my Mother’s family lived in the area around Pittsburg, Kansas. Growing up we were often dragged up there for all manner of family functions. As we and they were and are extremely Catholic all things revolved around St. Mary’s…except when we had to decorate the graves. I’ve never seen a bigger group of grave-decorating-obscessed people in my life.
As I drove up to Kansas City yesterday I somehow took the scenic route and ended going up Highway 7 through all those little towns like Columbus, Girard, Ft. Scott, Pittsburg….I did stop at a convenience store for a beverage and a potty stop and asked how far Frontenac was. The lady said, turn right at the light, it’s just up the street.
Frontenac Kansas is an Italian settlement and in this town there is a store named Pallucca’s. It is owned by the Pallucca family for generations. They make, hands down, the best sausage ever. EVER. It is better than Boston and St. Louis and Chicago’s Italian sausage. In fact, I’m going to say it’s better than New York Little Italy home made sausage.
In 1909, Attilio Pallucca, Dick’s grandfather, entered into a partnership with Enrico Moriconi, starting a small grocery store on Cherokee Street in Frontenac. The store, then known as the Italian-American Cooperative Store, mainly supplied to Italian-Americans, who were the early settlers in Frontenac.
In 1930, the business moved from Cherokee Street to its location on East McKay Street, and three years later, Attilio bought Moriconi’s share. It’s been in the Pallucca family ever since. When Attilio retired, he sold the business to Joe, Dick’s father, and Raymond Pallucca, Dick’s uncle. Five years later, Dick became a man when his father, who pushed himself hard at work, died of a heart attack in 1959.
I decided it was probably a bad idea to buy 50 lbs of sausage on the way up but on the way home I am stopping. My rental car will have that wonderful garlic and spices smell.
I remember going into Frontenac one Memorial Day with my parent’s and Jim and Gerry and Jim took us on a tour of the grave stones in Frontenac. You see, this is farming and strip mining country and many, many Italians and Irish came to work. There was also a group of what my Grandfather always called “the Black Hand” which was the Mafia. Apparently many bodies are buried in the water in the strip pits. But Jim knew the stories of these people and I found it fascinating. They even had tin type pictures on the head stones of the deceased. How cool is that?
My grandmother was Irish and her Father James came to this country and was a successful saloon owner.
As I drove through this farm country and through all of the little towns I remembered stories of who came from where and what they did. Mainly they drank a lot and worked hard.
I remember the family get togethers and weddings and funerals (lots of those) and reunions and the time we went swimming in the strip pits and I was young but tall and had to wear my older cousin Sharon’s yellow one-piece that had cups at the breasts because she is 10 years older than I am and was built. I wasn’t. My girl cousins, because all of my 1st cousins in Pittsburg are female, would push in the cup with their finger.
I also kept thinking “if there is tornado when I’m driving, which ravine is deep enough?” I finally decided to get under the train tracks. Hey it’s Kansas out in the middle of no where….you have to consider these things. If you don’t believe me, this is a picture taken over Crawford County when Joplin was blown off the map….that, my friends is what we see every Spring around these parts.
I called my oldest cousin and my godmother, Pat, who lives in Tulsa and said, “I’m in the Motherland”. Pat is as Irish as they come, 100%. I think she thought I was in Ireland or at the least Chicago. Her last words to me before I lost cell reception was “buy some sausage.”
Tomorrow, when I leave KC, I am going back the same way, unless it is snowing….if it snows it’s turnpike all the way. But if it isn’t, I am stopping at Pallucca’s and buying sausage and possibly cheese and maybe go across the street and get that really good bread.
If you haven’t heard from me, I’ve changed my name and moved to the Italian community where I work in the meat market or at Chicken Mary’s.