Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)
|My father, Gilbert Huesca, and me. Chicago, Illinois,
Easter Sunday, 1956
I used to wonder why my father was so reserved and circumspect. He was not spontaneous like my mother. He was a kind and loving person who went out of his way to help his family and friends. He had tremendous integrity and honor, and he enjoyed the respect of others in his personal and professional life.
While he hoped for the best, he always prepared himself for the reasonable worst. He chose his words and planned his actions in his life as deliberately as if they were moves in the chess games he loved so much. Even when the unexpected caught him off guard, his response was measured, cautious, and thoughtful.
Recently I found myself thinking more about him this as I wrote about his personal recollection of religious persecution in 1930s Mexico. Another memory about him, my own this time, gave me pause for reflection.
When my father came home from work one day, he was met by two of these plainclothes policemen and whisked away for questioning. Before leaving, they allowed him to give a quick goodbye kiss to my mother (Joan Schiavon Huesca). In what must have been a desperate whisper, he urged her to call his best friend and respected attorney, Licenciado Ocampo Alonso.
Mr. Ocampo Alonso told my mother not to panic. He reassured her that he would contact the American embassy and go down at once to the secret police headquarters to negotiate a release. He was optimistic that my father’s status as a naturalized American citizen would aid in his release but gave no guarantees. He would have to move quickly.
Meanwhile, to be safe, he advised my mother to pack a suitcase and be ready to leave the country right away with my sisters and me in case my father was not home in four hours. After that window of time, the chances of his returning were slim.
I was only 11 years old then, but I was the oldest child. I knew my mother was counting on me, but I felt scared, confused, and helpless. Fighting back tears, I ran up the two flights of stairs to our rooftop patio, where I could look across the courtyard adjoining our two houses into Mr. Torres’ study.
It was dusk. The old man sat at his desk under a stark shadeless light bulb, intently folding and cutting out one string of paper dolls after another. I stared at him in disgust and disbelief. How he could do such a mindless thing without a care in the world while my daddy was being interrogated somewhere and we might never see him again? Even at my young age, I could see the man must not have been in his right mind.
My father’s attorney obtained his release that evening. When he walked through our front door, my mother, who had stayed strong for us all evening, burst into tears. My father tried to hold back his emotion, too, but it was no use. He cried as he threw his arms around her and us and held on tightly.
We later learned that he had not been charged with any wrongdoing. I am sure he filled my mother in on the details, but as far as I know, he never talked about it beyond that and tried to forget those hours of fear and dread.
It must be terrifying to be in such jeopardy and have no control over your outcome, to not know whether you would ever see your loved ones again or you would even make it out alive. Though I clearly remember feeling frightened for my father and for our family, I cannot even begin to imagine all the thoughts that must have gone through his head.
Only now do I see that this experience, coupled with his personal witness to religious persecution in the 1930s, were defining moments in my father’s life. They must have had a lot to do with why he lived with a sense of uncertainty and reserve.
Next: Thankful Thursday: Life’s Lessons, Part 3 – The Forces that Shape Us
To read the other installments in this three part series, please click on the links below:
Part 1: Church Record Sunday – Life’s Lessons: Unbreakable Faith
Did you know Gilbert Huesca, or are you a member of the Huesca family? Share your memories and comments below.