A May minestrone of Italian connections:
Mother’s Day coming up Sunday, May 8th brings thoughts of my own mother Caterina, and how I was twice-blessed with a mother-in-law, Angelina, of the same caliber as my own.
Angelina had three boys, Tony, Joe, and Sal, and rugs with plenty of grease stains on them but, as she often said “My rugs may be stained with grease, it’s true, but the whereabouts of my boys I always knew.” Angelina’s boys were always working on cars, downstairs in the basement, either on a chopped and channeled 1939 Ford they were building from the frame up, or on friends’ cars they tried to put in working order. She had no worries, she had no cares, she knew her boys were in the garage downstairs.
Frank Sinatra left us on May, 14th 1998 at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. His wife Barbara and children Nancy, Frank Jr, and Tina were at his bedside when he passed away, at what his fans worldwide thought was the “young age” of 82. Frank’s fans believed the famous words of their favorite Italian-American icon, “May you live a 100 years and may the last voice you hear be mine,” and somehow expected him to be around for at least cent’anni. On Frank’s simple gravestone it says Francis Albert Sinatra 1915-1998 “The Best is yet to come.”
Frank Sinatra felt like “family” to many fans in the early days of his career. And, like any “family” member, especially one that had been part of people’s lives for over fifty years, Frank’s fans still miss him… In days gone by, many fans dedicated party rooms to Sinatra. Mauro Potestio of Portland, Oregon, had a room dedicated to Frank that was filled with Sinatra memorabilia he had collected since his high school days. Mauro, a retired teacher, owned every commercial record Sinatra made in 78s, 33s, 1/3s and CDs, He never drove a mile without having Sinatra on the speaker system. In the party room dedicated to Sinatra were over 60 framed pictures. Here he would host a dinner party every year in December, Frank’s birthday month.
Minnesota became our thirty-second state on May, 11th 1858, so I thought I would share this miracle of America’s story where an Italian-American named Luigino Francesco Paulucci (1918-2011) could go into the Chinese food business in the Scandinavian county of Northern Minnesota and become a multi-millionaire. As a child, Jeno Paulucci gathered coal along the railroad tracks to help heat his family’s stove, but today he’s worth an astounding $400 million as a real estate developer and the founder of Jeno’s Pizza and Chun King Chinese Food. “I’m living proof you can make it in this wonderful country of ours without a college degree!”
Born to impoverished Italian immigrants in Aurora, Minn., at 8 Jeno made a little red wagon out of discarded parts and pulled it along the railroad tracks to gather stray coals to heat the family stove. At 14, he worked in a grocery market before and after school and all day on Saturdays, hawking fruit at vegetable stands. He quit junior college and sold canned goods in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin to support his family. He slept in his car, shaved in gas stations and, soon, through commissions, he was making more money than the company’s president.
“One day, “ Paulucci narrates, “ I discovered that the Oriental immigrants in Minneapolis were growing bean sprouts in their bathtubs. They only took seven days to mature. I thought it was like printing money! I launched what was to become the Chun King Corporation. The company grew and grew until I sold it 20 years later to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co, for $63 million in cash.”
He formed the Jeno Inc. and began producing frozen pizzas, frozen hot snacks, and Jeno’s pizza rolls and party snacks.
“Next is a planned community named Heathrow in central Florida. It will take about a billion dollars to build.”
Cotton (oro bianco, or white gold) has become a new source of wealth for Sicily, as the amount of Sicilian land under cultivation has been doubled to reduce the amount of cotton Italy buys each year. The country imports over $600 million worth of cotton every 12 months. If you sing “I Wish I was in the Land of Cotton” these days, you may not “whistling Dixie,” at least not the geographical region that we assume Dixie to be.