Selected Excerpts from the
Journals of Gerry De Luca
(reprinted here with permission)

The Pannese Society of Providence, R.I.
A Grandson's Gift to his Deceased Grandfather
Memory of a Mushroom

THANKS GERRY!


The Pannese Society of Providence, RI.
Some History

 

"The Pannese Society"
Gerry. De Luca
07-06-2006


Pannese Society 50th Anniversary Medal from 1959


The Pannese Society, founded 1909, used to be a social organization in the Providence, RI area for Italian immigrants from the small hill town in Puglia named Panni. Panni is located a few miles from the city of Foggia. The patron madonna of Panni and of the Pannese Society was "Maria Santissima Incoronata del Bosco." The patron saint of Panni is San Costanzo. Costanzo and Costanza are common first names in the town.

Society members had regular meetings and banquets for the purpose of maintaining friendships with other pannesi and sharing news and memories of their native village. If a society member or someone in their family died, other members of the società would come to the funeral. Common family names in Panni were De Luca, Mastrangelo, Rainone, Procaccini, Colacone, Mosca, Mansella, Russo, Croce, Montecalvo, Spremulli, Bianco, Mansolillo, Gesualdi.

My parents were both from Panni, and I remember that when I grew up, I would be taken to the annual summer outing that brought together many pannesi from the RI area. It was held in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. There were games, there was music, there was plenty of Italian food and wine. Later, summer events took place in Coventry, RI. The society owned a place with a small hall and chapel. During the year, wedding banquets at Venice Hall on Federal Hill's Penn Street were often held by Providence area pannesi.

I saw the town labeled on a very old map hanging on a wall in the Vatican Museums in Rome, and its name in past centuries was Panci. A poorer place is hard to imagine. Like the village of "Gagliano" in Levi's Christ Stopped at Eboli, Panni was populated mostly by peasant farmers who walked long distances each day to till the soil in baronial estates called masserie. I visited Panni more than once, and things have improved considerably over the decades since my parents left separately when hardly out of their teen years, just before or after World War I.

In my Italian classes at La Salle Academy I've had many students over the years whose folks were from Panni, at least one who had been born there. Another, David Procaccini, used to talk at length about the place with me and I made up some pictures for him once because he was interested in having them. He had heard much about Panni, since his paternal ancestors were pannesi and thus were my parents' amici and paesani.


My father's membership booklet.

Front and rear of Pannese Society memorial medal.


Pannese Society women's medal.

Gerry. De Luca

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RE:Pannese Society
Comment by David Procaccini
2006-07-06 08:22 pm UTC


My Great Granfather's name was Costanzo. He was born in August. Was the feast day in August I wonder. He never made it back to Panni in his life time but his son (my Grandfather) Louis did during the Second World War. My Grandfather lied about his age and joined the Army shortly after Pearl Harbor early in 1942 at the age of 17. After the invasion of North Africa, came the invasion of Sicily then Naples. The American ships steamed right into the Port of Naples and then just sat there giving the Axis plenty of time to fall back and regroup. Becoming frustrated with Allied inactivity and fluent in Italian my granfather hailed an Italian fishing boat and jumped ship "invading" Naples a full day before the rest of the Allied Armies. During American occupation of Italy, my Grandfather was assigned to drive the "Andrews Sisters" for the USO. he also worked for a while as an interpreter at the royal palace until he was caught $crewing one of the servant. Eventually he made it to his parents home town Panni. He was disgusted by what he saw. The people were starving and most of them were his relations. Mind you these stories have been sworn to as being the truth, my grandfather was always humble, never boastful, he just told as matter-of-fact. Anyway, he goes to see a cousin who is having trouble feeding her family because the Fascista mayor of the town his taking all of her produce The hens lay 12 eggs, the mayor takes 11, she picks 5 tomatoes, he takes 4. All of this because many of her relatives are fighting for the Allies including her husband. When my Grandfather hears the he goes to "reason" with him. He held his .45 to the mayors head anf promised to kill him if he didn't back off, just another dead Fascista Black Shirt xxxhole(his words) The next day two dozen eggs arrived at his cousins bushels of tomatoes. etc. Godfatheresq to the extreme but true. My Grandfather with the help of other Rhode Islanders in the Army of Pannese origens help him to "comandeer" a truck load of food to feed the starving Pannese. Thats the only time any of my family ever went back to Panni and that is a true story.

