside was like stepping into another world. The sky was blacked out and replaced by a blinding array of ceiling lights, the mugginess of outside was replaced by cool and relatively dry air conditioning, and there were more hippies than I had ever seen in my life. Thousands of them. The air was thick with a familiar, dank smell, and my dad was as giddy as a little boy anxious to play with his new toy. I walked too slowly, so he put me on his shoulders and, suddenly, I was the biggest person in the room. I could see everyone as we walked to the beer stalls, and everyone could see me. I became famous, and people pointed and told my dad how cool it was that he took his son to see live music; there’s no mistaking that I’m dad’s son because we look exactly alike, especially with my hair grown long to hide my scar. He beamed, proud at the attention, and told everyone I was his son and introduced me to all kinds of interesting people and used my correct name most of the time. He bought a beer and pushed and shoved his way to almost against the stage, about 20 feet stage right of the center microphone, and he pointed and shouted over the din that that’s Stevie Nicks would sing for us. I was as stoked as a lucky kid waiting Christmas morning.
Almost two joints later, the lights went down and 10,000 people shouted joyfully and just as many joints fired up, and I looked down and saw my dad passing a small joint on a roach clip with some people he had met. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they’d point up at me and smile and give me a “thumbs up” and I’d smile and bravely let go of my dad’s head like letting go of an oak tree’s bark and give a thumbs up back at them and then regrasp his head to keep from falling off as he moved around and passed joints and drank beers.
Smoke rises, and I felt high and fine. The crowd pushed us closer to the stage, and the bright stage lights came on and Fleetwood Mac walked on stage and the crowd went wild. My dad let go of my legs and cupped his hands to shout, and I felt so good that I let go and balanced on his shoulders and tucked my heels into his armpits and cupped my hands and shouted for Miss Nicks, too. I was ready to have the time of my life.
But, Miss Nicks wasn’t there yet, and they opened with Second Hand News. A good song, but she isn’t the lead singer. They finished, and the crowd cheered and some people, like my dad, shouted for Stevie, and when she walked on stage I felt more than heard the energy from everyone around me, and I joined in with all my heart, and she walked past me and stood behind the microphone and my dad bounced up and down so hard I could feel his joy, and when she sang it was the most beautiful things I had ever heard. And, just like my dad had said she would do, she danced and twirled and changed dresses between songs, coming out in flowing gowns that fluttered like butterfly wings as she twirled and sang, from my perspective, just for me.
Three hours later, we stumbled outside and tried to find the truck. For some reason, it was hard to find by then. When we did, my dad fumbled with his keys and dropped them and cursed and steadied himself on the door’s mirror so he could reach down and pick them up. He managed to get them inside the keyhole and open the door and plop down on the seat.
“Justin…” he mumbled. “You… you gonna help me drive…” And at that, he lifted me into his lap and gave me a quick instruction on how to drive his new truck. He’d operate the floor pedals, he said, and I’d help with steering and make sure the lights were on and a few other things. It would be just like Donald’s van, I thought, and I could drive even though my feet wouldn’t reach the pedals. It sounded like a lot of fun, I said. We were going to Sonny’s house, he said. I knew where that was, just a few blocks from the new state capital, in Spanish Town, a collection of old houses and shotgun shacks that my dad, Wendy, and Craig visited every now and then. Sonny had cocaine, my dad said, and that would sober him up. I had heard that before, and I was ready to drive to Sonny’s. I helped get the keys into the ignition and he cranked the truck to life, and we lowered the gear shift into drive, and the automatic transmission smoothly glided us away from the levee and onto the River Road towards the capital. His hands were on mine, and together we stayed straight. Less than a minute later we turned right into Spanish Town, and two stop signs later we turned left and pulled into Sonny’s front yard. My dad put the truck in park and laughed a deep, genuine laugh and told me how proud he was of me. I beamed.
We stumbled onto Sonny’s porch and my dad pounded on the door and Sonny opened up as if he were expecting people after the Fleetwood Mac show. He said it was good to see me and called me Jason – a rarity among my dad’s friends – and invited us inside where, of course, Rumors was playing on his record player. Over the next hour, I drank a Coke he and my dad smoked a joint and did a few lines of coke off the Rumors album cover and talked about the show, and how the band had written it while high on cocaine and sleeping with each other and breaking up and funneling that energy into Rumors; according to Wikipedia in 2022, they were right, and in 2022 I joke with my friends that I saw the 1977 Rumors tour and did Coke with my dad, which is mostly true.
