Father, daughter reunite after 40 years
By Judy T. Mire
LSN STAFF WRITER
KAPLAN – Wilson Lemaire Jr. hugs his daughter, Sandy at the airport in Manzanillo, Mexico. This was the first time they have seen each other since they were separated when Sandy was three months old.
The year was 1967. Wilson Lemaire Jr. was a young Marine stationed in Panama. During that time, Lemaire fell in love with a young Panamanian woman.
After a short courtship, the couple married and had a daughter. They named her Sandy.
When Lemaire was required to return to the United States after his tour of duty ended, he had every intention of bringing his young family with him.
It did not turn out that way. Sandy’s maternal grandmother was gravely ill and her mother did not want to leave her.
Over the next six months, Lemaire continually sent money and letters back to his wife and child, hoping his wife would eventually change her mind and come to the US to live with him. His letters were never answered.
With no money to return to Panama, he decided to rejoin the Marines if they could guarantee he would be stationed in Panama. The recruiter in Lafayette told him that was possible.
With high hopes, he traveled to New Orleans to re-enlist. Those hopes were quickly dashed when the Commander told him there were “no guarantees where he would be sent.” He did not re-enlist.
After all other attempts to locate her failed; he knew he had to go on with his life and filed for divorce.
But he never forgot about his daughter. What he didn’t know was that his ex-wife wanted nothing more to do with her American husband.
“I had no idea what was going on,” said Lemaire.
Sandy would later tell her father how her mother refused to answer any questions concerning her American husband.
Ten years before her mother passed away, Sandy married a young man for Manzanillo, Mexico. She was 17 years old.
No longer living under her mother’s scrutiny, Sandy began her search for her dad.
Throughout her 24-year marriage, she tried to locate her father. Finding him became her passion. The only information she had was his full name, age, his mother’s name and the town and state where he had lived 40 years earlier, “Luisiana, LaFalleth” (Lafayette).
All attempts by her, relatives or her friends failed. All the internet searches required American credit cards, which she didn’t have.
Even visiting the American Embassy in Panama was futile because she was told she did not have the necessary documentation.
Fast forward to Kaplan 2008.
Lemaire works long hours and is never home during the day.
On this day, he is traveling from one job site to another when he finds himself near his home. In the spur of the moment, he decides to take a few minutes and drop by his house to eat lunch...something he never does.
In the few minutes he was home, the phone rings.
“When the caller asked to speak with me, she could not pronounce Lemaire,” he said. “Because she couldn’t say my name correctly, I thought it was some salesman and decided to just hang up on her. When the phone was halfway to the receiver, I heard the caller ask if I had a daughter named, Sandy. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. Could this be true?”
After asking the caller many questions, Lemaire knew this was the real thing.
“I couldn’t believe it! I was so happy words just can’t describe it. After all these years, it is a miracle!”
The caller identified herself as “Pat”. She was from California and had a vacation home in Mexico.
While at their vacation home, she and her husband had driven to Manzanillo to have work done on their vehicle.
Because it would take all day, Pat decided to have her nails done. She described the young woman running the salon as “looking like an American” with her green eyes and light skin.
The young American looking woman was Sandy.
When Pat asked about her background, Sandy excitedly told her story of her American father and the many years of searching for him.
Intrigued by this information, Pat asked if she would like help in the search.
Grateful for the help, Sandy gave her all the data she had and wrote it on a napkin.
When Pat returned home, she did what any American would do...she Googled his name. Lots of hits came up on the last name, but none on the first.
Then, Pat came up with an idea that would begin putting the pieces of a 40+ year old puzzle into place.
In Mexico, last names are always put together with the father’s last name first, followed by the mother’s last name. Hoping that Panama used the same pattern of identification, she changed her search criteria from Wilson Lemaire Gaspard, to Wilson Lemaire.
Only one of the multiple names listed was the correct age her father would now be. It showed he lived in Kaplan, La.