David Procaccini

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Re:
Gerry DeLuca
2006-07-06 09:17 pm UTC (link)

Fascinating story, Dave. It would have made a great Francesco Rosi film, with your nonno as hero! You know, of course, I saw your grandfather and great-grandfather many times when I was still young, since they were close to my father and mother. I checked the feast day for San Costanzo. It is May 14. Weren't you supposed to be called Costanzo before your parents settled on David?

The feast for Maria Santissima Incoronata del Bosco di Panni is August 15th and coincides with the feast of the "Assumption" of Mary, which became a "doctrine" only in 1950 to celebrate Pius XII's pet belief. But it had been celebrated back to the 18th Century at least. It is the culminating feast of Panni. For my parents, when St. Rocco's Feast came on August 16, an orgy of multiple feasts was celebrated. It also coincides with Ferragosto, the national summer holiday in Italy. I remember my mother telling me stories of "rival" madonnas for different villages and various claims of miracles that pitted real madonnas against pseudo-madonnas. When my father returned in August of 1961 (see photo above) with my brother and his wife, they were there for that feast and I have many photos of it all.

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A Grandson's Gift to his Deceased Grandfather
(Also see related story by David Procaccini HERE)

Gerry DeLuca
Feb. 15th, 2007

I received a couple of phone calls from my former student David Procaccini informing me of World War II service medals that were conferred in memory of his grandfather Louis Procaccini. They had never been retrieved at the time, and were now retroactively being awarded by RI senator Jack Reed in honor of the veteran who died in 1985. David had made it a special project to see that this would happen.

As I told Dave in my e-mail to him after getting to read the article in the paper, "This was a splendid thing for you to have been able to do in his memory and for your grandmother. It isn't just about history; it's about love, honor, and devotion."

Here is the full story as taken from the Providence Journal on February 14th:

A veteran’s service honored
Grandson accepts World War II medals for soldier from Johnston


Wednesday, February 14, 2007
By Mark Reynolds
Journal Staff Writer

JOHNSTON — The late Louis Procaccini had plenty to do after he was done fighting World War II: He left the Army, married, had children, started a plumbing and heating company, became chairman of the Johnston Democratic Town Committee. He even raised champion race horses.

But he never picked up his medals.

Procaccini, who died in 1985, had joined the fight against Germany’s southeastern flank. He began in North Africa and hopscotched to Sicily with allied forces and moved on to Italy, according to his grandson, David Procaccini, a history buff.

On Monday, the young man proudly retrieved his grandfather’s medals from U.S. Sen. Jack Reed.

 

 

One of them, the Good Conduct Medal, was for “exemplary behavior, efficiency and fidelity while on active duty during World War II.…” The veteran also was posthumously awarded with the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal. It came with three Bronze Star attachments: the World War II Victory Medal; an honorable service lapel pin for World War II; and, the Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar.

“Our nation and the state of Rhode Island offers a grateful ‘thank you’ to Sergeant Procaccini for his honorable service during World War II while serving with the United States Army,” says the citation presented by Reed.

After the morning presentation, the veteran’s grandson delivered the medals to his elderly grandmother at her home in Johnston.He said that his grandmother, Procaccini’s wife Lillian, is under nursing care and was unable to attend the morning ceremony at Reed’s Cranston office. But he told her about it over lunch.“She was very happy,” he said. “She was quite pleased.”

