Sentimental Sunday: “…Wise unto Salvation”

Inscription in Bible by Catherine O’Grady Perrotin to her grandson, Edward Bennett, 1893
Cover of Bible given by my great-great-grandmother, Catherine (O’Grady) Perrotin to Edward Bennett, eldest child of María Dolores Perrotin and Timothy Bennett.  It has been passed down to my cousin, Dorothy (Meek) Stephens, daughter of Jane Bennett, Edward’s sister and the youngest child of Maria Dolores and Timothy Bennett.


Edward also was François and Catherine Perrotin’s first grandchild. He as born in Orizaba, Veracruz, on October 21, 1891, just a few months after François’ death. His birth must have been a comfort and source of joy to Catherine, who was grieving for her beloved husband.

The inscription reads:

Edward W. Bennett
by his Grandmother
Catherine with Love
Search the Scripture
which is able to
make you wise
unto Salvation.

The date of the inscription indicates that Catherine sent this to Edward, now in Ruardean, Gloucestershire, England, with his parents, from her own home in Orizaba, Mexico. Two years later, she would leave Mexico forever to join María Dolores, Tim, and their family in Ruardean. Surely Edward and his brothers and sisters must have enjoyed the blessing of their sweet and loving grandmother Catherine.  As she was not widowed, the children must have been blessings to her, too.

Graveyard at Saint John the Baptist Church (also known as Ruardean Church). The family graves are located just behind the church, long with quite a few graves of the Bennett family, many of whom lived in the area. The graves at center are those of Timothy and Maria Dolores (Perrotin) Bennett (rectangular grave at front) and Catherine (O’Grady) Perrotin and two of her grandchildren, Edward and Mary Clements Bennett (rear). Rose Marie Bruton, the widow of Catherine’s great-grandson, Leonard Fisher, still lives in Ruardean Woodside and regularly brings flowers to the grave.
Edward Bennett died in Ruardean on June 3, 1899.  He was only eight years old.   Catherine is buried with him and with his younger sister, Mary Clements Bennett, who died at two-and-a-half years old in 1895.
The marker on the left side of the grave reads, “Catherine Perrotin  1840 – 1901”



The marker in the center (front) of the grave reads, “Edward Bennett 1891 – 1899.”  The marker on the right of the grave reads,
“Mary Clements Bennett 1892 – 1895.”

At the invitation of our English Bennett cousins, my husband and I travelled to Gloucestershire and the Forest of Dean in August of 2011.  We visited Ruardean a couple of times with Jennie and Don Murray and Dorothy, Bob, Tim, and Peter Stephens, who graciously endured our endless questions and my non-stop photography.  We also met new Bennett cousins:  Eileen, Linda, Susanne, Pearl, Marlene, Rebecca, and Joanne, among others.  It was such a wonderful feeling to know there were so many of this branch of our family, when at one time we thought there were none.

Rear view of Saint John the Baptist Church, Ruardean, Gloucestershire

It is one thing to see a picture of where your ancestors are buried.  It is another thing altogether to stand next to the graves and touch them, knowing they worshipped at this church and walked the grounds at one time, that their remains are there now, and that generations of descendants like Rose Bruton (Jennie’s mother) and Jennie and Dorothy have tended them and visited them over the years.  It overwhelms the senses.

I felt incredibly close to my great-great grandmother Catherine at that moment and still do.  The love of this family truly endures.  I feel so blessed – and grateful – to be a part of it.

Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

Marriage Record of Charles Jacques François Perrotin and Catherine O’Grady

26 January 1860
Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana

This week marks the 152nd anniversary of the marriage between Charles Jacques Fran
çois Perrotin and Catherine O’Grady (also known as Catherine Grady), on January 26, 1860, in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Here is a copy of their Certificate of Marriage.  A transcription follows, along with a short background of a legendary Catholic priest who united the couple in Holy Matrimony.


State of Louisiana   }
Parish of Caddo      }
I hereby certify that on the 26th day of Jany 1860, I being a minister of the Gospel and authorized to celebrate the bonds of matrimony have celebrated the marriage between François Perrotin and C. Grady in the presence of the undersigned witnesses.
François Perrotin
Catherine Grady       X her Mark
Nancy Petters                                                                                
A Cook                                                                                                 
J P. Brinck                                                                                                                                                                                                      
Recorded 9th
(illegible) 1860
            Shreveport the 26th of January 1860, I the undersigned J. Pierre, Catholic parish of Shreveport have joined in holy and lawful wedlock after license of the Court has been obtained Mr. F. Perrotin and Wife Catherine Grady.  In testimony thereof its parties François Perrotin, Catherine O’Grady, N. (illegible)     A. G. Cook, Prof. Dr. Casiez Cte, Beaumont have hereunto affixed their names. 
                                                                                                J. Pierre
                                                                                                C. V.

What the Record tells Us

According to this record, François and Catherine were no youngsters when they were married.  He was 42; she was 25 – a bit older than the typical brides of the time.  The priest’s  notation that Catherine signed her name with an X, “her mark”  suggests she could not read and write.  That would not be unusual for a young girl who fled dire poverty during the Great Irish Potato Famine.

There were three witnesses to the marriage: Nancy Petters, A. Cook, and J.P. Brinck.

I could not find Nancy Petters in any of my research, but I did find J.P. Brinck in the United States 1860 Census.  He was a 34-year-old boot and shoe manufacturer from Norway, married and the father of five young children who ranged in age from six months to eight years old.  Another record lists him as Johannes Petter Brinck.  Was Nancy Petters his wife? The census shows his wife’s initials were C.E.  She was a milliner, so she might have known or even worked with Catherine, a seamstress.

Two people by the last name of Cook appear in the Perrotin’s lives over a span of years.  This record is the first instance.  “A. Cook” could have been either Thomas or Robert Cook, father and son, shown in the 1860 census as neighbors of the Perrotins.  Thomas, age 78, was a gardener at the time; Robert was an 18-year-old a gin maker.  As Robert would have not been considered of legal age, it seems plausible that his father was the marriage witness and possibly used the initial of his middle name.  The second time the name Cook emerges in the Perrotin’s lives is in Orizaba, Mexico, where they moved in the late 1860s.  Like them, he might have been part of the sizable expat colony that migrated to Orizaba to work on the fledgling Mexican Railroad in the mid-nineteenth century. “Your friend, Cook,” as he signed himself, either gave his photograph to Catherine before she moved from Mexico to England in 1895, or maybe he mailed it to her from Orizaba. In the photo, he looks to be about 50 or so, which would line up with the age Robert Cook would have been by then.

Father John Pierre, French Missionary

“J. Pierre” was Father John Pierre, the founding pastor of Holy Family Church, the first Catholic church in Shreveport.  As a seminarian in France, Pierre had been recruited by Bishop Augustus Martin of the then-new Diocese of Natchitoches, to do missionary work.  He arrived there in 1854.  On his ordination date one year later, Bishop Martin appointed Father Pierre as pastor of the first parish of the diocese, Holy Apostles.  When he became aware that the Catholic families in the nearby city of Shreveport had no priests or places to worship,  Father Pierre persuaded the bishop to let him expand his missionary work. He bought land on the corner of Fannin and Marshall Streets in Shreveport, where he built a small wood frame church (the first in Shreveport) in 1856.  He replaced it with a larger brick church three years later.  This was Holy Family Church and most likely is where he married François and Catherine.

Father John Pierre, center
Thirteen years later (and long after  François and Catherine had departed Shreveport), the beloved Father Pierre died of yellow fever, one of five Catholic priests to be stricken during a tragic epidemic.  It was a sad day for the people of Shreveport, who had known Father Pierre as a tireless evangelizer for the Church and a devoted minister to the sick.  Another priest of the time, Father Joseph Gentille, wrote of Father Pierre, “His death was a public calamity.  He was loved and esteemed by all.”

In a fateful coincidence, yellow fever would go on to claim the life of the Perrotin’s only son, Francisco, some 26 years later in Orizaba, Mexico.

Copyright (C) 2012  Linda Huesca Tully

Ralph Schiavon – Part Four: Twilight

Ralph Schiavon

January 27, 1898 – August 16, 1970


(Last in a four part series about my wonderful grandfather)

Ralph Schiavon, at train station,
Chicago (date unknown)

My grandmother Alice had lost her eyesight in the early 60s.  Her diabetes worsened, and she died at home on New Year’s Day in 1963.  My parents moved our family to Mexico City the following year.  We stayed there until 1967, when my sister Joyce became ill and we had to leave the high altitude city.  We moved back to the States and settled in  California with its warm Mediterranean like-weather.

Now in his late 60s, Ralph began to think about retiring.  He spent more time with Tom and Angie and their family, as well as meeting old friends for dinner or an evening out.  He enjoyed inviting his brothers Leo and Tony and his cousin Ralph Sannella and their wives and children up to the family cottage, Bunny Rest, in Big Blue Lake, Michigan.  And of course, he continued visiting his mother, Emanuela, and his family back in Massachusetts.

