Wisdom Wednesday: A Father’s Influence (Part 1 of 2)

Gilbert Cayetano Huesca
   (1915 – 2009)

The Huesca-Perrotin Family
Left to right:  Delia Domitila, Victoria, and Gilbert Huesca; Catalina (Perrotin) Huesca; Cayetano Huesca (standing), Mario Huesca and Maria (Amaro) Perrotin (both seated); Blanca Perrotin; and Eduardo and Enrique 
Huesca.  Notice my father, who was about seven years old in this photograph: even as a young boy, he loved wearing neckties, just like his father.   Orizaba, Veracruz, April 22, 1923

For as long as I can remember, nearly all the stories my father, Gilbert Huesca, told of his life as a young boy included his parents. During this early period, his father, Jose Gil Alberto Cayetano Huesca, was a major influence on his life. He credited my grandfather’s vision and wisdom with forming his values and his own style of parenting, and he never spoke of him without a deep tone of reverence. The recollections that follow are told in my father’s own words, taken from our many conversations over the years.

– Linda Huesca Tully 

“We returned in about 1919 to Orizaba from (our two year stay in) Chiapas.   My Tío – or Uncle, Felix Francisco “Pancho” Perrotin (my mother’s older brother), his wife Ester, and their daughters, Catalina and Celia, welcomed us at the railroad station, and they looked for a Catholic school for us in Orizaba, so we could learn the Creed and the catechism.  
“Tío Pancho had red hair, like my brother Mario.  He worked on the railroad.  I think he was an engineer. He and my father were very close, like brothers.  Tia Ester was a very beautiful, petite lady.
“Every Sunday we would visit Tío Pancho and Tía Ester.  They had a very nice home in Orizaba.  He had a big, high stove, and he always seemed to be cooking on it.  I think he built it himself. Catalina was the oldest, and Celia was maybe 6 or 7 years old.  I don’t think I played with them because they were older than me, but they guided us like angels.
“We were living in Orizaba when Tío Pancho died, so it would be about 1921 or 1922.  We all went to his funeral.  I remember seeing the casket and everything.  His was the first funeral I went to in my life.  
– – – – –
“When I was a young boy, I raised silkworms.  I used to cut sleeves for them from mulberry trees. Fascinating!  I used to spend hours and hours playing with the silkworms and making little nests for them.

“My father was a very wise and industrious man.   We were 11 children in all, and he did his best to provide for us and give us a home and a good life.  He needed to provide beds for all of us, so he bought a hotel.

“All of us worked in that hotel, from oldest to the youngest, whether it was washing windows or mopping floors.  And the youngest ones had to help, too, even if it was to carry something for my mother.  I had to make all the beds every morning before I went to school.  Not half-way, but the right way:  with perfect corners, no wrinkles, and the sheets tucked in neatly and evenly.   My sister Catrín (Catalina) used to wash the dishes.  There were a lot of dishes.

“My brothers, Enrique and Eduardo, helped with many things, but one of those was meeting the hotel guests at the train station and delivering their luggage to the hotel.  My father used to emphasize to us, ‘We are a team,’ and we did work as a team, every single one of us.

“Along with the hotel, he established a restaurant for the convenience of the guests.  It also helped him to feed our family: 11 children, my parents, plus my grandmother, my aunt Blanca, and of course the workers at the hotel, because we did have some people there to help us. My mother did all of the cooking.  She was an excellent cook.

“He wanted us to be good athletes, so he built a roller skate rink and a bowling alley.  All the people in the town used to go there.  I think the bowling alley was the first one in the town, and my father built it himself, with my brothers and I there, helping him.  It is not easy to build a bowling alley, because you have to keep the lanes very level and observe standard regulations.

“Everything has to be planned right the first time, and everything has to done precisely.   My father was particular with every detail.  We could not rush the job, and he involved us in all the steps.  So we learned more than just how to bowl.  We learned how to be patient and how to plan our work and how to do things right.

Two of the Huesca brothers:  Eduardo (second from
right) and Enrique (far right), with the wagon they
used to transport luggage and small freight from the
railway Station to the family hotel, circa 1928.

“My father also opened a casino.  Not a casino like the kind in Las Vegas, but one with card and game tables.  We all learned how to play cards and how to be dealers and watch the players. My father would look in the direction of a player and then at us, placing his forefinger below his eye.  This gesture is called, ‘ojo,’ which in Spanish means, ‘Keep an eye on that person.’  And we would watch the person to make sure they were not cheating.

“I suppose that because I was very young, I took things literally.  In 1921, when I was five or six years old, a general came to the hotel to rent a room.  He was a great big man, and he had a very impressive uniform with shiny buttons and a lot of medals.  But I could tell there was something about him that my father did not like.  My father needed to leave the room for a few minutes, and I guess he was concerned that the general might take the money from the cash register.

“There was no one else there with us, so he turned to me and discreetly pointed his finger below his eye – ‘ojo.’ When he returned, there I was, with my eyes open very wide, and my index finger pressed against my lower eyelid as I watched the general – all business!

“My father’s face turned white.  This was in the days right after the Revolution.  In those days, you had to be very careful around the soldiers, especially the army officers, because if they thought you were against them in any way, you could be killed.  They did not ask questions but they could shoot you and that would be it.  But maybe the general could see that I was just a little boy and was very innocent.

“Another time a lady came to visit at the hotel.  She was a large lady.  My father told me to bring her a chair.  Well, I was still very young at that time.  I brought her two chairs and pushed them together for her.  I thought I was being helpful, so my father’s reaction surprised me.  He was so embarrassed!

“He just looked at me, speechless.  What could he say?  The lady stared in shock at the two chairs for a few moments and finally sat down.  Then she began to laugh.  ‘From the mouths of babes!’ she said.”

Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

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