Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)
Joan Joyce (Schiavon) Huesca (1928 – 1987)
|A postcard of the Ivanhoe, a popular medieval-style
Chicago restaurant, where my parents feted my mother’s
26th birthday and their engagement on July 3, 1954.
My father, Gilbert Huesca, could hardly contain the love he felt for my mother, Joan Schiavon. His workdays at Lakeshore Printing flew by as he waited for five o’clock to come so he could see her again. When he was not with my mother, he was talking about her to his younger brother, Carlos Huesca, who had recently arrived in Chicago from Mexico City, or to his friends, Louis and Theresa Algarin and Frank and Fern Waples, or writing home to his mother, Catalina (Perrotin) Huesca, in Mexico City.
By late June, it had been only two months since he had met her at the end of April, 1954, but he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. One evening, over a game of chess with Frank Waples, my father was less focused than usual. Fern sensed his mind was on something else, and she asked him if everything was all right between him and Joan.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “It couldn’t be better. But Fern, she is very special. There are other fellows who are very interested in her. They’re very rich and powerful.”
“And is she interested in any of them?” Fern asked, always quick to cut to the heart of the matter.
“No. The way she looks into my eyes, I know she loves me.”
“So what are you waiting for? Go ask her to marry you, Gil!”
“But how can I ask her so soon? We’ve only been seeing each other for a little while.”
Fern Waples was not a woman to listen to excuses. “Well, Gil, I told you before that she was too much girl for you. I guess you’ll either just have to ask her or let her go.” She turned around and left the room.
That was all my father needed to hear. Like the expert chess player he was, he began strategizing for the most important move of his life.
Before he could ask my mother to marry him, he knew he would have to approach her father for his permission. Some men would have paled at this and thought it old-fashioned, but my father had come from a very traditional Mexican family and understood the importance of showing respect for the father of one’s intended.
On July 2, 1954, two days before my mother’s birthday, my father went to see my grandfather, Ralph Schiavon, to ask for her hand in marriage.
My grandfather had seen a proposal coming, but not this soon. He hesitated at the thought of his only daughter marrying someone who was not Italian, though he himself had married an Irish-American. He looked at my father sternly.
“Do you have any insanity in your family?” he asked.
My father had anticipated that my grandfather would be tough on him, but he did not expect this question. He smiled. “No,” he said confidently. “Is there any in yours?”
Ralph Schiavon had to laugh at my father’s quick comeback. He shook his head and knew he had met his match. He gave his permission, albeit reluctantly.
The next evening, my father arrived at the Schiavon home to take my mother out for an early birthday dinner celebration. My grandmother, Alice (McGinnis) Schiavon, who had heard of my father’s intentions from my grandfather, met him at the door and showed him to the living room. My mother soon appeared in a lovely red lace dress, and my grandparents disappeared, leaving the sweethearts alone.
My father could not believe how beautiful she looked and almost forgot to give her the small gift-wrapped package he had in his hands. Inside was a diary with a deep red cover, “the color of my heart,” my father said.
My mother loved it. “I’m going to fill it with all my love for you,” she said as she hugged him.
But that was not all my father had for her. He took another small box from his pocket and got down on one knee. My mother’s eyes grew wide as his trembling fingers opened the box to reveal a white gold diamond solitaire ring.
“Darling, how would you like to have a honeymoon in Acapulco?” he asked, his voice filled with passion.
My mother didn’t hesitate for a moment in her reply. “Oh, Gil, I’d just love it!” she said breathlessly.
My grandparents soon returned to the living room and congratulated the newly engaged couple. After a short celebration, my parents left to meet Frank and Fern Waples at the Ivanhoe, a famous medieval-style restaurant at Clark and Wellington Streets in Chicago.
It was a Saturday evening, and the good people of the City of Chicago had already begun their festivities for Independence Day, just hours away. Fireworks celebrating the American holiday were going off all over the city, but for two people who had just promised their undying love to each other, they seemed to be heralding the start of a beautiful life together.
Copyright © 2012 Linda Huesca Tully