We flew home, wide awake, and my dad rambled on about the show and spoke quickly and nonstop. But I grew tired, sluggish, and ready for bed. In a rare moment of silence, I said I was tired and wished I had some cocaine to sober up. My dad’s countenance switched rapidly, like it did whenever he was angry or telling me something important, and he turned towards me and pointed his finger in my face and told me to never use that word again, and to never talk about what he did with his friends to anyone. I apologized and said I wouldn’t, and he quickly reverted to his cheerful self, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel and talking about music and friends and good times.
I woke up the next morning on the living room sofa. Donald was sober, and we chatted about the show and I never mentioned Sonny. He threw his head back and laughed when I said my dad was right, Miss Nicks was fine, and we talked about music and Jimmy Hoffa and drunk driving and Lagniappe in bags of weed. He was a wonderful person when sober, and I was sorry to see him go, but he said his dad, Doug, had found him a house and that he was grateful for my dad, and that my dad was a good person. I agreed, and I helped him get his backpack packed and opened the carport door for him, and he rode down the ramp my dad had built and into his van’s elevator. I inspected his steering wheel and all it’s levers, confident I could drive it now, but cautious to not let anyone know I had driven to Sonny’s the night before. He turned the ignition and I walked back to the doorway and waved goodbye as he backed out of the carport and drove off to his new house that he seemed happy to have.
I heard my dad playing in his bedroom, and walked back. The bedroom across from his was open, and the baby was in the crib, flat on her back and unable to rotate with her cast, and crying softly. I realized her mom was probably with my dad. I opened their door and saw them wrestling, and she gasped in surprise but not embarrassment and rolled off my dad and under the sheets, and my dad boomed in his typically loud but not unkind voice that they were fucking and to shut the door and look after the baby and get her to stop crying. I apologized and shut the door and went into the baby’s room.
I didn’t know how to get her to stop crying. I asked nicely, but she didn’t. I lifted her up, balancing her on rigidly cast hips and legs and holding her hands against the crib’s rail, but she still kept crying. I pointed my finger at her face and sharpened my voice, but she still cried. I told her to shut up in a harsh tone, but to no avail. I slapped her face gently and pointed my finger and said shut up again, but cried even harder. I slapped harder the next time. After the third slap, she stopped crying, just as her mom walked in and saw me. Her baby wasn’t crying, but her cheek was red and I proudly said he had stopped crying when I slapped her, but she started bawling then and her mom rushed over and picked her up and ran outside and yelled at my dad and told him what I had done and left, walking to her apartment, probably the one near the Chinese restaurant on Florida Boulevard.
My dad seemed upset at me. I felt confused; I had done what he asked and hadn’t talked about Sonny and gotten the baby to stop crying and packed lots of Lagniappe into the baggies, but he seemed distraught, and, a rarity for him, at a loss for words. He sat down on the sofa with me and hugged me and held me tightly and had a sad tone in his voice when he whispered behind my ear that he loved me. I hugged him back and said I loved him, too, and was shocked to feel his body shuddering and to hear soft, subtle sobs.
We would never speak of that day again, and we would disagree on my things that would happen in our lives together, but, 40 years after the Rumors tour, he’ll smile a big smile of blackened, cavity filled teeth, and we’ll agree on one thing without a hint of doubt between us: Stevie Nicks was, indeed, fine.
The next day we picked up Uncle Kieth at thr trailer park down the street and went to see Big Daddy in one of his houses, but I don’t recall what happened vividly and my details differ from Kieth’s – I recall being in a new truck and he recalls it being in a new sports car – but we still agree it was one of the times Big Daddy pulled a knife on my dad, and the first time doing so got him to stop talking. To this day, I’ve only seen three people het my dad to stop ranting: Big Daddy with a knife, a sheriff with a gun, and me with my right fist.
But I can’t tell you exactly what happened that day, because my memories of Big Daddy are together in the 1970’s, a mixture of my memories and stories told to me by my dad and his siblings and my older cousins, and even now I can’t separate what I know now from what I know then, so the best thing to do is to tell you about my grandfather based on what I know now, in 2022.
My grandfather, Edward Grady Partin, was a big man with a small part in history.
