Sentimental Sunday: Family Treasures

 
When we moved from Mexico City to California in the spring of 1967, what I dreaded most was being far from our extended Huesca family. 
 
Cause for Celebration:  Our family got together for holidays but also birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions, such as this one, taken between 1956 – 57.  My mother wrote the names on the photo above.  My grandmother, Catalina (Perrotin) Huesca, is in the dark dress with the lace collar, next to her mother, María (Amaro) Perrotin.

 

Back in those days, our life in Mexico was centered on family, rather than on activities. In our family, my grandmother or Abuelita, Catalina (Perrotin) Huesca, was the matriarch, and she held court on the usual family days: Christmas, Three Kings Day, Mother’s Day, and her birthday, May 31st. Aside from that, everyone was welcome to come to Sunday afternoon dinner at her home on Carpio Street in the Colonia Santa María la Ribera neighborhood, where despite the postage-stamp size of her kitchen, there was always a multi-course meal with plenty of delicious food to go around.
 
My great-grandmother, Maria (Amaro) Perrotin, who was in her late 90s, could either be found at Abuelita’s house or at her own home next door.  There, she would line up a row of tiny children’s wooden rush chairs gaily painted in bright colors.  Once we children were seated, she would sit on a tiny chair, too, facing us right at our level. She had been shrinking for many years due to her advanced age and fit quite nicely in the miniature chairs. In fact, at nine years old, I already towered over her. Her small stature and her fragility appealed to us and made us feel rather protective of her.  We had no idea that for all her delicateness, she had outlived three husbands and four children and raised her two surviving daughters mostly on her own through some of the most trying periods of Mexican history.

My father was the third of eleven children born in the state of Veracruz, on Mexico’s eastern seaboard, to Catalina (Perrotin) and Cayetano Huesca. As all of them lived in the Federal District by the 1960s (except for my uncle Carlos, who had moved to Chicago, Illinois), that meant that most of the time we had the pleasure of being around one or more of our 18 uncles and aunts and over 40 first cousins, not to mention my grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-aunt and a number of other relatives.

As all the brothers and sisters had taken an active part in the family hotel and restaurant business in Veracruz, it was only natural that most of them would become entrepreneurs themselves.  Not long before my grandfather, Cayetano Huesca, died in 1937, the family had begun yet another business:  making embroidered linens for hotels and restaurants.  

Enrique and Eduardo were the eldest of the remaining 11. Uncle Enrique used to say that to have a successful business, you have to find a need and fill it.  This is probably what the family did – found a dearth of quality custom-made linens and decided to make them themselves.  The whole family worked together – a given for such large family.  Enrique managed the business.  My father and Eduardo traveled around the country selling and distributing the linens.The younger siblings did their part, too, often hurrying home from school to work on the sewing machines and irons or fold the finished products.  

Eventually the children grew up and started lives and families of their own. Eduardo set off to open his own linen embroidery business a few miles away from Enrique’s.  My grandfather Cayetano’s brother, Jesús Huesca, helped Enrique in his business. Slightly bent, he was a quiet, gentle man who dressed in light khaki shirts with bolo ties and matching slacks and wore a straw hat.  By the time we met him, he must have been in his late seventies.  He was always glad to see us and after a big hug, he would take us by the hand and lead us through the factory, pointing out the latest embroidery designs or letting us use our fingers to trace over the embroidered patterns on the finished tablecloths.

Enrique and my father were nine years apart, but they could have been twins for all their similarities.  They thought alike, dressed alike, and had the same mannerisms.  They finished each other’s sentences, even years after we had moved from Mexico City.  He and my Aunt Meche had four sons, while my parents had four daughters.

Uncle Enrique and my father used to take our families together on Sunday drives into the country, where we would have picnics, go horseback riding, and go swimming.  Health conscious since his youth, Enrique walked and exercised several miles every day, did not smoke, and ate sensibly, way into his old age.  He loved books and music and was very spiritual, often discussing God and morality with us.  Sometimes during our visits he would have me read the front section of the newspaper and discuss the day’s stories, to improve my Spanish language comprehension and pronunciation.  I loved being around him and my aunt and their sons, who were like big brothers to me.