Emanuela Sannella Schiavone was now in her 90s.  For many years after Vito’s death, she had lived with Filomena’s family, but as she became increasingly bedridden, her children decided it was time to move her into a nursing home.  Ralph and Leo arranged a room for her at the Don Orione Nursing Home in Revere. 

Ralph loved his mother dearly.  He visited her twice a year, taking the train from Chicago to Boston for Mother’s Day in the spring and later in the fall.  He and Leo contributed to the building of a new wing for the nursing home, ever mindful of the loving care she had given them as children.  For these efforts, as well as for their philanthropic contributions to the postwar rebuilding of their native land, the Italian government had awarded Ralph and Leo the Stella della solidarietà italiana, or the Star of Solidarity, and made them Honorary Cavalieri, or Knights, of the Italian Republic.  The Cavaliere, similar to a British knighthood, is regarded as the highest honor that can be bestowed on an individual by the Italian government.


Order of the Italian Star of Solidarity,
originally established in 1947, recognized
expatriates and foreigners for outstanding
contributions to the reconstruction of post-
World War II Italy.
Emanuela, who had never learned English or even to read or write in Italian, had been relegated to a lonely life.  Unlike many immigrant women around her who worked in the factories, she had stayed home to care for her children and was somewhat limited to her Italian neighborhood.  Her granddaughter, Gloria Scicchitani Johnson, Filomena’s daughter, remembered that Emanuela prayed often throughout the day.  Unable to read, she recited from memory Bible stories and stories of the lives of the Saints that the village priest in San Sossio had told her many years ago.  Though she could converse with her own children, many of her grandchildren could not speak Italian and did not understand her.  She could watch TV, but she had no idea what the people on it were saying.  It was no wonder that she looked forward to her sons’ visits and seemed to come more to life when they came.  Pasquale was present during these visits, and the brothers held animated political discussions long after tucking Emanuela into bed for the evening.
Left to right:  Pasquale Schiavone, Emanuella Schiavone,
and Ralph Schiavon, Revere, MA, about 1960
Shortly after his 78th birthday, Pasquale “Pat” Schiavone fell ill in early December of 1965, just as Ralph was preparing to return home from Boston.  He was diagnosed with uremic poisoning – the final stage of kidney failure.  He died a few days later on December 7th.   His death came as a shock to Ralph.
Emanuela had been suffering from advanced heart disease, and she died five months later on April 18, 1966.  At the time, no one knew her exact age and believed her to be 103.  In fact, she was just a few months short of her 99th birthday.
In the years that followed, Ralph became acutely aware of his own mortality and growing loneliness.  He began to have health challenges of his own, and after being a widower for six years, he realized that he could not go on living alone.  In July of 1969 he married Emily Scheurer, and the newlyweds flew to Italy on honeymoon.
It turned out that for many years, Emily had lived two doors down the street from Ralph in a single-story, red brick Tudor house at 7133 South Luella.  I remember meeting Emily when I was a little girl of about 5, though we didn’t know her name at the time.  With our wild imaginations, my friends and I thought her house looked just like that of the witch in the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale.  Perhaps she unwittingly had perpetuated that impression one Halloween when she greeted all the trick-or-treaters wearing a pointy witch’s hat and stirring a large cauldron filled with steaming black ice.
One afternoon, we were playing on the sidewalk when Emily appeared at her door and offered us some apple pie she had just finished baking.  To us, this could only confirm that she was a witch, because witches were wily and always used apples as a ruse to trick children so they could eat them.  My friends screamed and ran home, but for some reason I stayed behind.  She beckoned to me, and I found myself walking up the walkway to her door.
Emily invited me in and gave me a piece of her witch-pie.  Terrified, I took it because I had been taught to be polite.  I gingerly bit into the crust, wondering whether I would be poisoned, eaten, or ever see my parents again.  To my friend’s and my own surprise, I lived!  Although my miraculous survival (not to mention the tastiness of the pie) should have been sufficient evidence for us kids that “the lady in the witch’s house” might just be a nice older lady after all, we continued to keep our distance.
Ralph and Emily were married for two years, and her companionship surely filled a void during the latter part of his life.  During the summer of 1970, Ralph’s health worsened, and he began losing weight.  A lifelong smoker and recently diagnosed diabetic, he was suffering from emphysema and colon cancer.
Ralph’s family kept vigil with him during his final stay at Chicago’s Wesley Memorial Hospital as he drifted in and out of consciousness.  On the morning of August 16th, before his family arrived to see him, Ralph asked one of his nurses to turn on the television so he could watch Sunday Mass.  She obliged and noticed a faint smile appear on his face as she left the room.  She returned just as Mass was ending in time to see him close his eyes one last time.
He was 72 years old.
From what I heard years later, Emily Scheurer Schiavon lived for several years after Ralph’s death, and then her only child, Yvonne Cooksey, brought her to live near her in Madison, New Jersey, where she died a short time later.
Coincidentally, as I write this, it is Ralph Schiavon’s birthday.  How I wish I could tell my dear grandfather – my Baba – that I love him and miss him, but somehow I feel he must know.  I think he would be happy that his memory lives on through his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and that we are grateful for the many blessings he gave us through his legacy of devotedness to his family, strong work ethic, love of learning, unwavering integrity, and pride in his heritage.  Baba, grazie per tutto.  Vivrai sempre nei nostri cuori.  



You will live on forever in our hearts.




Copyright (C) 2011 Linda Huesca Tully








Ralph Schiavon – Part Three: Halcyon Days

Ralph Schiavon

Halcyon Days

(Third of a four part series about my maternal great-grandfather)

A self-made man, my grandfather, Ralph Schiavon, was not afraid of anyone.  Not even “Scarface” Al Capone.

In the late 1920s, Ralph was working as a supervisor for the Internal Revenue Service and lived on the South Side of Chicago with his wife Alice and their two small children, Tom and Joan (my mother), when two of Capone’s henchmen summoned him to the mobster’s infamous headquarters in the Windy City at the Lexington Hotel.  There, he was asked to help a paesan, “Mr. Capone” to straighten out the books,” for which he would receive a handsome recompense.  As Ralph sat there listening to the men, his mind was racing.

As an employee of the IRS, he surely was aware that Al Capone was under scrutiny for tax evasion.  Though Capone ran a number of illegal gambling and bootlegging operations, he had made sure that all his assets and properties were not in his name but in those of his front men.  He had never filed an income tax return or declared any taxable income or assets.

Ralph knew he was in a delicate situation.  The request for an IRS agent’s help was brazen enough, but the thought that he should regard Capone as his paesan might have rankled him, too.  While he knew there could be consequences for saying no to Al Capone or his henchmen, he was a moral man with a strong sense of integrity that was far greater than any fear he might have felt.  Thanking the men for the offer, he tactfully said he could not be of much help and was astounded when he was dismissed summarily.  He hurried home, looking over his shoulder all the way for fear of reprisals against him or his loved ones, but fortunately nothing ever happened.  He must have breathed an enormous sigh of relief in 1932, when Capone was convicted of tax evasion.

Like many Americans at the time, Ralph’s job fell victim to the Great Depression, and he and Alice found themselves in dire financial straits.  To ease the burden, they sent my mother, then two years old, to live with Alice’s mother and maiden aunt until they were able to get back on their feet some four years later.  It was as though history was repeating itself, as Emanuela Schiavone had sent her own toddler Ralph to live with two maiden ladies so many years before in San Sossio.

Ralph had always been resourceful and was able to find a job at a grocery store.  Though it was a better place than most to work during such hard times when many people were starving, it just helped the family get by.

Still regretting that he had not been able to attend college, Ralph determined to not let this happen to his youngest brother, Leo, who had shown great academic promise.  He mustered enough money to send Leo to college, first to the University of Chicago and then to Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana.  This was no small effort, considering he began the endeavor around 1928 and was somehow able to see it through to Leo’s graduation from Notre Dame in 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression.  It must have taken a great deal of sacrifice, but Ralph loved his brother very much and believed Leo was worth it.

It was a proud day for the Schiavones and indeed, the entire town of Revere when Leo graduated from Notre Dame cum laude.  Leo was the first Italian-American from the town to graduate from college, and the mayor threw a party at City Hall and invited everyone to celebrate the accomplishment.  Leo went on to earn an advanced law degree at DePaul University in 1934 and was hired by a Chicago law firm, eventually repaying his brother in full.

Ralph established his own practice as a tax consultant with an office at the Title & Trust Building at 111 West Washington Street in downtown Chicago.  As things improved, he and Alice took a vacation to Cuba.  Upon their return in 1933, they brought Joan, then five years old, back home to live with them again.

