Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)
Joan (Schiavon) Huesca (1928 – 1987)
José Gil Alberto Cayetano Huesca (1888 – 1937)
|Photo by Alex Proimos, courtesy Flickr Creative Commons
“Who is that man?”
The short, stout, hunched over pediatrician my parents had found in the Mexico City phone book and called in desperation to tend to my little sister pointed to a portrait over my parents’ bed as he blinked his eyes.
It was late Fall of 1966. My father, Gilbert Huesca, was a bit startled by this question. He was more concerned about my seven-year-old sister’s illness than about answering questions from a curious man looking at pictures on a wall.
He redirected the doctor’s attention. “How is our daughter, Doctor Franco?”
The doctor snapped out of his fog. “Her tonsils and adenoids appear to be inflamed. How long has she had trouble breathing like this?”
My mother told him that my sister had been sick on and off for a couple of months. At first it had seemed she was just getting recurrent colds, but when she lost her appetite and began losing weight, it was clear something else was happening.
The doctor explained that enlarged tonsils and adenoids could cause such symptoms, well as her labored breathing. Why they were enlarged was yet to be determined, but to start with he prescribed a course of antibiotics in case it was a bacterial infection. If the antibiotics did not work, my sister might need surgery to have her adenoids removed. In any case, he would see her again in a few days.
My two other little sisters and I, watching from the door, grimaced. “Why do they have to add a noise to her?” My baby sister whispered. “No, silly,” I corrected her. “They’re called adenoids. And if they don’t get better, then the doctor has has to take them out.” My second sister, always quick to get to the heart of the problem, asked, “So what are adenoids anyway, and are they bad?” I knew as little as she did. We leaned in closer to get a clue.
My parents, somewhat relieved, thanked the doctor for coming. “How much do we owe you?” my father asked.
Dr. Franco seemed not to hear the question but looked back up at the picture. “I’m sorry, but I have to know, sir. Do you know that man?”
My father, still puzzled by the doctor’s distraction, answered. “He was my father.”
“Your father! And your name again, sir?”
“Gilbert Cayetano Huesca.”
“My God,” the man said emotionally. “You don’t owe me anything, Mr. Huesca. I owe you. Your father was my best friend. He helped me.”
Recalling this encounter many years later, my father remarked, “He felt as though he found something special, something that belonged to him.”
It turned out that some forty or so years before, José Felipe Franco had been a struggling young doctor in Orizaba, Veracruz, when he met my grandfather, José Gil Alberto “Cayetano” Huesca. At the time, my grandfather worked as a mechanic for the Mexican Railway, Ferrocarriles Mexicanos. When he found out that the young José often skipped meals to make up for the costs of his fledgling medical practice, my grandfather took it upon himself to feed his new acquaintance as if he were one of the family, helped him with business expenses, and recommended him to relatives and friends.
Over time, Doctor Franco became successful. He eventually moved to the capital, where he founded a children’s hospital, the Clínica Infantil Doctor Franco, on San Cosme Avenue, in the San Rafael neighborhood, or colonia. He never forgot his humble beginnings and set aside one day a week to care for the poor and indigent, free of charge.
Of all the ways to meet an old family friend, so many miles and so many years later, this was quite remarkable. Though Dr. Franco was saddened to know my grandfather had died in 1937, he was glad to learn my grandmother, Catalina (Perrotin) Huesca was now living in Mexico City. He visited her soon afterward and also connected with some of my aunts and uncles.
The friendship he had shared with my grandfather years before took on a new life with my father’s generation of the Huesca family. I think my father saw a bit of his own father in this grandfatherly gentleman. Dr. Franco welcomed the connection. He became quite close to my father and mother and some of my uncles. They looked out for each other and each other’s families over the years, each at his happiest when he could do something for the other. For the second time in his life, he became a part of our family. But this time, his story also became part of our family story. It also led to one of my father’s favorite sayings: Whatever you do in this life will always come back to you.
Dr. Franco continued to treat my sister at his hospital. He was of the opinion that her enlarged adenoids had been caused by the Federal District’s high altitude – 7,000 feet above sea level. He told my mother and father that he saw two options. One would be to undergo surgery to remove the adenoids. The other option would be to move out of Mexico City to another area that was closer to sea level. This second option, he theorized, might allow her system to regularize itself.
After some consideration of the pros and cons of an adenoidectomy, my parents concluded that moving out of the area might be a safer and more beneficial alternative for my sister in the long run. Having solved that dilemma, they now had to tackle a new one.
Where should we go?
Copyright © 2013 Linda Huesca Tully