Susie Parks, Border Town Hero of the Pancho Villa Raid

Authorís Note
            I was born in 1960, the same year that a stranger named George Sparks died at the Fresno, California Veterans Hospital. His daughter, Joyce, must have been confused when she planned for his burial. She knew he was a veteran of WWI, but when she applied for his veteranís marker, they told her no such man existed. She, her two sisters, and his five grandchildren were sure that he did exist. She didnít accept their answer.
            After over a year of investigation, Joyce succeeded in getting to the bottom of part of the mystery. She at least achieved her goal of getting approval for his veteranís headstone. It seems she was able to match his Social Security number with his Army service number. The service number belonged to a man named Garnet E. Parks, who is my grandfather. She learned that Garnet E. Parksí birth date was August 3, 1890, not August 3, 1895, as she had always been told. Additional corrected data on the application matched up with everything my Grandma Susie knew to be true of her husband, who had left her and their children in June of 1929 with a promise to return. Joyce died in 1987 and never knew about us, the family he left behind. In fact, the image of the headstone application document, that proved George Sparks and Garnet Parks were the same man, circulated on for years before my cousin, Kelly Parks, found it in 2017. The discovery rocked the family and compelled me to uncover as many details as I could about what possessed my grandfather to walk away from his family and live a lie for 31 years.
            If you are a Parks, several things are likely true about you. It is safe to assume that more than once you have been asked to keep it down in a public place. If two or more of you are in a room, you are prone to stay up well into the morning hours determined to convince the other which version of a song is better. You might show up at the door of a relative unannounced and leave just as suddenly as you came. There are two more things if you are a Parks, that are almost certainly true. At some point in school, you did a special history report about our Grandma Susie and The Pancho Villa Raid on Columbus. I donít know a cousin who didnít. Also, when you remember her, her adventurous spirit, and the quality of her laugh that could rattle windows, there is a deep warmth and sense of pride that wells up inside you. She affected us that way.
            A need to pursue the unanswered questions of her life burned inside me. I began by thinking I would write the story of a woman done wrong, abandoned by her husband, and left to raise their seven children alone, but thatís not the story that unfolded. The family stories I heard as a child had so many inconsistencies, I couldnít depend on them for accuracy. I would have loved the benefit of family documents, but my grandmother never kept anything. Her sister, Eva, was the keeper of most all the family photos and letters but her house caught fire in 1947 leaving those treasures lost forever.
            What I had were the stories my mother, aunts, and uncles told throughout my life, each with a very specific point of view. I went to work finding court and county records, I contacted and visited local historical societies and hospitals, and I spoke to researchers and librarians in each of the towns where they lived. It was the newspapers, both my grandfatherís and the surrounding papers, that provided me with the most consistent vehicle to paint a picture of their life. I spent countless hours reading through microfiche records of small-town newspapers from Washington to New Mexico and Oregon to Troutdale, Virginia. There is a year, starting in August of 1926, where news and records of their activities go almost completely dark. I believe this was a time they were just barely holding on.
            Through the process, I got to know my grandfather and my grandmother better and their life together took on a shape I didnít expect. I came to realize that my grandmother knew more than she ever revealed about the circumstances around his leaving. The truth of their story revealed itself to me in layers.
            My Grandma Susie was so busy living, it was going to be up to one of us to write down the story of her life and I was honored to do it. Also, it was a pleasure getting to know you, G.E. Parks.