On May 4, 1935, Vito Schiavone, Ralph’s father, afflicted for several years with arteriosclerosis and kidney disease, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.  He died exactly one week later at the family home at 33 Eastern Avenue in Revere.  Ralph brought his mother, Emanuela, to live with him and his family for a short time afterward.  She later returned to Revere and moved in with Ralph’s sister, Filomena Schiavone  Scicchitani and her husband, Tommasso.  She stayed with them for most of the remainder of her life.  Filomena herself would die an untimely death a few years later on October 23, 1941.  That evening, she had just received an award at an American Legion banquet for her involvement in local Democratic politics and was returning to her seat when she collapsed of a cerebral hemorrhage, as had her father.  Her death came as a terrible shock to her brothers, who loved her dearly.

My mother worshipped her father and fondly remembered his tenderness to her as a child.  In contrast to his own stern upbringing, Ralph never spanked her or Tom.  Not long after Joan had been brought back home, she broke a favorite mirror of her mother’s.  Alice was furious and sent Joan to her room to wait for a spanking from her father home when he got home from work.  My mother later described the incident in her autobiography:

“All afternoon, I worried.  My father had such BIG HANDS! ‘This will be some spanking,’ I thought.  The hours passed, the front door opened, and there was my Daddy…so BIG.  He had a smile on his face, which quickly disappeared as my Mother told him of my misbehavior.  A stern, serious expression crept across his face, and I stood there, grasping my Mother’s dress hem, trying to disappear behind her.

“My father grunted, ‘Come with me.’  I followed as slowly as possible, cringing inside with fear.  We entered the bathroom; my Father closed the door, turned to me, and asked if I was sorry for what I had done.  In a small voice, I replied that I was very sorry and promised never to do it again.

“In the meantime, my Mother, waiting outside in the hall, was having second thoughts about my punishment.  A smile appeared on my Father’s face, and he plotted with me to clap his big hands together, and I would scream as loud as I could. . . My Mother called out for my Father to stop spanking me.  We opened the door with big smiles, I in my Father’s arms.  From that time on, there was a special bond between (us), as through my life, (he) tried to shield me from harm.”

My great-grandfather, Thomas McGinnis, built this home on
South Drexel Avenue for his family in 1913; after he
and my great-grandmother Mary Jane died, my grandparents
Ralph and Alice Schiavon moved their young family here.

When Alice’s mother,

 died in the summer of 1940, the Schiavons moved into the McGinnis family home on South Drexel Avenue, on Chicago’s South Side, where they lived for several years before moving to a larger home on Saint Lawrence Avenue.  Ralph loved these homes with their large gardens, and he spent long hours digging out weeds, planting flowers, and trimming hedges.  He loved working with his hands.  Maybe he felt connected to his roots, especially his Sannella grandparents, who had been gardeners by trade in San Sossio.

Ralph Schiavon in his garden on
Saint Lawrence Avenue, Chicago.

Ralph traveled back to Italy at the end of World War II and was shocked by the poverty and devastation there.  The large numbers of children who had been orphaned during the war especially moved him.  He befriended a young priest, Father Piccinini, who ran an orphanage in Southern Italy, and he began sending funds to assist this and a number of other postwar relief efforts.  

In 1946, the Schiavon’s eldest child, Ralph Thomas, known as “Tom,” married Angelina Ciliberto, a strikingly lovely brunette from Iacurso, Calabria, Italy.  They went on have four children:  Ralph, Alice, Michele, and Paul.  

Alice had taken up several hobbies that included doll and stamp collecting.  Over the years, she also had become an avid collector of fine antiques.  Ralph supported her in these interests, and he helped her open an antique and gift gallery, Chatham Galleries.  In 1950, he sent Alice and Joan to Europe on the luxury liner Queen Mary on an antique buying trip.

While Alice was delighted at the prospect of going off to Europe to hunt for new treasures, Joan, 21 at the time, balked at the idea.  She envisioned herself trapped for months among a boring melange of older people and even older antiques.  Ralph saw the trip as an opportunity for his sheltered daughter to be exposed to a rich world of culture, tradition, and history.  He arranged for my mother and my grandmother to stay in the finest staterooms and hotels and tour the most beautiful cities on the continent.  It would be the trip of a lifetime for my mother, who returned to New York from Cherbourg, France on the cruise liner Queen Elizabeth I as a wiser and more worldly young woman, thanks in large part to her father’s vision and encouragement.

Sometime during the 1950s, the governor of Illinois appointed Ralph as State Bail Bondsman Inspector.  He continued his tax consulting business, commuting by train daily to his office in the Loop downtown. He also joined the American Legion and the Swedish Club, where he held court with colleagues and clients alike and often hosted large banquets for them.

As much as he loved eating out, he was an equally accomplished cook who enjoyed inviting people over for his memorable Italian dishes, which he had learned to cook from his mother.  This was quite a godsend for all concerned, as Alice was uninterested in cooking and gladly relinquished kitchen duties to her gourmet husband while she used her artistic talents to decorate their home lavishly and create elegant table settings.  The house overflowed with family and guests on holidays.  Thanksgiving in particular called for Ralph’s signature turkey with a rich dressing of mascarpone and other Italian cheeses, Genoa salami, golden raisins, and pine nuts.  His daughter-in-law, Angelina Ciliberto Schiavon (my Uncle Tom’s wife – and my godmother), once remarked that on these occasions, it was hard to tell by evening’s end which was more stuffed – the turkey or the guests.

My precious mother and grandparents, Joan, Alice, and
Ralph Schiavon, Chicago, Illinois, early 1960s.

One day in 1954, a handsome young man walked through the door of Alice and Joan’s shop to buy a birthday card for his mother back in Mexico City.  He and his landlady had been out shopping, and the landlady, having met Joan Schiavon on a previous visit to the store, dared the young man to go inside to ask her for help.  He and Joan were immediately attracted to one another, and they began taking long walks around the block together.  Walks turned into movies and dinners, and soon the young couple’s relationship deepened into love.

My grandfather, still protective of his daughter, was not happy when the young man, Gilbert Huesca, came to the house to ask him for Joan’s hand on the Fourth of July, her birthday. He had assumed his daughter would marry an Italian, just as her brother tom had a few years earlier.  He looked down sternly at Gil.  “Do you have any insanity in your family?” he asked.

The man who would become my father looked squarely back.  “No,” he smiled.  “Do you?”

Ralph knew he had met his match.  Had he remembered that he, too, had married a non-Italian?  He gave his permission and began planning a large wedding with a guest list that would fill the church with family and all his clients and professional contacts.

Gilbert and Joan Huesca in their first apartment,
Chicago, November 1, 1954.

My mother, who had wanted an intimate wedding, proved to be equally as willful as her father.  She and my father eloped one afternoon during his lunch break.  The date was August 19, 1954.  That evening they sent a telegram to Ralph and Alice, who were vacationing in Florida.  Though they must have been surprised by the news, they took it graciously and sent the happy couple a lovely floral arrangement with their congratulations and best wishes.

In 1959, Ralph and Alice bought a two-story residence on South Luella Avenue.  They moved into the upstairs flat and invited my parents to move our family into the flat below.  I was fairly young at the time but recall being greeted on moving day with a marvelous swing and slide set in the back yard, along with a yellow rectangular wading pool for my sisters and me.

Ralph kept his lawns in pristine condition.  Both front and back lawns were bordered by tidy boxwood shrubs and colorful flowerbeds of snapdragons, roses, petunias, geraniums, and birds-of-paradise (my grandmother’s favorite flower).  He also had an herb garden with sweet basil, Italian parsley, and oregano that he used in his wonderful Italian dishes.  He was always telling us to keep off the grass, yet he seemed to understand that as children we needed to run and play, and he indulged us in the way that only a loving grandfather could.

My grandparents doted on our cousins and us.  They bought my sisters and me a large Swiss-made child-size surrey with a pink-and-white fringe on top that seated four.  We used to pedal it down the block or to the park with our parents or lead neighborhood parades on Flag Day and the Fourth of July.  Though he was not one to fuss over children, Ralph loved each of us, his grandchildren, dearly. His letters to my mother during the last decade of his life reflected his pride in all eight of us as we grew into young men and women.


 My grandparents, Alice and Ralph Schiavon, with me (at age 1),
at my parent’s apartment, Chicago, Thanksgiving 1956.

I have a vivid memory of one Sunday afternoon, when I ran upstairs after Mass to visit my grandparents.  My Nana Alice, who had been ill of complications from insulin-dependent diabetes, was napping, and my grandfather was sitting in his big leather club chair in the den.  He was watching a Chicago Cubs baseball game on TV and listening to a Notre Dame ball game on a small transistor radio he had up to his ear.  He motioned to me to come in, and I clambered onto his lap. 

We sat there, he and I, in awkward silence together for quite some time, he puffing occasionally on his cigar and I wondering what to say to him.  Unlike Nana, who could be the consummate playmate to her grandchildren, my Baba – that was the closest I could come to as little girl to saying the Italian Babbo, or Grandpa – was not easy to talk to, and at seven years old, I really didn’t understand why.  What I did understand in some obscure way, though, was that even on the lap of that silent, enigmatic man, I felt safe and loved.

