Born Going Up in the World


Joan Joyce (Schiavon) Huesca 
(1928 – 1987)

1928 was a year of prosperity, hope, and bravado.
It was the middle of the Prohibition era, and Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States.  The U.S., along with 14 other countries, signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, also known as the Pact of Paris,  a treaty that condemned war between two countries and advocated peaceful resolution of international conflicts (though some of the signers would violate it over the next decade.)
A page from my mother’s baby book, showing
her arrival on July 4, 1928, at 3:40 a.m. and
her address as 6042 Stoney Island Avenue,
Chicago, Illinios.
General Douglas MacArthur, president of the American Olympic Committee, unabashedly boasted of the team’s goal to “represent the greatest country on earth” and “win decisively” before his athletes swept to victory at the 1928 Summer Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Walt Disney introduced the first cartoon with sound: Steamboat Willie, starring a cheerful little dancing mouse named Mickey who went on to become the most famous rodent in the world. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and in so doing modernized medicine and saved millions of lives.
A first class postage stamp cost two cents.  The Soviet Union exiled Leon Trotsky. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly an airplane successfully across the Atlantic Ocean.
To me, though, the most important event of 1928 did not make the headlines.  It was the birth of my mother, Joan Joyce Schiavon.
My grandmother, Alice Gaffney (McGinnis) Schiavon, had spent July 3rd trying desperately to cool off from the hot and humid weather.  With her husband Ralph Schiavon at work downtown, Alice took their four-year-old son, Tommy, to visit her mother, Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis and maiden aunt Elizabeth “Lyle” Gaffney, at the old family home at 8336 Drexel Avenue.  The mercury that day hovered near 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but the humidity in the air made the air feel much hotter.  Alice, with a month to go before her second child was born, felt itchy, uncomfortable, and huge.
Playing cards under the shade tree with her mother, aunt, sister Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, and sister-in-law Edith (Hoag) McGinnis, Alice watched as Tommy played with his cousins, Jack, Phil, and Jane.  She must have been as grateful as the kids were when the ice cream man came down the street, ringing his little bell, and she probably wished her final month of pregnancy would melt away as quickly as the cool treat.
It had been a long year.  Alice’s father, Thomas Eugene McGinnis, had died the year before.  As much as she missed her father, she knew her mother, who missed him even more, welcomed the distractions of her children and young grandchildren. The ice cream and the Prohibition beer Alice’s intrepid brother Gene had brought offered the adults respite and refreshment.
Afternoon faded into evening.  The kids would have practiced marching for a block parade, and the men would have joined their wives and families at Mary Jane’s house after work and reminisced together over dinner about holidays past, laughing and telling silly stories.  The women would have adjusted the pins in their hair to keep the stray strands out of their faces as they did the dishes, and they would have delighted in any whisper of a breeze as their cotton dresses produced as they brushed lightly against each other in the airy kitchen, while the men would have checked the ice box to make sure it had enough ice to keep the meat, coleslaw, and potato salad cold for the next day’s picnic.
The Schiavons returned home to their Hyde Park neighborhood late that evening, sharing the gossip of the afternoon and eagerly looking forward to the next day. If Alice was starting to feel a combination of giddiness and fatigue, she probably dismissed it as simply anticipation of the Independence Day festivities all of Chicago would celebrate the next day.

The weather, in typical Chicago fashion, had hovered near 90 degrees Fahrenheit that Tuesday, but overnight it abruptly turned into a driving rainstorm.  Perhaps the thunder and lightning were nature’s way of ushering in Independence Day with the appropriate fanfare.

During the early hours of Wednesday, July 4th, Alice Schiavon went into labor.  Whether she didn’t take the signs seriously at first, thought she had plenty of time, or was waiting for the storm to clear, we will never know. Finally, she called her brother John to take her to the hospital while Ralph stayed home with their son.  Kissing her husband and her sleeping son, she climbed awkwardly into John’s large sedan.

John McGinnis was thrilled that his soon-to-be godchild would be born on the Fourth of July.  Resolving to give the new baby a proper welcome to the world, he decided against taking the 10 block direct path to Woodlawn Hospital and opted instead to drive a circuitous route through some of the lovelier winding lanes of the city.  Never mind that the poor visibility of darkness and pounding rain interfered with the view!  In typical McGinnis fashion, brother and sister belted out old Irish ditties and  cracked outlandish jokes, seemingly oblivious to why they were out and about at three o’clock in the morning in a heavy electrical storm.  They barely made it to the hospital.

Reality kicked in as John pulled up to the emergency entrance to Woodlawn.  By now, Alice was  breathless from her advanced labor.  It must have been a confusing and chaotic arrival as John and the nurses struggled to help the young mother out of the rain and into the hospital. Thankfully, Doctor Thomas Doyle, the family physician, was already there to greet them.

Alice had barely settled down from her wild ride when things began happening much faster than they had four years ago when Tom was born. As the situation escalated and the nurses realized they had to move quickly, they shooed John away, eased his 30-year-old sister onto a portable bed and wheeled her into an elevator.

Mothers know that when it comes to their offspring, things seldom go according to plan and even babies have minds of their own.  And so it went with Alice.  She never made it to the delivery room but delivered a healthy baby girl right there in the elevator. It was 3:40 in the morning when little Joan Joyce Schiavon made her dramatic entrance into the world and into the hearts of her family.
Years later, my mother would say she was born “going up in the world.”

Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

Did you know Ralph and Alice (McGinnis) Schiavon and their children Joan and Tom, or are you a member of the Gaffney, McGinnis, or Schiavon/Schiavone families?  If so, share your memories and comments below.

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