Jimmy Hoffa said, “Edward Grady Partin was a big rough man who could charm a snake off a rock,’ and that’s the most concise and accurate description of Big Daddy I’ve ever heard. Ed Partin was physically large and extremely handsome, and though he smiled and was charming, you sensed he was a rough man and that you shouldn’t cross him. He was over 6’3” tall and about 250 pounds; he boxed when younger, and was a dishonorably discharged marine because he punched his commanding officer instead of fighting in WWII. But, in fairness, he had only joined the marines in lieu of going to jail for stealing all the guns in Woodville, Mississippi, where he was born and, after being discharged from the marines, had taken over the Woodville sawmill union before moving to Baton Rouge and running Teamsters Local #5 while Jimmy Hoffa was president of The International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Big Daddy ran the Louisiana Teamsters for 30 years, and men all over the country either respected him or knew to avoid him. I heard women swooned over him. His daughters adored him, like most children I knew, because he would kneel down and smile and speak at their level in his slow, southern drawl. When he spoke, everything else disappeared, and people listened. He was generous, dolling out gifts of cars and houses to family, and handing cash to Teamsters, teachers, laborers, and anyone forgoing their salary to walk a picket line, whether or not they were union members. Teamsters loved him.
LSU football players adored him and ensured he had the best seats for football games; they signed their 1954 national championship football and gave it to him, and a Heizmann Trophy winner was one of his bodyguards.
He owned a NASCAR racetrack, Pelican International Speedway, and drivers and business agents vied for his attention. Celebrities and some politicians were his friends; and, as Teamster president near the port of New Orleans, he did business with Cuban president Fidel Castro and New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcello, among others, and he negotiated deals with at least two American presidents that I know of. Newspapers printed that if he had a college degree he’d be elected governor, but he had dropped out of Woodville High School in Woodville at age 17, shortly before being arrested for the first time.
I could go on, but to explain Big Daddy from my perspective I’d like to begin with explaining who Jimmy Hoffa was.
For decades, it was said that Jimmy Hoffa was the most famous man in America not a Kennedy. He was president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, laborers who handled anything with wheels. They are perhaps the oldest example of skilled labor in human history; at one point, someone put four wheels on a cart and offered to carry another person’s fruit in exchange for some of it. Sure, a man can by handy with a knife or axe, but unless you wanted him to kill or cut down a tree for you, the first practical combination of man and machine was probably a Teamster. And, inevitably when humans are involved, everything evolved into a big organization led by a leader you either liked or disliked; either way, Jimmy was famous and The International Brotherhood of Teamsters was a national phenomenon.
By 1957, almost every working class family in America knew at least one Teamster. There were 2.7 million Teamsters, a remarkable number considering there were only 170 million men, women, and children in America then. Every product on every shelf was delivered by a Teamster, driven by trucks roaming the newly formed American interstate system, carrying stuff from ports that connected us to the rest of the world. And they transported American made products from factories and farms to those ports for export to the world. Jimmy could slam the American economy to a halt by snapping his fingers, if that’s what he wanted.
He was not a big man, only 5’6”, but he was fierce and knew how to handle himself in dangerous situations. He surrounded himself with big, rough Teamsters that he called his lieutenants. He used his power and his lieutenants’ intimidation to fight for worker’s rights. His Teamsters were fiercely loyal to him, and his lieutenants would kill for him.
Teamsters paid between $3 and $12 per month for union dues. Three million union members times a few dollars is a lot of money every month, especially in 1957, and that money was unregulated, free flowing cash. Jimmy funded Hollywood films with it, and he loaned millions of dollars from the Teamster’s pension to mafia godfathers, and they used it to build Las Vegas casinos and hotels. In return, Teamsters were paid handsomely to transport Hollywood filming equipment and house movie stars in mobile trailers on film sets; and to transport construction materials to Las Vegas and presumably any other goods or services the mafia wanted from international ports.
If you rewatch movies filmed in America from the 1950’s to 1990’s and wait through the credits, the final screen is usually dominated by the Teamsters logo, two horse heads and a ship’s steering wheel. In the classic 1972 film The Godfather, mafia hitmen placed a severed horse head in a Hollywood producer’s bed as a warning. Jimmy Hoffa was as subtle as a severed horse head left in your bed. His actions were brash but transparent, and he was famous for fiery fits of rage whenever someone crossed him. He was an intense and focused man, by almost anyone’s definition, and a self made, working class hero in America. The steering wheel and horse head logo predates Jimmy, but is still a poignant metaphor for what he had driven the Teamsters into becoming.
He was seen as superhuman. He was formidable, invincible against crime bosses and the FBI and even the Kennedys. In a time when Americans adored WWII heroes, he was an atypical and legendary leader, not because of a chest full of medals, but because of his intellect, will power, and unabashed use of brute force in the face of authority.