Copyright ©  2011  Linda Huesca Tully

NEXT:  Part Four – Twilight

Ralph Schiavon – Part Two: Young Immigrant in a New World

Ralph Schiavon

Young Immigrant in a New World




Ralph Schiavon, Boston, about 1910

(Second in a four-part series)

Like most newly-arrived ethnic groups during the turn of the century, Italian immigrants dreamed of becoming successful in America.  This meant owning their own home.  To the former peasants who for decades had endured la miseria – a miserable existence of innumerable indignities and hopelessness and poverty in their native land – home ownership, the ultimate definition of prosperity to the Southern Italians, represented independence, security, prosperity, and self-respect.

Vito Schiavone, who first arrived in America in 1890, had lived for a time with his brothers-in-law in a tenement house at 198 Endicott Street at the heart of Boston’s North End.  Living in that crowded, dirty neighborhood had made him determined to buy his own home in another part of town so his family would not have to bear such oppressive conditions.

The dream was not unachievable, but it depended on great sacrifice and effort on the part of everyone in the family.  Vito pulled Ralph out of school as soon as he was old enough to work and sent him to join his brother Pat in a shoe factory in Roxbury. Child labor was commonplace at that time, and boys and girls in the shoe factories made up about seven percent of the total workforce in the Boston boot and shoe industry.

Children were given jobs that required little training, such as stitching shoe uppers or working in the shipping department.  Ralph worked in shipping, putting in 10 hours a day Monday through Friday and half a day on Saturdays, rain or shine.

Shoe leather would arrive at the factory in wooden boxes.  Once the crates were emptied, Ralph would break them down flat and load the wood into a small wagon so he could sell it.  For this he was paid about $6.43 a week, the average wage for a child laborer of the time.  (Men and women, by comparison, earned on average $15.17 and $10.39 a week, respectively.)

The long dreary hours left the boy without much time for a childhood. He never had a toy of his own and had little time for play.  Instead, money took on great importance in his young life as he worked long hours to help support his family.  Like other young boys, he learned to save at an early age and often walked the long distance home rather than take the streetcar, so he could have more money to give to his parents.

One freezing winter day on his way home, young Ralph met a man who gave him some baby chicks that were nearly dead from the cold.  He tucked them into his wool coat to keep them warm and set aside some of the wood from the shipping crates to make coops for them.

Upon entering the kitchen, he removed his coat and proudly showed his new pets to his parents.  While Emanuela cooed at the chicks, Vito flew into a rage at the thought that Ralph had lost money by bringing home the wood instead of selling it.  He rose from his chair and thrust his fist at his son.  Emanuela jumped in between them to block her husband.  Vito’s fist, meant for Ralph, struck Emanuela instead, knocking out her front teeth.

Emanuela recovered and nursed the chicks with an eyedropper and a little wine and warmed them on the oven door.  Ralph never forgot his mother’s loving sacrifice for him.  Needless to say, the chicks may have been pets for a time but ran the usual course that chicks do and eventually made their inevitable appearance on the dinner table.

Postcard of Wonderland Amusement Park, Revere, MA

Nicholas Schiavone, Boston, 1910

Tragedy struck the family in the spring of 1911 when eight-year-old Nicky Schiavone drowned in the marsh behind Wonderland Amusement Park, a popular Revere landmark in the early 1900s.  He and Ralph had been playing in the marsh with a young neighbor, Leo Dowling, when Leo began flailing his arms.  Nicky managed to rescue Leo but got caught in the marsh himself and began sinking into the muck.  Ralph watched in horror as the thick mud sucked his brother in deeper and deeper, until he drowned.

Some would later say that Ralph’s “lucky veil,” or caul, had protected him from the same fate as Nicky, but it seems that Ralph was in fact burdened by the fact that he had been spared instead of his brother.  The accident haunted him for the rest of his life, and he never forgave himself for not being able to save his little brother.  His children (my mother Joan and my Uncle Tom Schiavon), as well as my own sisters and I, heard the story over and over as we grew up, along with a coda of instructions on how to save a drowning person.

When Filomena married Tomasso Scicchitani in 1913 and Pasquale (known as “Pat”) married Dora Salemme two years later, Ralph became the oldest child of those still living at home.  He took on the role of a third parent to Tony and Leo, sometimes treating them more strictly than their own parents, much to the chagrin of the younger Schiavones.  Perhaps he was overcompensating for his inability to save Nicky.  From what I have heard from my own mother, Joan Schiavon, and my cousins, he saw it it that his youngest brothers would not have to leave school as he did at a young age to work.  Even in his youth he comprehended the value of an education as a path to success, and he encouraged Tony and Leo to continue their studies, making it very clear that he expected them to graduate at the top of their class.


Ralph entered the United States Navy on August 26, 1918, and received his training in Norfolk, Virginia.

Assigned as a Seaman Second Class on the submarine USS Carolina.  The tight quarters of submarine made him feel claustrophobic, and he was relieved when he was later transferred to the battleship USS Kansas.  He was a member of a crew that traveled to Brest, France, at the end of World War I to bring many of the Special Expeditionary Forces home to America.  His jobs entailed standing various forms of watch, such as lookout and security, and his days would have consisted of learning such basic duties as being part of the gun crew; setting up and using rigs for loading fuel, ammunition, and supplies; firefighting; food cleanup; sweeping and swabbing decks; and painting and polishing equipment.

Two months after he enlisted, the Armistice Treaty was signed on November 11, 1918.

In 1919, Ralph was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Station, near Chicago, Illinois.  One day while on leave he met Benita McGinnis, a young artist and member of the Chicago Movie Censorship Board.  After dating her briefly, he was invited to her home, where he noticed her younger sister, a lively, 26-year-old redhead named Alice.  He was smitten immediately by her laughter and sense of adventure and soon began courting her instead of Benita.

Although we do not know for certain how it happened, it seems that the McGinnises did not know Ralph was Italian when they first met him.  He may have deliberately dropped the “e” at the end of Schiavone, which would have put the accent on the last syllable and made it sound French, or maybe it happened some other way.  (In later years he would say that the U.S. Navy had dropped the “e” from his name to make it sound more American.  His service record and his naturalization petition, however, do not show this to be so.)  He apparently was afraid of being found out as Italian and said nothing to change Alice’s impression that she was in love with a Frenchman.

Speaking the language of
the Axis powers during
World War II was
considered “Un-American,”
as shown in this poster.

His fear was not unfounded.  For years, Italians, in particular those from the south, had been perceived as gangsters, womanizers, and lower class members of society.  They had been subjected to ethnic jokes and racial slurs such as “goombah,” “wop,” and “dago.”  During both World Wars, Italians were viewed with suspicion and often regarded as Fascists.  Italy being an enemy nation during World War II, the six thousand Italian aliens then living in the United States were required by law to register as “enemy aliens.”  This included Ralph’s mother, Emanuela, who had never changed her citizenship.  In a lesser-known incident, several hundred Italian-Americans on the West Coast were rounded up and interned in detention camps from 1941-1943, not because of anything they had done but simply because they were Italian.

In later years, Ralph himself would be mistaken for Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, as well as for the infamous mobster Al Capone.  In the latter case of mistaken identity, the Chicago police actually stopped him for a short time, releasing him only after verifying his identification.

Considering that Italians were at the bottom of the ethnic ladder in those days, it must have been a difficult decision for Ralph to change his last name to something that sounded less Italian.  Some of his family were hurt by this action and believed that he had been disloyal to his heritage.  They may have had valid reasons to feel that way, as they, too, had faced the same prejudice and discrimination – perhaps even more so because they kept their family name.

But the truth is that Ralph was not alone.  Many of his countrymen changed their names to avoid bigotry and discrimination, sometimes even translating their surnames into English.  Ralph was proud to be Italian and would never dishonored his origins, but he, as any other human being, had a right to be treated with dignity and respect.  Though we may never know the depth of the inner struggle he must have experienced over this decision, we can be certain that ultimately he did what he felt he had to do in the climate of the time.

Ralph was granted U.S. citizenship on May 12, 1919, two weeks before he was discharged from the service at Great Lakes Naval Station.  He returned to his parent’s home on Eastern Avenue in Revere and began a long-distance correspondence with Alice that would span nearly four years.

Ralph Schiavon, second window from rear,
Cologne, Germany, early 1920s

He found a job selling shoes at a store in Revere.  He soon discovered that he enjoyed working with numbers and solving problems more than selling shoes, and he began taking night school classes in accounting.  He also seems to have returned to Europe after World War I, as the photo above shows.

Alice McGinnis accepted his proposal sometime in early 1923, setting off a short personal crisis for Ralph as he realized that “the jig was up.”  He knew it was time to honest about his nationality, even if it meant losing the woman he loved.

He wrote Alice a passionate letter that spring.  In it, he confessed his Italian nationality and apologized for having deceived her, explaining that he had not wanted to lose her. He went on to tell Alice how much he loved her and that he dreamed of opening a small general store in Chicago so he could always take care of her and she would never have to work.  He closed by adding that he would understand if she decided to break off the engagement.