Procaccini was a sergeant attached to the U.S. Army’s 38th Air Depot Company, Repair Squadron. His grandson says the jobs he talked about involved driving trucks and repairing tanks. The younger Procaccini, a 31-year-old supermarket employee and alumnus of Providence College, said he arranged to pick up his grandfather’s medals after he discovered that it was still possible. He learned about it while he was online one night, checking out Reed’s Web site.

Procaccini said his grandfather had talked about his release from the Army after the war. His grandfather recalled that he didn’t want to hang around any longer than necessary to get his medals after the war. He had served in the Army from Nov. 19, 1942, to December 1945.

The veteran had two children, Joan Fontaine and Leonard Procaccini, both of Johnston. He was well-known in Rhode Island for his horsemanship.At one point, he owned Green Pastures Farm in Charlestown. He also served in the West End Volunteer Fire Association. He was 61 when he died in 1985.

(Note - To read an interesting story about Louis Procaccini and Panni during WWII - CLICK HERE)

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Some of Gerry's Pictures

Panni, Provincia di Foggia. Region of Puglia (Apulia.) Postcard. It has a long history as a town of peasant farmers who worked in the baronial farm-estates or masserie in the valley. Poverty forced many of the residents to emigrate to other parts of Italy or the United States or Canada or elsewhere, especially during the first decades of the 20th Century. It was not much different from the Basilicata village of "Gagliano" in Carlo Levi's book Christ Stopped at Eboli. My parents were born and raised in Panni. While still young, they emigrated to the United States and settled in Rhode Island.


My father (brown suit, straw hat) revisited Panni in 1961, just before his death.


Frank DeLuca from RI, with Pannesi.


Taken in 1961 on the return of my father, left front, to his native village in Italy for a visit from the US.


Maria Santissima Incoronata del Bosco di Panni.


Pannesi. Castello.


Antonio DeLuca, Assunta Morena, relatives and townspeople of Panni


The Colacone family of Panni, 1949.


Cemetery tomb-vaults. Bodies are disinterred later after a few decades and buried in a common grave.


Women of Panni busy at work and chatting.


Memory of a Mushroom
by Gerry De Luca

Manelle.
They were called manelle by my Italian immigrant parents who would pick them in abundance in the woodlands near our Rhode Island house. Manelle were a kind of coral mushroom, a fungal growth that looked nothing like other umbrella-top mushrooms. They ranged from straw-colored to dark-colored. The word manelle suggests too the image of "little hands", since the Italian word for hands is mani and this mushroom looked like it had a bunch of little baby-fingers around the twig of coral-shaped growth. I think of "Che gelida manina..." from La bohème.

My father and mother would forage for mushrooms every year, coming back with bushels of them, all kinds, including the beloved manelle. The ones not used immediately were boiled and bottled for year-round availability along with the home-bottled tomato sauce, pepper, green beans. And available they were, so much that I always took for granted the mushrooms with Italian sausage, manelle mixed in with the potatoes and onions in the roasts of chicken-parts, mushrooms in frittatas, mushrooms in stuffing. Our mushrooms were never store-bought, neither the fresh nor the canned ones. They were always tasty wild ones my mamma would bottle.

Mamma continued the gathering after my father died. Occasionally I would accompany her, mainly to transport the bushel basket. I never developed any sense regarding which were good mushrooms and which could bring on your death in five minutes. My parents knew it instinctively. After she stopped mushrooming, my older brother, who also possessed mushrooming skills, would pop by with a laden bushel to give us. Today most of the wooded areas where those mushrooms would be picked are cleared and overrun with new roads and housing.

I haven't tasted wild mushrooms from the area in decades. I haven't eaten any manelle in eons. But I dearly remember their hearty richness, their rubbery chewy texture almost like calamari. So great. The memory of this mushroom tastes almost as good as the mushroom itself did.

Gerry DeLuca
Jun. 3rd, 2007


 

About Gerry

Gerry DeLuca retired from teaching in 2002 having taught Italian at La Salle Academy for 35 years. He currently resides in Johnston, Rhode Island