We packed up and left Cheyenne on Tuesday, August 7, having accomplished all that I had hoped to on our trip to Wyoming. As we said our goodbyes to the family, I remember my cousin Leo telling us, “Just don’t wait another 35 years before you come back!” I couldn’t help but wonder, “When would we be back? Would we even be back?” With time as swift and life as busy as it is, envisioning a return trip seemed challenging. Nonetheless, I was extremely satisfied with how this visit turned out, and if we never got another chance to make another trip, this one would definitely suffice.
Tuesday, August 7, was also Jonathan’s 15th birthday. Before we arrived at the Denver airport, Doris and Charlotte drove us to a local restaurant, and the seven of us celebrated his birthday with a meal together. Later at the airport, we said our final emotional goodbyes and boarded the plane for the trip home.
The long flight home gave me much time to reflect on the previous five days and ponder all the life- changing events we had just experienced. It was an incredible adventure; it would rank as one of the best ever. Not only did it help to complete our family tree and answer many of my questions, it gave me reconnection with our family who had had us in their hearts ever since those tragic events of 1965. It formed strong bonds that remain to this day, and I am so grateful for these ties that bind.
Since that trip, I have kept up with the family in Wyoming. From time to time, my cousin Theresa and I have lengthy, engaging conversations on the phone to catch up on everything. A couple of times since then, my cousin Bobby has shipped us food from his Mexican restaurant in Laramie that we have thoroughly enjoyed. I also have connected with several from my Wyoming family on Facebook, and it has been good to keep up with their lives through social media.
We took Leo’s advice – we didn’t wait another 35 years to make our return trip to Wyoming. In the summer of 2012, Jeannie and I planned a return trip out west to see the Wyoming family. This time, I was farther along in my research concerning my dad, and I asked my cousin Leo to locate anyone he could find that might have known my dad growing up. I knew it was a long shot, but I was hoping he would find someone.
We flew into Denver again on Wednesday, August 8, 2012, and this time we rented a car to make the trip to Wyoming. It was great reuniting with the family again, and even though we didn’t have the turnout that we had in the 2001 reunion, we still had a pretty big fiesta at Charlotte’s house in Laramie. Many of our family who lived close by came out, and we enjoyed an evening of that excellent Mexican food and some great reconnection with family.
As for locating a childhood friend of my dad, my cousin Leo did not disappoint. He found a man named Reuben Chavez who said he had known my dad during his teenage years. Leo phoned Reuben on a Saturday morning to see if we could meet up. Leo held his hand over the receiver and said Reuben could meet us right then and asked if I had any reservations about meeting him at a local bar. I told him that would be fine and in a matter of a few minutes we were sitting across the table from Reuben Chavez at one of Cheyenne’s popular watering holes called “The Keg and Cork.”
Reuben sat down with his beer and asked Leo and me if we would like something to drink. We both ordered a Coke and then engaged in one of the most fascinating conversations I can remember.
Reuben was an Hispanic man in his early 80’s – about the age my dad would have been were he alive. He had jet black hair which he later admitted was dyed and always would be. He was the most pleasant man and appeared just as eager to talk to me as I was to him. I shared with him everything I had come to discover in my research concerning my dad’s life. He didn’t have a lot of details to offer, since my dad left Cheyenne when he was 18 years old and never came back for any length of time after that.
He said that what he remembered about my dad was that he was always clean-cut and well-groomed and was a snappy dresser. Reuben recalled that every time he saw my dad, his clothes were always neatly pressed and that his khakis had that crisp, clean crease down the middle of each pants leg.
He also recalled a story that was very telling as to why my dad entered military service. It was sometime around VE Day – when victory was declared in Europe during World War II and most of the country was in a celebratory mood. Apparently my dad and some of his buddies celebrated too much that evening, and although Reuben couldn’t recall exactly what they did, it was enough to land them a night in the local jail. Reuben said that was all it took for my grandmother to escort my dad straight from the local jail directly to the recruiting office and enlist my dad for active duty. Reuben said my grandmother wanted to make sure my dad “shaped up and got his act together.” My dad first enlisted in the Navy, then later transferred to the Army and would remain in active service until his passing in 1965.
It was so gratifying to be sitting and talking with someone who was close to my dad’s age and had actually known my father when he was in his late teens. For a couple of hours we sat in the bar sharing our stories, laughing together, and connecting in a way that was priceless.
Most of the conversation revolved around my dad, but towards the end of our banter, Reuben asked me, “And what do you do?”
“I am a minister,” I replied.
Reuben’s demeanor changed a little. He appeared embarrassed and taken aback. He said, ”You’re kidding me? If I had known that, I wouldn’t have had you come to a bar with me drinking beer and all.”
I laughed and assured him it was all right and that it didn’t bother me in the least to do that. It was clear in the short time we were there that Reuben was a regular at The Keg and Cork and that he was in comfortable surroundings. I told him I would have had it no other way than to meet him there. That seemed to put him at ease.
We took some time to have our picture made together and I thanked him for taking the time to have us in his space and for sharing the stories about my dad. I was so grateful for my cousin Leo for arranging the visit with Reuben.
Forty-seven years after his death and eleven years after our initial visit to reconnect with our Wyoming family, our return trip was a success, and I was satisfied that I had exhausted every possible outlet in finding my father.