Alice McGinnis was not one to reject someone on the basis of his origins.  She understood prejudice only too well, as she and her family had experienced it first-hand as Irish-Americans.  It had not been that long ago that her grandfather, father, and brothers had been excluded from jobs whose ads warned that “Irish need not apply.”  

She wrote back to Ralph right away and forgave him.  The couple were married on June 18, 1923, at Saint Joachim’s Church in Chicago and honeymooned at Starved Rock Park, a popular campground not far from Chicago.

Copyright (C) 2011  Linda Huesca Tully

Next:  Part Three – Halcyon Days


Ralph Schiavon – Part One: Auspicious Beginnings

Ralph Schiavon

Born January 27, 1898
Died August 16, 1970    

The following is Part One of a four part series on the life of my wonderful Italian grandfather.       

Auspicious Beginnings

My maternal grandfather, Ralph Schiavon, was one of those rare children born with a veil over his head.

The “veil,” known medically as a “caul,” was actually part of the amniotic membrane that covers a child’s face or head.  This occurs in about 1 out of every 80,000 births. Italian superstition viewed this as an omen that such children were destined to be special and do great things, as they had gifts of wisdom and vision (also called “second sight”).  The caul itself was seen as a lucky talisman that could protect a person from harm and especially from drowning.  For this reason, it became popular for many seamen to seek these out and purchase them for their personal protection.  However, others viewed the caul as a curse because it supposedly brought with it great challenges and heavy burdens. 
As was tradition for such a special circumstance, the midwife who delivered Ralph rubbed a sheet of paper across his head and face so that the material of the caul would stick to the paper.  She then presented this new treasure to the child’s happy mother, who sealed it in a small jar for safekeeping and later carried it across the sea on the ship to America, eventually giving it to her son when he grew old enough to take care of it.  My mother said that Ralph kept the caul with him all his life.
Ralph was the third of six children born to Vito Schiavone and his wife, Emanuela Sannella, on January 27, 1898, in San Sossio Baronia, Avellino Province, just east of Naples, Italy.  Most of San Sossio’s residents were poor and illiterate and were leaving the village in droves, and many families emigrated to Boston and its environs.  Vito Schiavone left for America in 1890, barely three years after Emanuela gave birth to the couple’s first child, Pasquale.  He returned at intervals to San Sossio as daughter Filomena and sons Ralph and Nicholas were born.

Ralph, who was named for his mother’s father, Raffaele Sannella, was born with a “caul,” part of the placental membrane, covering his head.   Italian superstition had it that such children were destined to be special and do great things, as they had gifts of vision and wisdom.  The caul also was said to protect a person from harm and especially from drowning.  For this reason, it became popular for many seamen to seek these out and purchase them for their own protection.  However, others viewed it as a curse because it supposedly brought with it great challenges and heavy burdens.  Emanuela’s midwife placed the caul, also called a “white veil,” into a small jar for safekeeping and gave it to the happy mother, who later passed it on to her son.  My mother said that Ralph kept it with him all his life.

For reasons unknown, Emanuela sent Ralph to live with some maiden ladies – possibly relatives? – for the first years of his life.  They were a bit better off and kept him well fed and healthy.  They owned several farm animals, one of them a goat, from which Ralph would drink milk directly and then ride around until he was too big to carry.    

San Sossio had a rivalry with San Nicola Baronia, a village on a neighboring mountaintop.  One night before Christmas, as the Sossians prepared for their annual saints procession through the village, some of the rival townspeople sneaked into the village and stole the statues for their own procession.  A rock-throwing war between the villages ensued until the culprits returned the statues. 

In her 1987 autobiography, my mother wrote of one of Ralph’s earliest adventures:

When Daddy was five or six, he and some of his friends met on the Church steps in the village square, and planned to undertake a hunting adventure.  One boy would bring a gun, another the ammunition, another some spaghetti, and still another, some tomatoes for sauce, and they would go out into the woods to catch their dinner.  Off they went, but to their dismay, all they could catch were some little birds.  They decided to make the best of their spoils.  Cook dinner they did, and when it came time to add the “meat,” they threw in the birds – complete – feathers and all!  Needless to say, dinner was not a success!

In 1902, Vito declared that 15-year-old Pasquale was ready to go to America, and he took him along to New York on the ship S.S. Washington that May.  By then he had rented a house on Tapley Avenue in Revere, determined that the family would not live in the Boston tenements that housed so many other Italian arrivals.  Even so, Revere was a working class town, and rents were relatively expensive.  So, like many of his fellow villagers and cousins, son Pasquale (known as “Pat” in America) went to work at a shoe factory in the Boston area.  Father and son saved their earnings carefully until they were able to send for the rest of the family.

It took four years, but finally in 1906, Vito sent Emanuela the money she needed to buy passage in the steerage compartment for herself and children Maria Filomena, 16, Ralph, 8 and Nicholas, 4.  The little group departed Naples on October 6, 1906, on the S.S. Republic.  The trip took 48 days, with the Republic arriving in Boston Harbor just before Thanksgiving on November 23rd

Times were hard, and like many newly arrived immigrant families, the Schiavones expected those children who were old enough to work to help bring in enough money to house, feed, and clothe their growing family, especially as Anthony and Leo were born in Revere in 1908 and 1910, respectively.  Vito and Emanuela were frugal and in a few years managed to save enough money to buy a house just around the corner at 33 Eastern Avenue.  It was not far from Saint Anthony of Padua Church, where Ralph would serve as an altar boy for many years.

The Schiavone Family, about 1910
Left to right, back row:  Pasquale, Ralph, and Filomena
Front row:  Vito, Emanuela, Anthony, and Nicky
Photo by Fotografia Italiana, Hanover Street, Boston

Not long after arriving in America, Ralph began selling newspapers after school. He also worked for a time helping load pianos on freight cars.  Though his jobs left him little time for homework, he was a natural student and a quick study.  His principal at the Shurtleff School, Miss Adams, called him “brilliant” and “very businesslike.”  Perhaps the latter descriptionwas more revealing than at first glance, as it is clear that Ralph had to grow up quickly.  Unfortunately, Vito, who like many of his fellow immigrants had never learned to read or write in the old country, decided at some point during 1908 that Ralph had spent enough time at school and he should be working full time to help support the family.  Over Miss Adams’ loud protests, he pulled his young son out of the third grade and sent him to work in Roxbury at the same leather shoe factory as his brother Pat.  Ralph, who loved school, was devastated, but he had no other choice but to obey his father.  He was barely 10 years old, but the greatness for which he had seemed destined at birth was waning in his eyes.

Copyright (C) 2011 Linda Huesca Tully 





Calling W6RMQ . . .

Calling W6RMQ . . .

We lost Dad (aka my father-in-law, Welner “Bing” Tully) three years ago today.

He had been in hospital for about a week after his heart and kidneys failed, and he was on his way home when he died in the ambulance as it left O’Connor Hospital.


Dad was a ham radio buff from an early age – think of ham radio as his generation’s version of Facebook or Blogger — and instead of “friends,” “fans,” or “followers,” he collected calling cards — colorful postcards with the call signs, names, and cities of his fellow radio operators.  Here he is at his homemade radio station at his Aunt Amelia Binning’s home on South Grande Vista in East Los Angeles, sometime in the mid-to-late 1930’s.

Incidentally, I think this is the only picture we have of him with “long” hair – after serving in the United States Army during World War II (as a radio operator in the Pacific Theater), he wore it “high and tight” for the rest of his life.  He used to say he saved money on combs that way!

I wonder if he has a radio station up there in Heaven, so we could tell him how much we miss him but how his spirit lives on through his family and those who loved him.

Caliling W6RMQ…Bing Tully, do you read me?


Copyright © 2010 Linda Huesca Tully

Marriage Record of Francisco Perrotin and Maria Amaro

Marriage Record
Francisco Perrotin and Maria Amaro

Orizaba, Veracruz State, Mexico
March 3, 1889

The following is my translation of the Marriage record between my great-grandparents, Francisco Perrotin and María Amaro:

Number 25.

Second act of The Marriage of Francisco Perrotín with María Amaro

In the City of Orizaba, at nine in the morning of the third of March of one thousand eight hundred and eighty-nine, before me, the undersigned Judge of the Civil Registry of the Town, appeared Citizen Francisco Perrotín, demonstrating that as the term prescribed by law for the publication of his convened marriage with Miss María Amaro, without no impediment imposed whatsoever against it, asked for a date and time to celebrate it.