Jimmy Hoffa was a household name in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and so were the Kennedys. Practically speaking, they were, and are, a family of American aristocrats. The Kennedy brothers, Johny, Bobby, and Teddie, had been groomed as future presidents all their lives, and America followed their trajectory daily. When Johny beat Nixon and became president, grandmothers across the country celebrated; I heard he made ladies swoon. President Kennedy appointed his little brother, Harvard lawyer Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, to the highest role in the federal government responsible for prosecuting crime, the U.S. Attorney General, and he tasked Bobby with one thing that sounded like two only because they were linked so closely: Take down Jimmy and organized crime. Johny was focused on the escalating Cold War with the Soviet Union and Cuba, the threat of nuclear missiles off our shore, deescalating the Vietnam conflict, and sending a man to the moon. He had a lot going on, and he had a lot of resources at his disposal.
Bobby dove into his role with all of the resources Johny could provide. He formed a posse of FBI agents led by Walter Sheridan and overseen by J. Edgar Hoover himself, and their goal was unambiguous; they were The Get Hoffa Task Force. They indicted Jimmy five times over seven years, and he won every trial. They also pursued him for minor infarctions, seemingly insignificant yet still prosecuted by the most apt federal team in recent history. They made Jimmy’s life miserable. In return, he ranted against them publicly. The American media loved it, and reported on their seemingly mutual hatred daily, and they even reported the extreme amounts of taxpayer money Bobby’s Get Hoffa Task Force spent on trivial crimes that were only speculation at best.
At times, the feud between the public men sounded more like schoolyard taunts than world leaders debating. Jimmy would call Bobby a “spoiled brat,” and Bobby would tell reporters Jimmy was “a snot nosed piece of shit.” Their words weren’t the only thing; they radiated hatred for each other with their tones, countenance, and being. Every news conference with either man became a rant against each other. It wasn’t media showmanship, it was unabashed, a hatred so real and so deep it made the famous men seem human, irrational and attached to emotions. People called it “The Blood Feud,” and the moniker stuck as a way to describe the visceral hatred everyone sensed between Bobby Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa.
According to FBI reports in the JFK Assassination Report, Jimmy and Big Daddy plotted to kill Bobby in 1962. The first plan was to use plastic explosives. Big Daddy was to obtain the explosives using his connections with Carlos and Fidel, both of whom were transparently disdainful of Johny; at the time, American CIA assassination attempts against Fidel were widely known. No one was shy about killing back then, but Big Daddy claimed he talked Jimmy out of tossing explosives into Bobby’s home because Bobby’s kids could be there, and killing children was a line he would not cross. Their second plan, according to the report, was to use a sniper rifle equipped with a scope and shoot Bobby as he rode through a southern town in his convertible; and if they did that, they’d have to recruit a shooter and ensure he couldn’t be traced to the Teamsters.
One year later, on November 22nd, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed as he rode through Dallas in his convertible. The presumed shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a former marine with a ling history of mental illness. He was born and had lived in New Orleans, an hour away from Big Daddy, and had trained in the civil air force a few miles from my childhood home in Baton Rouge, and I’ve always thought that was remarkable.
Oswald was arrested within a hour of Kennedy being shot, and his rifle was discovered in the 6th floor of a downtown Dallas building: a WWII surplus Italian 6.5mm carbine that he had retrofitted with a scope. He was read his Miranda Rights and said on record that he was “a patsy,” a part of a bigger plot. But he wasn’t interrogated and he didn’t testify, because he was shot and killed two days later by Jack Ruby. He walked up to Lee, who was handcuffed and surrounded by officers in the Dallas police station, and shot him in the belly with a Colt Cobra .38 special snub nosed “detective gun” on live television, and 110 million people watched Jack commit murder. He wasn’t subtle.
Jack was a Dallas nightclub owner and low-level mafia strongman, and before that he was the business agent for a Dallas dump truck company that had been absorbed by the Teamsters. He was an air force veteran, and had a long history of mental illness and run ins with the Dallas police. He would die in prison two years later; of all his final words reported, I still recall, “No one will ever know my part in history.”
