Finding Father

One Man's Journey to Discover Paternal Significance

Month: April 2014

Solving The Puzzle

dad puzzleI have always had a fascination with TV shows that dealt with solving crime cases.  I don’t watch them as much as I once did, but at one time, shows like “48 Hours,” “Forensic Files” and  “Unsolved Mysteries” were part of my regular television diet.  I guess the reason that I was always drawn to them was because, for most of my life, I was in the middle of one of my own unsolved mysteries – the death of my father in December. 1965.

Up until the time I was well in my 30’s, all I had ever been told was that my dad was found dead in a stream of water in Dachau, Germany while serving in the US Army.  Naturally as a young child, the picture that I formed in my mind was that my dad died while he was serving in the Army….period.  Army…guns…battle…war…that made sense to me.  I wasn’t far enough along in my maturity and thought to know that there wasn’t a war in Germany at the time of my dad’s death or that he never fought in any battles.  The older I became, the more my lack of understanding bothered me.  Now in my 30’s and being a father, myself, the questions began to creep in and the desire to know more began to grow.

The dream I had about my dad served to be the catalyst and motivation to seek answers to the unanswered questions.  I knew that there were two avenues from which I could find information:  from my mom and from my dad’s family in Wyoming. I had a few conversations with my mom about my dad’s death, giving me pretty much the same answers that I had heard before.  It became apparent that there was reluctance on her part to go too far with any of the questions, so I quickly chose not to pursue that as my main avenue of information.

The next phase of my quest was a reconnection with my dad’s family in Wyoming.  One night as I was searching the name “Sausedo” on Google, I was startled to discover some pictures I had never seen before.  A photograph of a couple with the same last name as ours appeared on the search results, and while I didn’t recognize Francisco, the name of the man in the picture, the name of his wife surely caught my eye.  Susanna was my grandmother’s name, and since our last name was so unique, the odds of that being my grandmother were fairly promising.

My grandfather, Francisco, my grandmother, Susanna, with children Lupe, Concha, and Eleanor.  Circa 1922

My grandfather, Francisco, my grandmother, Susanna, with children Lupe, Concha, and Eleanor. Circa 1922

Finding that picture gave me the perfect opportunity to correspond with my dad’s family.  There were two of my relatives who were faithful in maintaining a relationship with my mother through the years – my cousins, Charlotte Barela and Doris Garcia, who were the daughters of my dad’s sister, Eleanor.  I wrote to my cousin Charlotte, re-introduced myself as a distant relative who had not done well to stay in contact with her, and asked her about the people in the picture.  She confirmed that the identities were, indeed, that of my grandfather and grandmother.  The picture had been placed on display at a museum in Cheyenne, the state Capitol of Wyoming.  The display highlighted the Sausedo family and their migration from Mexico to the southeastern corner of Wyoming around the turn of the 20th century.  Francisco and Susanna were both born in Mexico in 1893, and they began their lives together in Zacatecas, Mexico.  Together, they would have a total of nine children, including a set of twins who died in infancy.  Two more, Lupe and Concha, passed away when they were very young, but five lived on.   Eleanor, the oldest, was born in Mexico, but the rest – John, Dorothy, Charlie, and my father, Miguel – were all born in Wyoming.   My grandfather, Francisco, passed away in 1938, about the time my father was 10 years old.  My grandmother would live to be 90, and I have some memory of her from the visit that we made shortly after my dad passed away.  Dorothy, who was the youngest of the Sausedo children born to Francisco and Susanna, passed away last June.

Just seeing that picture and hearing the confirmation that these were my grandparents gave me a feeling I cannot explain.  I realized that for almost my entire life, I had really only known half of my heritage.  Now a window to the other half had been opened, and a small piece of the puzzle was now in place.

In the coming months, the correspondence with my Wyoming relatives would increase.  Through the years, my mom had been very faithful in maintaining correspondence with them, and they with her.  While they had a limited knowledge of some of the highlights of our lives, I was able to fill in some of the blanks with the details.  I told them about Jeannie and the boys; I shared about my ministry;  and I related to them the dream I had about my dad.  With each response the connections drew stronger, and I knew that it would just be a matter of time until more pieces of the puzzle would fall into place.  Reconnection had been made and now the door was opened to a world that would prove to be most adventurous in the months and years to follow.



Serendipity at the Cracker Barrel

cracker-barrelLife is full of subtle twists, turns, and surprises that keep us on our toes and leave us scratching our heads.  Some have little or no explanation other than the fact that they are so incredibly spontaneous, mysterious and lifealtering.  Some would call them mere coincidences, and for the most part, logic would seem to concur.  However some are so out of left field that the only conclusion one could draw was that divine intervention had taken place and that the recipient had better sit up and take notice.  Such an encounter took place with me while Jeannie, the boys and my mom were on a little weekend vacation some years ago in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

It was sometime after the aforementioned dream that I had about my dad and before I had truly immersed myself in the full-fledged search for answers.  I was still in that contemplative mode – wondering where to start and pondering whether or not I should pry behind that sacred curtain of the unknown.  We decided to go to the local Cracker Barrel for breakfast, and as often is the case, we sat in the rockers on the porch while we waited for our table.  Our boys always found ways to entertain themselves, whether it was playing with the oversized checkers or making their own fun and games in the grassy strip that bordered the porch.

Sitting to my right was a man who appeared to be in his mid to late 60’s.  He had the tanned look and facial features to make me think he was of some Hispanic descent.  As he watched our boys play, he remarked about his own grandkids, and how he enjoyed entertaining them.  That was when I received my first epiphany that this Hispanic man was about the same age that my own father would have been.  I envisioned my own dad sitting there, enjoying the boys who would have been his own grandkids.

We struck up a conversation, made our introductions, and discovered that his name was Arthur Villapando, confirming my inclinations about his heritage.  It seemed a natural part of the conversation to ask him where he was from, and it was then that the next bolt of lightning struck my cranium.  He told me that he lived in Laramie, Wyoming, the same town where many from my dad’s family made their home.  Shock and amazed, I shared with him that we had relatives there, and when I told him who they were, and to my complete surprise, he personally knew everyone of them!  He called them by their first names, and told me that one of the relatives had a great Mexican restaurant there in Laramie where he had eaten many times. Arthur continued to share about what great people my relatives were, as I listened in astonishment.

I told him the story of my dad, that he was from Cheyenne, Wyoming, and that he was in the Army when he was killed in 1965.  Again, the conversation took a third fascinating turn when Arthur revealed that he, too, was in the Army and stationed for a few years at Fort Bragg, North Carolina – at the same time my father was stationed there!  It was all too coincidental to be true – that here on the front porch of the Cracker Barrel in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, I was talking to a man who was from the same area of the country as my father, had a personal relationship with my father’s relatives in Laramie, and was stationed in the Army in the same place and time as my father.  It was all so overwhelming and incredibly surreal.

It gave me reason to make further contact with my relatives and relate the entire story to them.  With much excitement, they confirmed that they knew Arthur very well, and that they couldn’t believe that we had that chance encounter.

Chance.  Coincidence. Serendipity. I have chosen to believe that it was more than that.  This was another “God” moment.  He was Arthur Villapando from Laramie, Wyoming.  But for a time, he, being the same age as my dad, and being from the same place as my dad, was for that moment, my dad…rocking on the porch with his son and enjoying watching his grandsons play…at least, that’s the way I chose to envision it.  Even it was only for a moment.  A God moment.  A time where He put all of us together in one place in His great big world to speak peace to my heart and to let me know that I was on the right track.

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