Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)
Joan Joyce (Schiavon) Huesca (1928 – 1987)
Once my parents, Gilbert and Joan Huesca, realized that South San Francisco was not the warm and sunny place where they had dreamed of living, they began scouring the Bay Area for a place we could call home.
|Flickr Images, Courtesy Jitze Couperus
In mid-July of 1967, they bought their first home for $17,000 in San Jose, about 40 miles from South San Francisco, and by the end of August, we had moved in. It was foggy as pea soup as we left “South City” and headed south on Highway 280, up and down the oak-covered hills.
About 20 minutes into our drive, the fog gave way to blue skies and sunshine, and the hills took on a sunburned hue. They looked so different from the same green hills we had seen only a few months earlier when we first arrived in California. My parents must have noticed it, too, as my father commented on it. “We got here toward the end of the rainy season,” my mother reminded him, “but summer must have changed all that. Maybe this is why people call California the Golden State,” she mused.
The temperature rose as we continued south, and by the time we arrived in San Jose, all the windows in the car were down. The two of us who got the window seats in the back tried with all our might to obey our father and keep our heads inside, but it was hard because we did not want to miss anything. Our two other sisters, who sat in the middle, fidgeted as they tried to look past us.
San Jose was a rapidly-growing, beautiful city of over 400,000 people and countless fruit orchards, large homes, clean, wide, tree-lined streets, and enormous sedans that seemed to have been made just to drive down those avenues. “Is this our street?” we kept asking. Our parents patiently put up with our excitement, and my mother told us how many miles we had left to go, but I don’t know if it made much difference. We could not believe how lucky we were to be moving to such a beautiful city, especially a bright and sunny place. We eagerly read the street signs, looking for Foxworthy Avenue, where our house would be. When we finally turned the corner onto the long-awaited street, we were all talking at once and my mother had to tell us to settle down.
And then there we were. My father approached the house slowly, pulling our Falcon station wagon up to the curb in a dramatic pause so we could get a good look at it straight on, before he turned into the driveway to park. We all pushed our way out of the back seat and raced each other past the lacy jacaranda tree and up the juniper-lined walkway to the front porch to see who could be the first to go inside.
I do not remember whether my father or my mother unlocked the front door, but I do recall marveling that it was a double door, something I never would have imagined our house would have. The facade of the house was green and white with brick trim. Inside, we ran breathlessly from one room to another, barely stopping in each as we tried to take in everything. The house had four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a spacious living room, a galley kitchen that led into a dining room, a two-car garage, and a big back yard.
In a matter of minutes, we finagled our bedroom assignments, the two oldest sisters sharing the room near the front of the house and the two youngest in another room at the back, just across from our parents. A fourth bedroom would serve as a small family room when it was not used for guests.
My parents were ecstatic that they were now homeowners for the very first time. One of the very first things they did was to hang their prized possession, what we called the Lady Plate, in a prominent place on the living room wall. A very large 19th century Sèvres porcelain portrait plate, it had come with us from Chicago to Mexico and back up to California on my mother’s lap for safety.
It did not take them long to begin the first of their many do-it-yourself projects. They were resourceful and creative, and they tackled endless projects most weekends, staying up late into the night to finish something, whether it was painting, wallpapering, building shelves, or installing tile. To my knowledge, my father had never done this kind of work before, but he was so deliberate in everything he did that his results were always stunning and professional-looking. He discovered a love for working with tools, and he began to amass quite a collection of them until he had to build a set of cabinets to keep them organized. Thinking back on this now, it is clear to me that he inherited these talents from his own father and grandfather.
My sisters and I – from the oldest to the youngest – had assigned chores and typically spent Saturday mornings helping clean the house before we could go out to play. My parents made it very clear that because we all lived in the same house, we also had an obligation to take care of it.
My father often told us that everything costs money to buy, but it costs just as much or more effort to take care of it. He was an exacting taskmaster and took pains to show us how to “do things right the first time.” Unfortunately, he had to show us these things not only the first time but many times after, as we sometimes got distracted. He used to tell me to do things in his style, not mine, which was not very thorough. I used to think my own way was not so bad, but as I matured, his way, which was always methodical and thorough, became my style, something of which I could be proud.
My mother was equally organized and creative. She resurrected one of her old pastimes from her Chicago days: antique hunting. She had become close friends with a neighbor, Katy West, who had lived across the street from us in South San Francisco. Katy showed her how to go “garage sailing,” that is, to seek out neighborhood garage and yard sales for bargains. The first thing my mother had bought was a silver butler’s ashtray. She took off after that, hunting down antiques many a Saturday morning and coming home with amazing “finds” of Royal Doulton, Sevres, Capodimonte, and Belleek porcelain and a number of silver spoons and other pieces.
We were never far from family. My great-uncle and great-aunt, Phil and Benita McCormick, their daughter Jane and her husband, Eldon “Ole” Olson, and granddaughter lived a short drive away up the peninsula. We spent a lot of time visiting each other, with Aunt “Detty,” as we called Benita, and Uncle Phil usually being the anchors of our family gatherings. In addition to our visits with them, we often hosted relatives from out of town and found that living in California made it easy for people to want to visit us!
My parents were not wealthy, but they went out of their way to help others, giving what they could and never asking for reward or recognition. They especially wanted to give back to those who had once helped them. When the truck driver who had helped us in Mexico mentioned in a letter that his son had lost his eyesight in an accident, they arranged for the Lions Club (to which my father belonged) to sponsor an eye operation to help his restore his sight. The surgery was unsuccessful, but they let the young man stay at our home for a few months after that so he could have a taste of life in the United States. When they heard that Dr. Jose Felipe Franco wanted his young granddaughter to learn English, they brought her to stay with us over the summer.
After we had lived in San Jose a couple of years, my parents decided to go into business for themselves again. They had run a silk screen printing business in their early married years in Chicago, Illinois, and they decided to apply what they had learned to a new field, the advertising specialty field.
Advertising specialties are a form of marketing – what some people would call the imprinted “giveaways” that businesses give their clients and politicians give their constituents and potential voters, such as pens, balloons, calendars, and gadgets.
My parents named their business Gilbert Advertising Specialties, because my father’s first name was easier for people to pronounce his last name of Huesca. They started it at home and moved it eventually to a large showroom and office, where they served clients large and small, local and nationwide. They enjoyed working with young and energetic salesmen and went out of their way to train them and encourage them to excel at their job. They also wanted my sisters and me to appreciate how much work was involved in running a successful business. To this end, they encouraged us to help them and taught us about customer service, professionalism, accuracy, and quality control. They took great pride in their work and were highly respected in their field until they retired in the mid-1970s and sold the business.
They had realized their dreams and of settling down, raising a family, and giving back to others in thanksgiving for what they had received. They attributed this to the grace of God and their strength together as a loving couple who were one in thought, word, and deed.
What a blessing they were not just for my sisters and me, but for all who would come to know them.
Copyright © 2013 Linda Huesca Tully