Kennedy’s assassination was a defining moment for the world, and because America doesn’t try deceased people, the public relied on a committee formed by newly appointed president, former Vice-President Johnson, and overseen by the highest ranking judge in America, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Earl Warren. Earl was already famous for presiding over controversial cases and had a 35 year unblemished history in prosecution before being appointed to the Supreme Court for life. Coincidentally, he presided over the case that led to the Miranda Rights, that anything Lee or Jack said after being arrested could and would be used against them. He led the committee, and they analyzed the facts available to them and released the 888 page Warren Report ten months later, and it concluded that “Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed John F. Kennedy.”
Publicly, Hoover and Bobby supported the Warren Report, but, privately, I presume, they suspected Jimmy, Carlos, and one other guy whose name I can never remember. The full 1962 report of Jimmy and Big Daddy remained classified, presumably even to Earl.
National media soon learned of the first part of the report, when two of the most famous and nationally distributed magazines of the time, Look and Life, published detailed accounts of Big Daddy and our family, whitewashing his long list of crimes and atrocities. Back then, national news magazines were few, and each month’s cover stories were the talk of households all across America for weeks. The media focused on the newly released information from Hoover, that the FBI had been investigating Jimmy for plotting to kill Bobby, and they said Partin helped prevent it. He was hailed a hero. In the photos, they show him atop the new state capital, holding Uncle Kieth as a toddler, pointing towards what is now the Centroplex and with chemical alley behind them, and my aunts and dad peering over the observation deck happily; my dad was 11 in the photo, and I looked remarkably similar to him and Aunt Janice, with dark brown eyes that seemed black in the old black and white photos.
Big Daddy was already somewhat famous by then, and now America saw his family and photos of him running Teamsters #5 out of Baton Rouge, a happy and ruggedly handsome leader who was a trustworthy family man. He had been the surprise witness that sent Jimmy to prison for jury tampering, the first victory of Bobby’s task force. Court records say that when the Get Hoffa Task Force called their key witness and Big Daddy stood up, the formidable Jimmy deflated and said, succinctly, “My God, it’s Partin.” Some of Jimmy’s lieutenants made hand signals implying that Partin would die; later, in Life magazine, Big Daddy told America that he responded to them by remaining silent and simply smiling. He seemed to embrace the risk. Walter told Life that in his thirty years of protecting surprise witnesses, all except Ed Partin had wanted their identity protected, but, for some unknown reason, my grandfather wanted the publicity and accepted the risks.
The timing of media attention after Jimmy’s trial was crucial, because most rational people who knew the facts assumed Big Daddy had given false witness and sent Jimmy to prison for something he didn’t do. The charge, bribing a juror, was based solely on Big Daddy’s sworn testimony. He said Jimmy had asked him to give a juror $20,000; but no money exchanged hands, and the potential juror was never aware, and, from my perspective, no crime occurred. But, a new jury believed Big Daddy and found Jimmy guilty of attempting to bribe a former juror, and the judge sentenced him to 11 years in prison. People, even jurors in a presumably blind system of justice, believed Big Daddy more than the most famous man in America and his team of lawyers. A few weeks later, thanks to media, almost everyone in America was convinced he was a patriot and had risked his life to save Bobby and put Jimmy in jail.
He was that charming.
Jimmy denied everything in the report and fought Big Daddy’s testimony with his legendary rage and resources. His extensive legal team brought his appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, one of only a handful of thousands of cases vying for an appeal each year, and his appeal was overseen by, coincidentally, Earl Warren.
In Hoffa vs The United States, Earl was the only one of nine judges to vote against accepting Big Daddy’s testimony. The Get Hoffa Force won; but, ironically, their leader, Bobby Kennedy, didn’t see that day because he was shot and killed in 1968, around the time Martin Luther King and Malcom X were shot and killed. It was a time for assassinations in America. Big Daddy was like a lingering bit of Bobby, a last effort to get Jimmy that reached from beyond the grave in the form of one man’s word against another, and Bobby won.
Earl didn’t get to discuss his concerns with Bobby, and he was discrete in challenging the former Attorney General’s methods, but he documented his objections for posterity in a three page missive attached to Hoffa vs The United States, a frequently cited court precedent, saying that allowing Big Daddy’s testimony was an affront on the American justice system and a dangerous precedent to set before lower courts. He began by attacking my grandfather’s character, understandably, and by re-emphasizing a fact that seemed important to him but for some reason not to the other eight Supreme Court Justices, that Jimmy was found guilty solely on what Ed Partin told the jury, and Ed Partin’s crimes included perjury, lying to juries; he frequently bore false witness, and there was no reason to believe him.
