Born May 31, 1893, in Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico
Died April 5, 1998, in Mexico City, D. F., Mexico
My grandmother, Maria Angela Catalina Perrotin, was the second child born to Francisco Perrotin and Maria Amaro. Her birth certificate notes that her father, age 26, was from Orizaba and was a mechanic, presumably for Ferrocarriles Mexicanos, the Mexican Railway. Her mother, Maria, age 20, hailed from Tecamachalco, in the state of Puebla, Mexico.
Catalina was the second of six brothers and sisters. She is shown here, with her parents and brother Francisco, in a picture dated September 28, 1893. I would guess the family is outside their home, and their dress suggests that it may have been the occasion of the infant Catalina's baptism.
Catalina, her brothers Francisco, Hugo, Roberto and Juan, and their sister, Blanca Luz, grew up speaking English and French in addition to their native Spanish. They often used their multilingual abilities to share secrets with one another, sometimes going back and forth between English and French when they wanted no one else to hear their conversations. This came in particularly handy when Catalina became a parent, as she could easily share confidences with her sister and mother without her children understanding them! Years later, however, when my family moved to Mexico City, my grandmother had forgotten how to speak English, but she still understood every word we said, sometimes even when we mischievous little girls thought she didn't -- much to our chagrin and to the delight of our parents!
In 1899, when Catalina was only six years old, her father, Francisco (also known as Frank) Perrotin died of Yellow Fever. The epidemic, known at the time as el vomito negro (the "Black Vomit") Mexico, claimed over 600 lives in Veracruz state that year. To make ends meet, her mother, Maria, ran an eatery in Orizaba, and it was while helping her mother there that the young Catalina met the love of her life, Jose Gil Alberto Cayetano Huesca (known to all simply as Cayetano Huesca). The couple married in 1908 and went on to have 11 children. Half of the children would have their father's dark hair, while the other half were either blond or red-headed, with blue eyes, a reflection of their mother's French-Irish background.
Feeding, housing and clothing a large family was a challenge in those days. In addition to Cayetano's work as a mechanic for Ferrocarriles Mexicanos and his efforts to improve labor conditions for railroad workers, he and Catalina bought and operated a hotel, casino, and skating rink in Tierra Blanca, Veracruz. Each of the children helped in the business. My father's job was to make the beds every morning before he went to school. The others did the dishes and the laundry, swept and mopped floors, and transported guests' baggage from the Tierra Blanca train station to the hotel.
Cayetano Huesca died of pneumonia in 1937. Catalina, at 44 years old, had given birth about eight months earlier to her youngest child and still had a large family to support, though some of the older children were already grown and had left home. Still, she inherited the strength so inherent in the women of her family and moved forward, never complaining, but taking the challenge in stride. She took great pride in her children, who adored her in return and continued to honor her for the rest of her life.
On the heels of Cayetano's death, the Huesca family moved to Mexico City, as did her Catalina's mother, Maria (Amaro) Perrotin and sister, Blanca Luz Perrotin. As her children grew and began families of their own, she stayed involved with them, She held court on Sundays, birthdays and holidays in her little house on Carpio Street, in Colonia Santa María la Ribera, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Mexico City, where her children and over 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren would come to visit. She knew everyone’s name and age and never forgot a birthday, and she made each person who visited her feel as though he or she were her favorite.
Her typical morning routine consisted of sweeping her tile floors with a broom made of long straw, wrapped tightly around a stick. First thing in the morning, she would throw open the metal doors to her inside patio and put out the cages with her beloved yellow and orange canaries, where they would sing the sweetest songs and soak in the sunshine as she went about her work. Every morning she went to the market and bought the day’s groceries. Her mother, Maria (Amaro) Perrotin, and sister Blanca Perrotin, often joined her at around two o’clock for the customary Mexican comida, or dinner.
It was the big meal of the day, and businesses and schools would typically close at 1:00 or so in the afternoon so employees and students alike could go home and eat with their families. People would then return to work from 5 to 9 p.m., after which they would come home for a nightcap, or cena, which consisted of Mexican sweet rolls, or pan dulce, which all families bought nightly at the corner bakery.
The comida at Catalina's house usually consisted of several elaborately made courses: appetizers, sopa de fideos (chicken noodle soup), rice, frijoles (beans), chiles rellenos (stuffed green peppers), tacos or enchiladas or beef steak, coffee, and often slices of fresh mango or papaya for dessert. Catalina was an excellent cook, and in her tiny kitchen she could cook just as easily for one as she could for 50. She did this often, too, for the steady stream of children and grandchildren who visited her just to chat or to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and special occasions.
My Abuelita (an endearing term for "Grandmother" in Spanish) Catalina was a devout Roman Catholic and had a strong devotion to St. Martin de Porres. She kept a worn framed picture of him on the back of her pale green front door, along with a prayer beneath it and a small shelf on the wall next to it that held votive candles and pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady of Guadalupe. She displayed the same pictures in her bedroom, and every night before bed, she would go around the room and light votive candles under these images and pictures of Cayetano and every member of her family, living or dead, praying for each person. This took about 45 minutes, but it was very moving to watch.
My precious Abuelita loved her family deeply and had an incredible memory for names, dates, and even voices. Even when she was well over 100 years old, she would recognize my voice when I called her on the telephone from over 2000 miles away in California. She always asked right away about my husband and our children. She did this with everyone and never confused any names as far as I know, and she had a knack for making everyone feel as if he or she was her favorite and she had just known they would call.
Like the women who came before her, she was strong, active and independent all her life. When she was in her late 90's, she moved from her home on Carpio Street to an apartment a few miles away next door to one of her daughters, where she continued to live alone until her death at age 105. Her spirituality, independence, strong work ethic, and fierce devotion to family live on in her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, each of whom was special to her and who adored her in return.
She will always live on in my heart.
Did you know Catalina (Perrotin) Huesca or her siblings, or are you a member of the Perrotin, Amaro, or Huesca families? If so, share your memories and comments below.