Eduardo’s business was on Carpio Street, just a couple of blocks from my grandmother’s house and across the street from the famous Alameda Park. My great aunt Blanca Perrotin, who was my grandmother’s younger maiden sister, used to help Uncle Eduardo in his business, embroidering beautiful floral designs on table linens, aprons, and sheets.  She liked to stay busy and worked with him well into her eighties.

Uncle Eduardo visited my grandmother daily and years later moved in with her. He was either divorced or separated by then. For this reason, I never had the pleasure of meeting his children (I think he had a son and a daughter), something I regret.  My sisters and I might have reminded him of them, because he always talked about them when he was around us.  He was a philosopher at heart and loved discussing life and politics with anyone who would listen.  Tia Blanca usually sat at my grandmother’s dining room table, recalling family stories and poring over old photographs.  It was hard to get anything past her; she had excellent hearing and a mind like a steel trap, and she could be quick to correct a detail from a conversation going on in the next room and go right back to what she was doing without skipping a beat.  

She was always bringing out boxes and albums of family photographs and knew the stories behind all of them. How I wish I knew what happened to those treasures! Some of those photographs were of our English cousins, the Bennetts. They were cousins of my grandmother and Blanca’s who lived in England and, according to Tia Blanca, had perished during the Second World War.  Happily, this was one of the few times my aunt was mistaken; decades later my husband and I would visit some of the Bennetts in England, where they were very much alive.

My Uncle Mario usually brought flowers or some sweet treat when he came to dinner on his breaks from his job as a trolley driver. His powder blue uniform and cap complemented his handsome red hair and blue eyes, which were always twinkling.  A bachelor at that time, he used to joke to my parents that he wanted to marry a gringa –  an American – like my mother.  He was quite a people-watcher and always had a funny story to tell about his passengers. When I remember him, it is always with a broad smile on his face.  
 

My father’s youngest brother, now in his seventies, was a young man back then, fresh out of university, newly married, and beginning what would become a successful career in communications.  Though he had been only a baby when his father died, he inherited Cayetano’s business acumen and passion for his family.  I remember my parents marveling at his energy, vision, and generosity.  He has not changed and continues to look out lovingly for both his immediate and extended family with an enormous heart of gold.

My father always said his sisters were some of the most beautiful women in Veracruz state.  Those were the words of a loving brother, to be sure, but there was no question that they were beautiful, outside and in.  They became the sisters my mother never had and showered my sisters and me with attention, hugs, and kisses.

Victoria, the oldest, had been a beauty queen in Orizaba.  She had two nicknames that described her aptly, La Muñeca, or the doll, and Bella, or Beauty.  She was petite and delicate and like two of her brothers, had gorgeous natural red hair and blue eyes.  She was a widow and worked hard to support her two daughters with a small sandwich shop she ran from her home.  We often went to visit her and played a Mexican version of Ring Around the Rosy or card  games with her younger daughter.

I do not remember visiting my aunt Lucha (Lucia) much, probably because she lived quite far from us, though in the same city, and her children were much older than we were.  I wish I had known her better.  I seem to remember hearing that she had been ill quite a bit.  This may be why she did not come over, but everyone loved her.

Aunt Delia Domitila lived near La Villa, or the neighborhood famous for the location of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  When we were not at her apartment and playing with her youngest son, she was at our house or my grandmother’s, showing us her latest crafts. She was such a creative lady, always crocheting doilies and making dolls and gifts for others. She also was a smart dresser and an excellent cook.  Always the life of the party, her nickname was La Periquita – the parakeet – partly because she loved to talk and partly because her voice was so musical. It could be hard to get a word in edgewise sometimes when she got excited about something, but she was so much fun that no one seemed to mind.  She was always showing us photos of her children and in later years was extremely proud that all had become distinguished professionals.