“Here, Edward Partin, a jailbird languishing in a Louisiana jail under indictments for such state and federal crimes as embezzlement, kidnapping, and manslaughter (and soon to be charged with perjury and assault), contacted federal authorities and told them he was willing to become, and would be useful as, an informer against Hoffa, who was then about to be tried in the Test Fleet case. A motive for his doing this is immediately apparent — namely, his strong desire to work his way out of jail and out of his various legal entanglements with the State and Federal Governments. And it is interesting to note that, if this was his motive, he has been uniquely successful in satisfying it. In the four years since he first volunteered to be an informer against Hoffa he has not been prosecuted on any of the serious federal charges for which he was at that time jailed, and the state charges have apparently vanished into thin air. “
Earl was not a haplessly opinionated man. He disparaged my grandfather and questioned his morals – I do not judge Earl for that, especially because I often do the same – but he also presented facts and examples of legal cases settled before, precedents set by former Supreme Court judges, and he analyzed the differences with the scruitiny of the Chief Justice, and then he spoke more eloquently than he had about Ed Partin and tried to illuinate the bigger picture about allowing grandfather’s testimony.
“This is a federal criminal case, and this Court has supervisory jurisdiction over the proceedings of the federal courts. If it has any duty to perform in this regard, it is to see that the waters of justice are not polluted. Pollution having taken place here, the condition should be remedied at the earliest opportunity.
The government of a strong and free nation does not need convictions based upon such testimony. It cannot afford to abide with them.”
His missive is still there, a permanent record for posterity to ponder, similar to the footnote Judge JJ added to my childhood court records for no obvious reason, and the Partin family became a footnote in history. Remarkably, we were America’s first paid informants, an obvious conflict of interest to influence even Ed Partin’s family into silence, and a dangerous slope of using government funds to pay for witnesses that Earl Warren admirably fought to prevent. But, ultimately, Earl was outvoted and Hoffa Vs. The United States remains a precendent case for lower courts to reference when using unscroupolous witnesses with dubious morals and obvious conflicts of interests to convict people based on their sworn testimony; therefore, most of those cases stopped reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, and have been stopped at lower courts since 1968.
In everything I read in court reports and Earl’s memoirs, he didn’t indicate he had read the full FBI report about two plots to kill Bobby, and surely he hadn’t noticed the coincidence of their plot in his Warren Report investigation, and its omission may be the most remarkable part in Hoffa vs The United States and Ear’s opinion on Edward Grady Partin. Perhaps my part in his story will illuminate this part in history.
Big Daddy returned to Baton Rouge and went back to business. Walter and a few stragglers from The Get Hoffa Task Force checked in occasionally, and at one point after one of our houses was blown up and Big Daddy was shot in the belly and a shotgun blast missed some of the family, Walter increased the number of federal marshals protecting the Partins. But, everyone joked that Big Daddy didn’t need protection, he just enjoyed having an entourage. Local newspapers liked it, too, and showed him with his federal marshals and a few big LSU football players he hired as bodyguards. He became, practically speaking, a small version of Jimmy Hoffa, operating regionally instead of nationally.
Jimmy was released from prison early, and immediately and famously disappeared in the summer of 1975. Just before he vanished, he authorized his autobiography, and after six yeas in a federal prison cell knowing Big Daddy perjured to save himself and sent Jimmy to prison unjustly, he still kept saying how big and rough and charming Big Daddy was. He simply said, “Ed Partin was a big, rough man who could charm a snake off a rock.”
Jimmy Hoffa, the most ruthless union leader we knew, infamous for his rage, had spent six years in prison because of my grandfather, and all he could say in a chapter of his biography dedicated to my grandfather’s testimony and Bobby Kennedy’s “railroading” the judicial process to get what he wanted, Chapter 10, “The Chattanooga Choo Choo,” a pun based on a old time song about a choo choo train out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Hoffa’s trial was held.
Jimmy Hoffa used a lit of puns in his autobiography; I believe we would have gotten along, had my grandfather not sent him to prison. I would have asked him why, after six years of rumination, all he could say about Big Daddy was that he could charm a snake.
It seems everyone swooned for Big Daddy, except for Earl Warren and a few Louisiana governors who shouted into the abyss. For the overwhelming majority of people, and for what people reading Look and Life, he could do no wrong.
But, after Jimmy disappeared, my family lost their special status and Big Daddy was arrested for stealing $450,000 from a Teamster safe. The safe was discovered at the bottom of a murky Baton Rouge river, empty and without fingerprints, and the only two witnesses were beaten so badly that one died in the hospital. The money was never found, and neither witness testified or offered a statement before they died, yet Big Daddy was still found guilty for the first time in his life, and the judge sentenced him to eleven years in federal prison, coincidentally the same as Jimmy’s original sentence.