The Judge, certain of the above, by the individual and in agreement with him, indicated five-thirty in the afternoon tomorrow and signed with the same.     = Mr. Galindo. Francisco Perrotin = Fernández

Number 26.
Marriage of Francisco Perrotín and María Amaro

In the City of Orizaba, at five-thirty in the afternoon of the fourth of March of one thousand eight hundred and eighty-nine, before me, Agustín Portas Ariza, first Justice of the Peace, legal substitute of the Town Civil Registry, by physical impediment of the second (judge), appeared with the object of celebrating their civil marriage, the Citizen Francisco Perrotín and Miss María Amaro, the first twenty-two years old, originally from and neighbor of this City and a mechanic, current in the payment of his personal taxes, son of Mr. and Mrs. Francisco Perrotin and Catalina Ogradi (sic), married, of legal age, of this vicinity, the first originally from France, industrialist and the second from Ireland.

The bride is celibate and seventeen years of age, originally from Tecamachalco, Puebla State, of this vicinity, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Rafael Amaro and Soledad Cid, married, of legal age, originally from Tecamachalco, of this vicinity and the first an artisan. Both bride and groom demonstrated that: their matrimonial presentation of the fourth day of last February having been verified, the publications having been made as prescribed by law, without any impediments having been imposed to the contrary; that the bride’s father having given his consent in the act of the presentation and ratified by same today, in this act they petition the present Citizen Judge to authorize their concerted union.

In virtue of having fulfilled all the requirements of the law, the relative articles of the law of July twenty-third, one thousand eight hundred fifty-nine having been read to them. The bride and groom having been interrogated as to article One Hundred Fifty-seven of the State Civil Code, whether it was their will to unite in civil matrimony, each taking the other and submitting mutually to one another as husband and wife and in view of their affirmative answer, I, Agustin Portas Ariza, first Justice of the Peace in this city and legal substitute of the Town Civil Registry Judge, made the following declaration.

In the name of Society, I declare Citizen Francisco Perrotín and Miss María Amaro united in perfect, legitimate, and indissoluble matrimony. The final part of the aforementioned article was read to them. Witnesses to this union were the Citizens Félix B. Marín and Francisco Salas, both single and Francisco P. Carmona, married, all of legal Age, the first originally from Alto Songa and the second from Puebla, both of this vicinity and the third from Veracruz.

The present act was read to them, with which all agreed and signed and sworn.   = Ag. Portas Ariza = Francisco Perrotín = María Amaro, = Felix B. Marín, Francisco Salaz, F.P. Carmona.

Copyright (C) 2012  Linda Huesca Tully

Francisco Perrotin: 1866 – 1899

Francisco Perrotin
1866 – 1899

The first cases (of yellow fever) in Orizaba were all of persons living in a small radius, close around the railroad station. In the next epidemic they spread out a few hundred yards farther and took in another block of houses a little farther off from the railroad station as a center, and it may be that in course of time they will establish themselves permanently a little farther off from the railroad station. But at any rate that point, at Orizaba, is the highest point where I found the Stegomyia mosquito permanently breeding in the country of Mexico.   

 – Dr. L.O. Howard, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Entomology, reporting his findings on the initial outbreak of yellow fever in Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico, during 1899, Transactions of the Second International Sanitary Convention of the American Republics, The Willard Hotel, Washington, D.C., October 9 – 14, 1905.

My great-grandfather, Francisco Perrotín (seen here with his wife, Maria Amaro, their son, Francisco, and infant daughter, Catalina), was one of those “first cases.” A mechanic at the railroad station in Orizaba, in Veracruz state, Mexico, he was likely bitten by an infected Stegomyia fasciata mosquito as he worked on one of the engines there. He was pronounced dead at his home on San Cristóbal Street in Orizaba on Saturday, November 11, 1899, at 6:00 p.m., by Dr. Rafael Labardini, the Perrotin (and later Huesca) family physician. He was 32 years old.

A search for answers

The initial outbreak in Orizaba stunned scientists, as the offending species was not native to a city that rose 4,500 feet above sea level. Scientists and medical experts on the disease quickly descended on the area and traced the source of the disease to the mosquitoes breeding in the waste water from the Montezuma brewery, acr.oss the street from the railroad station in the port city of Veracruz. According to Dr. Narciso del Río, a top Mexican public health expert in 1903, mosquitoes were believed to have been transported inadvertently on the trains to Mexico City.  They were released when the cars were unloaded at Orizaba, accounting for the first wave of cases at and around that unfortunate station.

Yellow fever was the scourge of the late nineteenth century along the east coast of Mexico, the Caribbean, and several port cities in the United States and Central and South America. After a 3 – 6 day incubation period, victims suffered fever, headache, chills, jaundice and vomiting. Most people survived this first stage, while a fifth of those afflicted were doomed to die in misery, experiencing multiple organ failure, internal bleeding, delirium and coma. The vomit, which took on the consistency of coffee grounds (when it was in fact coagulated blood), gave the condition its Mexican name of El Vómito Negro – the Black Vomit. It might as well have been the plague for the terror it wrought in those days.

Although the modern-day world has seen a significant decrease in cases of yellow fever thanks to the wonders of vaccines, there still is no cure for it. Modern-day treatment for the disease includes offering the patient plenty of rest and fluids, blood transfusions for severe bleeding, and dialysis in the event of kidney failure.

From pot-maker to boiler-maker
If Francisco Perrotin’s demise was dramatic, so too, were his beginnings. We can trace the Perrotin family back to Melle, an ancient rural town in the region of Deux-Sevres in western France. It was rumored that his grandfather, Jacques Perrotin, had served with the Napoleonic Army. Francisco’s father, Charles Jacques François, however, had refused to perform his obligatory military service and instead left Melle for America with his brother Romain Paul. With enough money for only one ship’s passage, Romain Paul smuggled Charles Jacques François, who must have been the smaller of the brothers, in a mattress onto the “good ship” Louis XIV at Le Havre, France, arriving at New Orleans, Louisiana, on November 29, 1843. Safe from capture for draft evasion, the brothers shortened their names to François and Paul.

The sons of a long line of chaudronniers / poeliers, or oven and pot makers, François and Paul were hard-working, ambitious, and creative. The brothers arrived in America during the last stages of the Industrial Revolution.  They became entrepreneurs, building stoves and ovens and figuring out how to use their metal-working skills in new ways. They made enough money to travel to Cuba, where they stayed for a time, and returned briefly to France to settle the affairs of their newly-deceased father before returning to the United States.

In 1860, François married Catherine Grady, a young Irish seamstress who had sailed to America with her own sister some years earlier. The couple lived in Shreveport for a time before moving to New Orleans and later, according to family lore, to Niagara Falls before heading to Orizaba to make their mark on the flourishing railroad enterprise being promoted between Veracruz and Mexico City.

The Niagara Falls connection
And here is where the mystery of Francisco’s birth begins.

Family legend has it that my great-grandfather, Francisco Perrotin, was born in Niagara Falls, but no one can say for sure. We do know he was the fourth of at least five children.  Sisters Mary Clemence and Mary Catherine were born in 1860 and 1862, respectively, in Shreveport.  His sister, Maria Dolores, was born on 15 September 1866, in Orizaba, Mexico. A younger brother, Ricardo, was born around 1871 in Orizaba. If Francisco indeed was born in Niagara Falls, it could have been between 1865 and as late as March 1866, though the later he was born in this period, the more likely it would have been in Orizaba. Maria Dolores could have been born prematurely; hence, it would be possible that Francisco could be born in the same year as his sister and their mother become pregnant right afterwards. If he was born in Orizaba, it probably would have been after the first part of 1867.

Of the five vital records that mention Francisco, four place his birth sometime between 1 April 1865 and 31 May 1867. Only one, his death record, is way out of range. Maybe the informant, Porfirio Amaro (Francisco’s brother-in-law), had simply estimated his age.

1.  Marriage between Francisco Perrotin and Maria Amaro
     Date:  3 March 1889
     Age noted on record:    22
     Possible Birthdate Parameters:
     From March 4, 1867 and forward

2.  Birth Record of Francisco Perrotin, Jr (Francisco’s son)
     Date:   31 March 1890
     Age noted on record:   24 
     Possible Birthdate Parameters: 
     Between March 4 and 31, 1867

3.  Death Record of Francois Perrotin
     Date:  26 May 1891
     Age noted on record:   24
     Possible Birthdate Parameters:
     Between 27 May 1866 and 26 May 1867

4.  Birth Record of Catalina Perrotin
     Date:  31 May 1893
     Age noted on record:  26
     Possible Birthdate Parameters: 
     Between March 4 and 31, 1867

5.  Death Record of Ricardo Perrotin
Date:  31 March 1899
Age noted on record:  30
Possible Birthdate Parameters:
Between 1868 – 1869
6.  Death Record of Francisco Perrotin
     Date:  11 November 1899
     Age noted on record:  29
     Possible Birthdate Parameters: 
     Between 13 November 1869 and 12 November 1870

Looking at the death record for Francisco’s father, François, we might hope to finally solve the birth year/age discrepancies because Francisco, the informant, should be a credible source.  However, his ages vary so much that we may never know.  Without having a birth or baptism record, about all we can do is estimate his year of birth between 1868 and 1869. 