Using Google maps, she discovered that Kaplan was approximately 20 miles from where Sandy’s father said he was from.
Getting very excited, she did a people search on the name of his mother, Eula Mae Gaspard.
BINGO! Her name also came up in Kaplan, La.
Pat’s, final search was entering the name, city and state for an address.
Within an instant, there was a name, address and phone number.
Having previously received Sandy’s permission to make contact if her search found anyone, she had to decide if she would make the call.
She did not know what to expect because the information showed he was married. Many questions came to mind....had he told his family he was married before and that he had a daughter? Would this be a welcome call, or a painful one? What if he simply didn’t want contact after all these years?
Gathering up her courage, she decided she would tackle the problems as they arose....if any.
The phone called proved to be a joyous one. He not only wanted to know everything about his first born, he wanted immediate contact with her and he wanted to see her.
Because of a language barrier, (Sandy spoke only Spanish and Lemaire spoke only English and French), Pat offered to serve as a translator for their reunion.
Pat recalls the end of the telephone call as Lemaire telling her through tears, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Now, Sandy needed to be told her father had been found.
Because the call was received while Sandy was still at work, she was only told that information on her father had been found and would learn the details after she returned home.
“I had another 30 minutes left to work,” said Sandy, “and that was the longest 30 minutes in my life. I didn’t know if she was calling to tell me she spoke with him, that he was dead, or he didn’t want any communication with me. I just kept thinking of all the possibilities and hoping for the best.”
Ecstatic beyond words, the daughter was told of her father being found. He had a wife, three grown children, eight grandchildren, and most importantly, he wanted to speak with her.
Wilson Jr. and his wife, Linda, immediately began making plans to visit her in Mexico.
Once there, they met Sandy’s family, her husband and her four children.
“It was a wonderful experience. In every picture we took I was crying because I was so happy,” laughs Linda.
“I always told Jr. that one day this little girl would knock on our door and tell him she was his daughter. I never thought of her in terms of an adult,” adds Linda, still laughing
Two weeks ago, Sandy came to Kaplan and has been meeting her “American family.”
With no one speaking Spanish, communication is made through hand signals and using a program on the computer which translates Spanish to English.
“We mostly use the Coonass Cajun language,” laughs Wilson. “We do a lot of pointing and hand signals...and we usually get our point across.”
When asked of her thoughts when she first heard her father’s voice, she said, “I am still trying to find the words that best describe my emotions,” said Sandy. “I think the picture they took of me when I was talking with him says it all.
“I couldn’t understand a single word he was saying, but just to hear his voice...it was magical”
Sandy admits to being skeptical about her first trip to Louisiana.
“I was afraid of meeting my brother and sisters and how they would react towards me.”
But that is all behind her now as she readily admits to being welcomed with open arms by everyone.
Looking back, father and daughter both agree their lives have changed since their reunion.
Since the Lemaires visited with her in Mexico, Sandy has returned to her native country of Panama.
Calling Pat “her angel”, Sandy said she will always be grateful for her help in finding her father.
Wilson and Linda have offered their daughter the opportunity to move her and her children to Kaplan.
As much as she would agree to the move, Sandy states the decision has to be made with her children.
“I am so grateful to my Papa for this opportunity,” she said, “but I need to speak with my children and tell them what their grandfather has offered. If they do not want, I will not leave them.”
The two families will keep in touch through e-mails and Wilson and Linda are planning to visit her next year.
“As long as there are planes, boats and e-mail, we will keep in touch,” said Wilson. “I want her and her children to be part our lives.
“If they are willing to move here, there will be so many more opportunities in life for them. But if they choose to remain in Panama, I want to visit them and for them to come visit us.
As Wilson told Pat on her first call, thank you, thank you, thank you...through teary eyes Sandy looks at her father and stepmother and says, “gracias, gracias, gracias.”
Author’s note: Special thanks go out to Pat L. for contributing to the story and Olivia Champagne who acted as translator between Sandy and myself.