He appealed for a few years and lost, and was sent to prison in 1980. He was released in 1986 due to declining health, and died peacefully in 1990. National reporters traveled to Baton Rouge for his funeral, and the New York Times best team of investigative reporters published this:
Edward Grady Partin, a teamsters’ union leader whose testimony helped convict James R. Hoffa, the former president of the union, died Sunday at a nursing home here. Mr. Partin, who was 66 years old, suffered from heart disease and diabetes.
He helped Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy convict Mr. Hoffa of jury tampering in 1964. Mr. Partin, a close associate of Mr. Hoffa’s, testified that the teamster president had offered him $20,000 to fix the jury at Mr. Hoffa’s trial in 1962 on charges of taking kickbacks from a trucking company. That trial ended in a hung jury.
Mr. Hoffa went to prison after the jury-tampering conviction. James Neal, a prosecutor in the jury-tampering trial in Chattanooga, Tenn., said that when Mr. Partin walked into the courtroom Mr. Hoffa said, ”My God, it’s Partin.”
The Federal Government later spent 11 years prosecuting Mr. Partin on antitrust and extortion charges in connection with labor troubles in the Baton Rouge area in the late 1960’s. He was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice by hiding witnesses and arranging for perjured testimony in March 1979. An earlier trial in Butte, Mont., ended without a verdict.
Mr. Partin went to prison in 1980, and was released to a halfway house in 1986. While in prison he pleaded no contest to charges of conspiracy, racketeering and embezzling $450,000 in union money. At one time union members voted to continue paying Mr. Partin’s salary while he was in prison. He was removed from office in 1981.
Survivors include his mother, two brothers, a sister, five daughters, two sons, two brothers and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
I always appreciated a nuance in that New York Times summary, that the Teamsters voted to keep paying Big Daddy while he was in prison for stealing Teamster money and after he had sent the beloved national Teamster president to prison. I can’t emphasize this enough to anyone who hadn’t met Big Daddy: he was very, very charming. I don’t know if it’s genetic.
The 1962 report on Big Daddy and Hoffa must have still been classified in 1990, because even the New York Times and conspiracy assassination theorists hadn’t reported it. I first learned of it after President Bill Clinton released 60% of the classified JFK Assassination Report in 1992; it was dated from 1979 and had fifteen more years of research since the 1964 Warren Report, plus all new or disproven evidence from 1979 to 1992. The committee ranged from senators to FBI agents to the former editor of Life magazine, and, based on all the evidence, they unequivocally revoked the Warren Report and said that President John F. Kennedy was likely killed as part of a bigger plot, and that the three primary suspects were Jimmy, Carlos, and that third guy I still can’t remember. Jimmy had famously disappeared in 1975 and was been pronounced dead in 1979, therefore he couldn’t comment on the 1979 JFK Assassination Report, and Big Daddy wasn’t alive to discuss the 1992 release.
In 2021, James Hoffa Junior is the national Teamster president and my family has been the Louisiana Teamster leaders since 1981, when Big Daddy stopped getting paid while in prison. My Uncle Keith, Big Daddy’s youngest son and the biggest, roughest, nicest Partin I know, is the current Teamsters #5 president. He was elected after Big Daddy’s little brother, Uncle Doug, was elected in 1981. Doug had served 30 years before retiring, and had been by Big Daddy’s side since he was a little boy and was coerced into breaking into a Woodville Sears and Roebuck store and absconding with all the hunting rifles. Doug passed away in 2020, peacefully, in a veterans home and in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic. I didn’t get to see him and ask his approval to write about our family; But, he said all he had to say in his 2013 autobiography “From my Brother’s Shadow: Teamster Douglas Wesley Partin tells his side of the story.” In his book, he says what most of us and Earl Warren already knew, that Big Daddy lied to get out of jail and sent Jimmy to prison unjustly; the supreme court verdict still stands, and it’s up to posterity to settle that. Like Earl, he never indicates that he knew about the 1962 report, and I never heard James Jr. mention it.
