Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)
Joan Joyce (Schiavon) Huesca (1928 – 1987)
Alice (McGinnis) Schiavon (1895 – 1963)
Fern (Lawton) Waples (1899 – 1961)
“She’s too much girl for you.”
|My father, Gilbert Huesca
So said Fern Waples, my father’s landlady and friend, with her sly smile as she watched him look back longingly at the Chicago antiques gallery where he had met the girl of his dreams on a sunny afternoon in late April, 1954.
My father, Gilbert Huesca, grinned back. He loved nothing more than a good challenge.
That morning, he had asked Mrs. Waples to show him where he could buy a Mother’s Day card to send his mother, Catalina (Perrotin) Huesca, in Mexico City. Mrs. Waples, a savvy woman who knew all the best places to shop, remembered there was a place, Chatham Galleries, about two blocks from her home. Known chiefly for its European art and antiques, it also carried a nice greeting card selection. She offered to take him there.
Mrs. Waples busied herself looking at the antiques while my father wandered around. As he would tell the story years later, a “beautiful young lady” approached him and asked if she could help him.
He told her he needed a card for his mother for Mother’s Day. “I want something very special for her,” he said, “with simple but loving words.” She paused thoughtfully and led him to the greeting card display.
As she began pulling out cards and making suggestions in a soothing voice, my father nearly forgot why he came in the first place.
She was five-foot-four, but she looked much taller in her high heels and slender frame. She moved with the grace of a dancer, looking up often at Gil intuitively as she talked. Her medium brown hair was swept into soft curls that crowned her head, drawing attention to her expressive brown eyes. Her complexion was fair and smooth, and her red lips curled easily upward into a smile that was confident yet sweet and gentle. Her words were crisp and lilting, and to him, they sounded like music.
By the time he paid for a card and left, Mrs. Waples, who was already outside and was watching through the window, looked at him knowingly.
“You sure took a long time in there, Gil,” she said.
My father was breathless. “Fern, I bought a beautiful card…but…I just love the girl!”
She shook her head. “Forget it,” she said, ‘She’s too much girl for you. You could never handle her.”
As they walked down Cottage Grove Avenue, my father reflected on his landlady’s words. Maybe she was right about this girl. Then again, he wondered how it was that he could think of nothing else.
The next time he was off work, he found himself returning to Chatham Galleries. Not seeing the young shopkeeper, he asked the older lady working there whether she was there that day.
Alice (McGinnis) Schiavon looked up at the handsome young man. “Oh, that would be my daughter Joie,” she said. “She’s at the restaurant* next door.” My father thanked her and went over to the restaurant. There she was, sitting at the lunch counter.
My father took a deep breath and approached her. “Joie, do you remember me?” he asked, trying to sound calmer than he felt.
He thought he saw her blush. “Oh, yes,” she said. “You bought the Mother’s Day card with the flowers on it.” She let him take the stool next to her.
My father could not believe how easy she was to talk to, and he soon forgot his nervousness as he told her about his home in Mexico City and his experiences in Chicago over the past eight years. She asked to see a photograph of his mother and laughed when he told her about his first weeks in Chicago, when his restaurant meals consisted of only apple pie because that was all he knew how to order in English. He was captivated by her own stories and her sharp wit and her devotion to her parents, and he became intrigued with learning more about this beautiful lady. There was something about her – a sense of goodness and dignity and culture – that appealed to him.
|My mother, Joan Schiavon, with her parents, Alice (McGinnis)
and Ralph Schiavon, Chicago, Illinois
Joie – Joan Schiavon – had not forgotten him at all. She was thrilled to see this handsome stranger again and could not believe he had taken the trouble to find her. She had been impressed by his politeness and charmed by his Spanish accent. He seemed different from the other young men she had met until now, and she liked the way he related to others, from the respect he showed the older woman who had accompanied him to the store a few days before to the kind way he talked to the waitress at the lunch counter. And his eyes – how they seemed to see right through her. She wondered if he could read her mind right now. The thought made her blush even more.
Before either of them knew it, it was time for Joan to go back to work. My father noticed she had hardly touched her food. He asked if he could see her again.
“Oh, no,” she shook her head, quickly coming back to reality. “You have to ask my parents.”
My father was confused. “How old are you?” he asked.
“25 – but you have to see my parents first.” She smiled back at him, slid off the stool, and went back to work.
As it turned out, Joan – asked her mother, then her father, for their permission to go out with Gilbert Huesca. Being protective Irish-Italian parents, they must have asked her a million questions but finally gave their approval as my grandmother recalled the polite man in the store who had asked about her daughter.
Gil and Joan’s first date was to the movies to see River of No Return, a romantic Western starring Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe. Though the fictional movie turned out to be far less stellar that its illustrious cast, its title would mark the beginning of a real life love story between two people whose lives would be changed forever.
And all this because my father had gone looking for a greeting card and came away with a priceless find in the lady he would soon ask to become his wife. For that I will be forever thankful.
* This restaurant may have been a place called “Flukies,” located at 8211 South Cottage Grove Avenue.
Copyright © 2012 Linda Huesca Tully