After the dossier revelations in 1994, I became more intent on discovering all I could, not only about my father, but also his family….my family…. that lived in the southeast corner of Wyoming. As I shared in a previous post, “Solving the Puzzle,” I came across a picture of my grandparents one evening while searching my family name on the internet. This was one of the major catalysts that opened a deeper dialogue between my Wyoming relatives and me. It was at that time that I started writing them, and we quickly began a long distance relationship, first by snail mail, then by email.
Most of the correspondence took place with my cousins, Charlotte Barela and Doris Garcia. Charlotte and Doris are daughters of Eleanor, one of my dad’s sisters. Both Charlotte and Doris and their families have been so gracious to my mother throughout all the years they have known her. They have been good to keep in touch with her and have even made a couple of visits to North Carolina. They definitely have gone above and beyond to stay connected with us.
Because of that solid relationship with my mom, establishing a connection with them came rather easily. It seemed the more we corresponded, the closer we got. It was around the end of the year 2000 that we seriously considered making a trip to see all of our relatives in Wyoming.
Our original plan was to visit Wyoming in July, so we booked our flights for the trip in January of 2001. In the early part of the spring, Jeannie’s father, Joe, was moved to the VA Hospital in Asheville, and for the next few months his health rapidly declined. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease right after he retired in 1991, and for the next several years we watched as his physical condition slowly deteriorated. He was moved to hospice at the end of the spring and during the month of July took a turn for the worse. We knew we couldn’t leave Joe during these last stages of his life, so we made the decision to cancel our trip to Wyoming. Joe passed away on July 24 and we had the memorial service for him a few days later. Joe was a great man and a very influential father figure in my life. While it was sad for Jeannie and the rest of our family to see him go, there was relief that his suffering was over. I have detailed more about my father-in-law and his passing in a previous post, “The Father Figure.”
After taking the time to properly grieve for Joe, we were able to reschedule our flights and make our trip to Wyoming. On August 2, 2001, Jeannie and I, along with Jonathan, Aaron, and my mother, boarded a plane and made the trip out west.
We flew out of the Charlotte airport around 2:00 in the afternoon. After a small layover in St. Louis, we arrived at the Denver airport around 7:00 p.m. In those pre-9/11 days, visitors could still greet passengers right when they got off the plane, and waiting to meet us were my cousins, Doris and Charlotte, who had driven from Cheyenne to pick us up.
It had been 35 years since I had seen either of them, and having been six years old at the time, my memory of them was very fuzzy. However, when we saw each other on that August evening in Denver, it was as if we had known each other for years. The three of us embraced and immediately I was overcome with emotion, and tears began to roll down my cheeks. It was as if part of the hole that existed in my heart had been somewhat filled, and a reconnection had been made with the family who had been missing for the better part of my life.
My cousin Doris is married to Leo Garcia, who served for several years in the Wyoming State House of Representatives. Leo and Doris were the perfect hosts, and they graciously opened up their home to us and rolled out the red carpet of hospitality.
We spent much time visiting with them and catching up on all of our Wyoming family. We had a chance to visit some of the historical sites around Cheyenne and to attend mass together at the Catholic church where my dad attended as a child. It was also the place where his funeral service was held in 1966.
They apologized for the fact that the Wyoming landscape was flat and lacked scenery. We were dazzled by its beauty and marveled that we could see the dome of the state capitol from their backyard, which was almost 8 miles from where they lived. Growing up we had all sung the song, “Home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play.” One evening, to our astonishment, several antelope leaped and ran in Doris and Leo’s backyard…that was quite a sight.
One day we made a day trip to Laramie, which was about a 45-minute drive from Cheyenne. Laramie is home to the University of Wyoming, and is also the place where many of the Sausedo relatives reside, including my cousin, Charlotte Barela. Charlotte is my first cousin; however, I am closer in age to her three children: Michael, Cynthia, and Theresa. Michael and Cynthia live away from Wyoming, so we spent much of our time in Laramie with Charlotte and Theresa. There was instant connection with them, and it was from them that I gleaned much of the history of the Sausedo side of the family.
In the stories shared by Charlotte and Theresa, I learned some interesting facts about my dad’s mother, affectionately called “Grandma Susan” by the Wyoming relatives. She was born in Zacatecas, Mexico in 1893. I’m not exactly sure when she married my grandfather, who was the same age as she, but they moved to Wyoming sometime in the early 1900’s. Two of the earliest children born to them, Concha and Lupe, died when they were very young. They would have five more children – Charlie, John, Dorothy, Eleanor, and my father, Miguel – all who would live long enough to marry and have children of their own.
I discovered that Grandma Susan suffered a loss and a fate similar to that of my own mother. Her husband, Francisco, died in 1938 at the age of 45, leaving Grandma Susan to raise five children on her own. Also similar to my mom’s journey was the fact that Grandma Susan never remarried and remained a widow until she passed away in 1983 at the age of 90.
Another daunting thought occurred to me as I crunched the dates of our family tree. My grandfather Francisco died in 1938, which meant that my father would have only been 10 years old at the time of his passing. Even though he had six more years to spend with his father than I did with mine, he still spent the majority of his life without him.
Of all the children of Grandpa Francisco and Grandma Susan, my dad’s sister, Eleanor, had the largest family. Eleanor, who passed away in 1958 at the young age of 42, had a total of three sons and three daughters with her husband, John. I also found out that one of Eleanor’s sons, my cousin Bobby, owned and operated a Mexican restaurant in town. Bobby was the owner and operator of “El Conquistado,” and he treated us to some of the best Mexican food ever, and the best green chile I have ever tasted. This was the same restaurant that was mentioned by Arthur Villapando, the Laramie resident we met in that serendipitous meeting at the Cracker Barrel in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee just a few years earlier. (See “Serendipity at the Cracker Barrel”)
Later that afternoon, Charlotte and Theresa took us all on an excursion about an hour west of Laramie into a section of the Rockies called the “Snowy Range.”
In just a matter of an hour’s drive, we went from being a mile high to almost 12,000 feet above sea level. Even though it was the first days of the month of August, we were treated to temperatures in the 40’s and even saw patches of snow on the sides of the mountains.
One of the highlights of our time together was the Sausedo reunion my family had planned for us on that Sunday. They had invited all the relatives they could contact, and several of them drove many miles just to be there. From noon until dusk, we dined on Cousin Bobby’s Mexican food, shared stories, took pictures, and met long-lost relatives that were so excited to see one another.
In the months leading up to our visit, I had already filled out the branches of the Sausedo family tree. In just a matter of a few days, I was able to put faces with the names. My father had seven brothers and sisters, one of whom was still living at the time of our visit. My Aunt Dorothy, who lived in New Mexico, made the trip with her daughter, Angie. Aunt Dorothy, the last living sibling of Francisco and Susana Sausedo, passed away in November of 2013.
The Sausedo Family Fiesta began at noon on Sunday and lasted well into the evening hours. It was such a surreal experience to meet with and talk to relatives who had known my father and to feel the strong connections with my newfound family members.
However, as festive as the food and the reunion was, there was one event that would stand out above all the rest that we experienced that week. It was the one that would finally give me the closure I had been looking for throughout all this search and inquisition…. the visit to my father’s grave.