Kieth gave me his blessing to write anything. His mother, my Mamma Jean Partin, never lied, and on her deathbed she wrote all of us a letter, the beginning of an unfinished memoir, and said that she believed Big Daddy was somehow involved in President Kennedy’s assassination. All of my aunts support anything I write, and for the final few weeks of Big Daddy’s we all recall the daily phone calls from Walter and other retired members of The Get Hoffa Task Force, and we told them his final words, “No one will ever know my part in history,” and that pun has bounced around my mind since, especially because of how I grew up hearing people pronounce my name “Part-in.”
Since Jimmy Carter saw the first draft of the JFK assassination report in 1976, every president has been able to review the JFK Assassination Report and choose which parts are released into the National Archives, now online at Archives.gov, and which parts remain classified. President Joe Biden said he’ll release the final part at the end of his first term in 2024. I don’t know what he saw in it that should wait, nor do I know what president’s Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama, and Trump saw in a now 60 year old report that they kept secret, but I may learn more in 2024.
Back in 1977, after the Rumors concert, I didn’t know any of that. I was five years old, and that would have been a lot to process. But I knew Big Daddy was my dad’s dad, and of course everyone knew I was his grandson. Partin wasn’t a common name in Louisiana, and Ed Partin was in the news every day, especially after Jimmy Hoffa disappeared in 1975, the year Big Daddy gave me my first fancy rod and reel. Around that time, there had been several attempts on his life, from homes being blown up to shotgun blasts through hotel windows and a pistol bullet in his belly, leaving a scar next to several knife slash scars, just like I hadvinflicted upon Stretch Armstrong.
Like most things with my family, I didn’t talk about what I saw with anyone else. PawPaw was the only one who heard me talk about how Big Daddy held his knife, sideways, like I had oriented the flathead tip of the screwdriver, and that’s probably why he bought me a pocket knife and demystified it to me, and why we tried so hard to save Stretch Armstrong and I could learn the consequences of stabbing someone.
In the context of my Partin family, I love PawPaw even more knowing what I know now, if that’s possible. He had dropped what he was doing and picked me up in 1972, unconcerned about the risks and driven by something greater than himself to protect me. He was a force of nature, stronger than any oak tree and taller than any mountain in Louisiana. He was Puck, PopEye, and Robin Hood all rolled into one cheerful man who loved me as a son. He was unworried about any Partin, no matter how big they were.
After Rumors, Big Daddy was smiling and charming as always. I remember that clearly. But he seemed distracted, which was rare, and impatient with my dad, which was typical. He was in the process of appealing his conviction for stealing $450,000 from the Teamster safe, and after Hoffa disappeared he had lost all federal support and was, for the first time in his life, alone and aging and being prosecuted with the full force of all state and federal officials, who had been stymied by Bobby Kennedy and Walter Sheridan for almost fifteen years by then, and were focused on prosecuting Big Daddy now that they were unhindered. Mamma Jean had left him in the early 1960’s, hiding my dad and Uncle Kieth and their three sisters across the south, and had only reconvened after Bobby and Walter found them and bought her a house in Houston, away from Big Daddy, and paid her a monthly stipend so she wouldn’t be dependent on him. Big Daddy, who had adultered and had at least one other family on the side, still lived in Baton Rouge with his latest wife and my cousins on their side. But, in 1977, I’m pretty sure I saw Big Daddy pull a knife on my dad again, and I’m pretty sure we had picked up Kieth on the way and he had seen it, too; he remembers is slightly differently, we were in a car, not a truck, and it was a different type of knife, but what’s more important than the details is that no on doubted it had happened at least once, probably several times. But, like I said, I only trust my vivid memories, the ones not retold and passed along with subtle changes each time. I trust my memories more than court records, and definitely more than anything I read in newspapers or see in movies.
The 1970’s were full of stories I could tell, stabbings and shootings and explosions and drugs and lots of young ladies wrestling with my dad, but those have been retold by my family so many times that I don’t trust my memories, they seem like recreations of other people’s memories or retold so many times and changed slightly each time that they’re unreliable, therefore I won’t share stories about Big Daddy just yet, I’ll wait until I have no doubt what I saw or know to be true.
After the alleged 1977 knife incident, my dad dropped Kieth off at his trailer near Belair High School, in the trailer park facing Florida Boulevard and across the street from the Chinese restaurant, and we flew back along I-10 and he dropped me off back at PawPaw’s and life went on as usual. MawMaw had long ago stopped asking what I did while I visited Wendy or my dad, and PawPaw was such a force of nature there was no time for talking about anything other than the moment at hand, or walking hand in hand to buy cigarettes and milk play on the big stately oak tree, and I never remembered to show my dad the pocket knife he had given me.
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