As for Niagara Falls, could another child have been born there – perhaps before Maria Dolores and Francisco? Perhaps it was a boy – also named after his father but more likely “Frank” or “Francois.” This would seem plausible. Part of the legend surrounding my great-grandfather was that he was named “Frank” Perrotin. Was there a Frank Perrotin who died young, say, before Francisco was born in 1867? This, too, would be reasonable, as there is a four year gap between the births of Mary Catherine in 1862 and Maria Dolores’ birth in 1866. It still makes sense to think that Catherine and Francois left Civil War Louisiana for a safer place to raise their family. Niagara Falls, by contrast, was home to a number of Frenchmen, refugees from the politics down south.

If they did stay there for a few years, they would been closer in proximity to Francois’ brother Paul and his own family (who lived in New Jersey at the time).  However, I think it became apparent at some point that Niagara Falls was not where Francois and Catherine wanted to spend the rest of their lives.

A new venture
Shortly after arriving in Orizaba, Catherine gave birth to María Dolores on September 15, 1866. Francisco followed a couple of years later.  Buoyed by the high tropical climate, where the air was pure and everything flourished, he grew into a strong young man who followed in his father’s footsteps as an railroad engine mechanic.  

Thanks to François’ keen instinct for opportunity, the family was financially comfortable and well-travelled.  María Dolores married a British train driver, Timothy Bennett, at a celebrated wedding at the Orizaba train station in 1885, and Francisco married María Amaro in 1889.  He was about 20 or 22; María was 18.  The couple welcomed their first-born son, Felix Francisco Benjamin (nicknamed “Pancho”), a year later. Four other children followed: Juan, Catalina (my grandmother, or Abuelita, who was named for her own Irish grandmother, Catherine), Hugo Ramiro, and Blanca Luz.

Francisco, María, and their young family lived in a house on the “with the letter ‘I’ on the second street of San Cristobal” in Orizaba. As María was also multilingual, they spoke Spanish, French, and English at home, so the children grew up speaking all three languages fluently and gliding easily from one to another, much as their parents had done before them.

François died of meningitis in 1891 at his home on the station property. A year later, Francisco and María’s infant son, Juan, died of the same disease while still in his infancy. Shortly afterward, María Dolores and Timothy left for England with their own two young children. María Dolores’ decision to embark on such a major change must have resulted from the grief of losing her father, coupled with the fear that the dreaded meningitis might affect her own babies. It is also probable that Timothy was ready to return home to his own family and origins.

Catherine, also grieving for her beloved François and missing her daughter, eventually decided to join her and her son-in-law in England. Though she hated to leave her son and grandchildren Pancho and Catalina, she told herself that Francisco was going to be all right with his young and growing family. Dolores, in a new land, needed her mother more.

Catherine left for England in 1895.  As she bade Francisco farewell, she may have wondered whether she would live long enough to see him and his family again.  Little did she know that she would outlive her son by a mere two years.

When Francisco died in 1899, Pancho was 9; Catalina was 6; Hugo was 4; and Blanca Luz (later called Blanca) was a month shy of her first birthday. Juan had died seven years before of meningitis.  María, Francisco’s wife, was pregnant with their sixth child.

That sixth child, Roberto, would be born sometime between January and February of 1900.  Of the six children, he would be the shortest-lived, succumbing to infantile cholera at the age of nine months the following November, while Catalina (pictured below, left) would live the longest, dying in 1998 at the age of 105.

Pancho became a machinist in the new family tradition. He married Matilde Carmona, and they had two daughters, Catalina and Celia. He died in Orizaba on 1926 of hypertropic cirrhosis, possibly caused by hemochromatosis, a hereditary condition.

My father, Gilbert Huesca, recalled that his Uncle Pancho had very Irish looks – a stocky build, red hair, and fair skin. He also remembered that his uncle owned a most unusual cast iron stove, atypical of the stoves in Orizaba at the time. Did Pancho build it? Or did his grandfather, Francois, the poelier?

Family bond interrupted
Hugo, like his father and grandfather, worked for the Mexican Railroad in the port city of Veracruz.  Afflicted with epilepsy, he became the family correspondent with his Aunt Dolores Bennett and his cousins overseas.  When his letters stopped suddenly that spring, coincidentally following a major earthquake in Mexico, the Bennett family erroneously assumed that he and all the rest of the Perrotin family in Mexico had been killed in the earthquake. In fact, Hugo had died of his disease in Veracruz on May 13, 1920.  He was 25 years old and unmarried.

Contact between the two branches of the family resumed a century later, when Don and Jennie Murray of Highnam, England, contacted me and began correspondence, in June 2006.

The Perrotin-Amaro women had wavy dark brown hair and lively brown eyes, and they possessed an inner strength that was as appealing as their beauty. Blanca Perrotin was about 5’6”, slender, regal, proud, strong-willed, and beautiful. As a young woman, she was the image of her grandmother, Catherine, and perhaps because of this, she felt extremely close to her all her life, though Catherine had left Orizaba three years before Blanca was born. She was married briefly, but when she found out that her husband had a temper and was known to sleep with a dagger strapped to his calf, she either separated from or divorced him immediately and resolved never to marry again. Life had not turned out the way she had hoped, but she devoted herself to her widowed mother and was kind and loving to her nieces and nephews. Her stern personality was quite a contrast to her sister Catalina, a happy person always surrounded by a loving husband and 11 doting children.
Still, Blanca (shown at right), Catalina, and their mother, Maria (Amaro) Perrotin, were very close. Aunt Blanca and her mother lived together all their lives, always next door or very near Catalina, first in Orizaba , Veracruz , and later in Mexico City. Aunt Blanca was the leading authority on the Perrotin family. When I was 9 years old, our family moved from Chicago to Mexico City. My great-aunt Blanca and my Abuelita (grandmother) Catalina showered my mother with love, perhaps because of their shared Irish heritage, and they spent hours poring over family pictures and sharing family stories. Although she did not need to work, Aunt Blanca was an industrious woman and worked with her nephews (my paternal uncles) in their embroidery businesses. She died in about 1980 or so, roughly at about 88 years of age.


María Amaro Perrotin, Francisco’s widow (shown above), lived to age 98. A beautiful and attractive woman, she would marry again, twice in fact, after Francisco’s death, to foreigners; both of whom died of natural causes. She ran a bakery or café in Orizaba, helped by her daughters.  It was there that Catalina met the young Cayetano Huesca, who she would soon marry.

Postscript:  Revenge

My husband and I have been sick since last week with nasty colds – it is very damp here in California right now – and we’ve spent a considerable amount of time resting and reading. Last Saturday, I read up on yellow fever (not the best topic to tackle when you’re sick, by the way) and learned a considerable amount about Stegomyia fasciata, the species of mosquito that became infected and went on to spread the disease throughout coastal Mexico and beyond. It must have really made an impression on me, because when I went to bed that night, I had vivid dreams about mosquitoes and yellow fever.

Sometime during the middle of the night, our eldest son tapped on our door to ask where the bug spray was. It seemed that there was what he called a “gi-normous bug” flying around outside our bedroom, on the upstairs landing. Our son tapped again on our door a few minutes later and said he couldn’t find the bug spray and was going to leave the bug there.

Now, normally one of us (not me, mind you) would have gotten up at that point to take care of the dreaded intruder, but my husband and I were too sick and too out of it to budge. Still, I knew what was out there and spent the rest of the night in restless sleep, terrified of being bitten by that horrible mosquito and getting West Nile Virus or some other blood-borne disease. Funny how one’s mind can take off like that! When I awoke in the morning, I rolled up a nearby magazine, gingerly opened the door, and held my breath as I looked about the landing. There it was, just above the bathroom door.

“Damn you!” I yelled at him as I swatted it violently. I startled myself with my own reaction and then realized I had killed it not just for myself but for Francisco and the family he left behind. Looking at its flat, lifeless form on the magazine, it seemed ironic to think that such a small insect could have inflicted so much misery.

I went back to bed and slept quite well.

Updated November 23, 2019.

Copyright (C) 2019  Linda Huesca Tully



Patricia Ann Fay





Patricia Ann Fay



Born: 12 July 1923,
Stuart, Iowa 

Died: 16 January 1997,

San Jose, California 

Faith, family, and charity were the recurring themes of Patricia Tully’s life.

Born the youngest of eight children to Daniel Francis Fay and Sarah Ellen “Ella” Riney on July 12, 1927, in Stuart, Iowa, Mom – or “Pat,” as she was called by those who knew her – was a sweet little girl who adored her brothers and sisters and was loved in return for her cheery and fun-loving ways.

When she was two years old, Pat followed her older brother, Francis “Frannie,” into the fields to play. As Frannie tried to show her how to use a slingshot, he accidentally hit a beehive. With hundreds of angry bees swarming around them, the two panicked children fled. But Frannie, about 9 at that time, easily outran his baby sister, and little Pat arrived at the house with a multitude of bee stings. Her father, Daniel, picked her up and silently cradled the helpless toddler her in his arms. Years later, she remembered feeling safe and protected as he rocked her tiny, pain-wracked body throughout that long night. It would be her only memory of her father.