My two youngest aunts, who are in their eighties now, married performers who played in the Jarocho group of Andrés Huesca y Sus Costeños.  Andrés was my father’s cousin, known worldwide for his traditional harp playing, coupled with the traditional music of Veracruz state.  Ricardo Díaz and Rodolfo Ruvalcaba, who played guitar and sang with him, were handsome and talented and funny.  

When we visited the Ruvalcabas, my sisters and I would disappear to the TV room with our four cousins to watch episodes (subtitled in Spanish) of The Flintstones cartoons or The Beverly Hillbillies or sing Beatles songs, or play silly games together while our parents laughed downstairs over cocktails. My aunt loved to entertain and was gifted at making everyone feel welcome and happy.  She used to set an elegant table and always played what seemed to me to be very sophisticated music in the background, and Uncle Rodolfo told jokes at the bar while he made drinks for the adults and poured Cokes for the kids. They were so kind and loving to us that I never wanted to go home.

We lived next door to my father’s other sister (named for her mother) and my Uncle Ricardo.  To this day, my aunt still has the most expressively beautiful dark eyes and wavy hair. She was so youthful that when her three daughters became teenagers, people used to mistake her for their sister. She was extremely close to my grandmother and devoted herself to caring for her and her own family.  She and my mother shared many a morning cup of coffee together, talking about their daughters and their hopes and dreams for the future. She tried to teach my mother to cook Mexican food, and my mother taught her to make spaghetti and meatballs.  

Living next door to the Díazes meant we got to play with our cousins daily. We created so many memories, bonding over paper dolls and Chinese Checkers and spying on our parents together.  We became more like sisters than cousins, and I remember laughing with one of them because we looked so much alike.  We still talk frequently, and I cannot imagine what my life would be without them.

I am so grateful to my parents for giving us this marvelous opportunity to know our relatives.  Thanks to their foresight, our closeness with our Huesca relatives has grown stronger over the years as we have forged many memories together.  My children stay in touch regularly with their second cousins now and delight in being Facebook friends and talking to them on Skype. Like their parents, they cannot get over how similar they all look and sound and how much they have in common, even though they live thousands of miles away.  That is the wonderful thing about family – our love and shared history connects us through a lifetime, through generations.

When I was young, I was afraid that when we moved to California we would be too far away from our extended Huesca family in Mexico. As I write this, nearly 50 years later, I am happy to say we are closer than ever.

 

Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully

 

 

 

4 Thoughts to “Sentimental Sunday: Family Treasures

  1. What a wonderful word portrait of your family, Linda. It's so rewarding to still be in touch with the people who meant so much to you in your childhood years–despite the distance, which in past generations would have been so prohibitive. Thankfully, social media like Facebook and Skype make such a difference. It's wonderful to think the traditions are being carried down in the next generation, too. I don't think there are many people who can tell of such closeness among second cousins like that.

  2. Thanks, Jacqi. I just talked to one of my aunts this evening. She told me her granddaughter had sprained her wrist earlier this week. When I went to tell my son, he said he had already heard the news on Wednesday! This is the kind of thing that would have taken us two weeks to get (via air mail) back in the 60s. My, how times have changed! Social media can really improve our communication, and it's at its best when it comes to helping families stay in touch across miles and generations.

  3. Tia Linda, I just found out my abuelita Delia Huesca Perrotin passed away in December. 🙁 Tio Ricardo was here on monday giving a conference at my alma mater and had the chance to catch up with him.

    Can you tell me if the boys next to my periquita are tio Carlos, Ricardo and Chava?

  4. Hello, Margie!

    I'm very sorry you found out only now about your abuelita but am glad you had the opportunity to talk to your Tio Ricardo. Your grandmother was a wonderful lady, and when she laughed she had a way of lighting up a room. She loved all her family dearly, especially all her grandchildren. She must have been very proud of you.

    As for the boys next to her, I was under the impression that the tallest one was your Tio Eduardo, but you may be right about it being your Tio Carlos. Tio Ricardo will know for sure – we'll have to ask him. You are correct that the others are your Tios Ricardo and Chava.

    I'm glad you got a chance to read the blog post. Take care and much love to you! xx

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