Daniel Francis Fay


Daniel Fay died a year later, in 1927, leaving Ella, a seamstress, to raise her eight children on her own during the Great Depression. Ella’s strength, love, and spirituality made her a role model and hero to Pat, who remembered her passionately throughout her own life.

Ella faced her challenges bravely and not without a sense of humor. About a year or so after their father’s death, she came home one sunny afternoon to find her four youngest children carefully carrying the household furniture outside. When she asked them why, little Pat piped up, “Because Frannie says we need a bigger house, Mother, so we’re gonna set fire to this one!” The others nodded excitedly in unison.

Scooping up her youngest child, Ella matter-of-factly informed the other children that the family would not be moving, instructed them to return the furniture to the house, and calmly went inside.

Ella and Pat were extremely close. Pat would climb into bed with her mother every night, where the two would snuggle together, Ella calling Pat her “little stove” because she kept her mother warm. In the morning, she would awaken her daughter by gently stroking her forehead. These moments of tenderness would carry Mom through her life and help her to become both loving toward and beloved by all whose lives she touched.

Pat was 12 years old when Ella was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Ambrose had died five years earlier of tuberculosis, and Joe and Frannie, now adults, had left home. The only treatment center being in Chicago, Ella moved her five daughters, Katherine “Kay,” Dorothy “Dot,” Monica “Mickey,” Adele “Del,” and Pat to a small apartment on Chicago’s South Side. Del and Pat entered St. Thomas Aquinas High School (coincidentally, my own mother, Joan Schiavon, would attend the same school a couple of years later).

When it became clear that the treatments were not working, Ella decided to return to Stuart to die. With little to her name, she made a special trip to a photography studio to have a portrait made of herself so she would have something to leave her children. Knowing she had little time left, she baked Pat a beautiful chocolate cake for her 13th birthday in mid-May of 1938, though Pat’s actual birthday would not be until that July. On May 22, barely a couple of weeks later, Ella Riney Fay died, surrounded by her children.

Sarah Ellen Riney


The only things Pat had of her mother’s were her parents’ wedding picture and her mother’s portrait. She treasured the pictures all her life and hung them near her bed, so that they were the first things she saw when she awoke in the morning.


After her mother’s death, Pat and her sister Mickey moved to California, living together in Oakland for about a year until Mickey joined the WACS during World War II. Mom was on her own from that time on. Adversity had made her resilient, outgoing, and adventurous, and she and a group of her girlfriends moved to Honolulu, Hawaii for a couple of years before returning to California, this time to Santa Monica, where held a number of jobs and even learned to fly a two-seater prop airplane. She used to say that God was always watching over her because she was never without work.

A lovely young woman with an easy laugh and a love of life, Pat met Welner “Bing” Tully, a young World War II Army veteran, when she moved into an apartment in the same building in which he lived. They found a strong and common bond in that they had both lost their parents at an early age and had been on their own for a long time. They were married in Las Vegas, Nevada, on March 1, 1958, moving to a small cottage in Topanga Canyon. As time went on, they would live in London, England, Santa Monica, Santa Maria, and San Jose, California, eventually celebrating 39 years of wedded life.

Pat and Bing forged their marriage based on mutual support and devotion and gave their children, Charles and Kathleen, a life filled with love and laughter and encouragement.

The consummate mother, Pat took great pride in her children and used to say they had never given her a moment’s trouble. She never raised a hand to them but reared them instead with firmness, wisdom, and respect. Among her most prized possessions were their school pictures, a pencil holder that Charles had made her as a little boy, and a short story Kathleen had written in grade school. Once, when Charles was about 10 years old, he put a rubber rat on her Mixmaster electric mixer, probably thinking he would scare the daylights out of her. She thought it was so funny that she glued it right onto the base of the machine, where it remains to this day. She took great delight in baking birthday cakes for her family. No one could bake a German chocolate cake like Mom could. Your birthday was not complete without one of her famous cakes.

When Charles and Kathy were grown, Pat took on do-it-yourself home improvement projects. No sooner than Bing was in a limo on his way to the airport for a business trip, Pat would pull out her tools and begin painting, wallpapering, or sanding floors. Bing used to joke that when he returned home, he sometimes wondered if he had walked into the right house.

Left to right: Bing, Patricia, Charles, Kathleen, and Linda (Huesca) Tully, Christmas 1984

Although a sentimental person, she loved a good laugh and preferred an outrageously funny greeting card to a serious one. She entered easily into conversation with friends or strangers alike. She explored both sides of a problem and refused to judge anyone – “you never know what another person is going through,” she used to say. She was a good listener, compassionate, and empathetic. She was always ready to put her own thoughts aside to be present for anyone who needed her ear.

Pat was proud of her Irish heritage and kept a number of books on Irish history and culture by her chair in the living room. A favorite song of hers was “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” and she loved to sing it to her grandchildren as she cuddled them in her rocking chair. The thought of her grandchildren’s names being very Irish delighted her, and she claimed that each of them had “the map of Ireland” on their faces and in their eyes.

Material things meant nothing to her. Her riches were her memories of her mother and of Charles and Kathy when they were little, and her almost daily visits by her grandchildren. She was proud of the closeness she and her sisters shared, though they lived thousands of miles apart. She loved visiting them and reminiscing about the old days when they were all together, of how their mother had loved them all so much and of all the hardships they had overcome together after her death.


Pat and her sisters (and spouses): Clay and Dorothy Tillisch, Monica Shipley, Adele and Leo Bianchi, and Patricia and Bing Tully. Omaha, Nebraska, September 24, 1989.

Her family having been poor, she wanted to help others in any way she could, and she knitted scarves, mittens, and between 90 – 100 caps a year for the clients of Martha’s Kitchen, a soup kitchen for the poor in San Jose. On cold winter nights, Brother Joseph Nuuanu, the director of the kitchen, and his staff would distribute the caps to their clients after meals, so that they “would leave the hall feeling full and warm.” He believed that, “thoughout the years, anyone who wore one of Pat’s caps was wearing her prayer; and everyone who wore those caps reflected a prayer (for her).”

She was never a “mother-in-law” in my eyes. She and my mother had been close, and when my mother was dying of cancer ten years ago, she asked Pat to be my mother in her absence. Pat was indeed my “mom.” Saturday evenings, long after everyone had left the dinner table, we bared our souls to each other and talked for hours, about the Church, family, childrearing, and moral values. If there was one subject we disagreed on, it had to be our after-dinner drink of choice: she loved her coffee, while I preferred tea. “How on earth can you drink that stuff?” she would tease me.

In her later years, Mom lived for her grandchildren, Michael, Kevin, and Erin. She and Dad babysat them every chance they got, and she delighted in their growth and accomplishments. She was ever the doting grandma. She cried when each of them started preschool and beamed when they brought her nosegays of flowers from the garden. Her “babies” could do no wrong in her eyes. To her, they were perfect in every way.

Mom owed her deep love for the Church to her own mother, a devout Catholic who brought her to daily Mass and passed on to her daughter her devotions to the Sacred Heart and the Virgin Mary.

Erin, Michael, and Kevin

A long-time parishioner of Queen of Apostles Church in San Jose, Pat helped out in the office, edited the parish newsletter, The Queen’s Herald, served on the parish council, and participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), a program for new and not-so-new Catholics who wanted to better understand the Church. She had many friends at the church: lay, clergy, and religious, and she spoke of them often.

Until her health worsened during the last eight to ten months of her life, she had never missed a Sunday Mass. The one exception she made, possibly her last Mass, was the celebration of Michael’s First Communion on April 20, 1996. It was a highlight of her life to witness her eldest grandson receive the Body of Christ.

Although she had survived a surgery to repair six blockages in her arteries, the strain on her body began to take its toll, and the flow of oxygen to her brain diminished during the last year of her life. Her memory began to fade, but the things that mattered most to her all her life were the things she remembered up to the end. Her God, her precious mother, her family – these things never left her mind or her heart.

One sunny August day in 1996, she confided that she had forgotten how to knit. She was frustrated that she could no longer knit the caps she so loved to bring to Brother Joseph, but even this she tried to accept gracefullyand quietly.

She seemed to know that she would be leaving us soon, and she talked longingly and frequently of her mother. Her voice would trail off as she recalled stories about her mother, and sometimes she seemed to be in another world. She began to give little things to Erin, as if she no longer had any need for them. She talked of Charles and Kathy, of what good children they had been and how proud they had made her.

The evening of the day Mom died, we drove over to the house to be with Dad and Kathy. The children, at the time ranging in age from 8 to 4, understood that Grandma had died that morning, and they became excited as we entered the house. “Look!” they cried as they noticed some of her belongings. “Grandma left these behind!” I guess they thought that when you die, you take your things with you.

She left us behind, too, but thankfully, she left us with a lifetime full of memories – memories of a sister, a friend, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother whose life gently, lovingly, and gracefully touched all those who knew and loved her.