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Matters of love, but not romantic

With February being the month of Valentine’s Day, I’m reminded of the innocent love we all shared growing up in Roseland. That same love was on display when I took part in the Pullman Youth Group’s annual Christmas Party. I was privileged to be asked to be the “big man.” That was interesting in itself, since it took me a few years to get to the point where I had just managed to lose twenty pounds, only to be asked to play the jolly old fat man himself.

There were 80 children and their parents, but it wasn’t jammed since it was held in the open space of the neighborhood-friendly Tech Recycling Center. As a matter of fact, the space added to the fun as the kids all gathered around Santa as soon as he sat down. The event ran smoothly, thanks to the efforts of the adults in charge who planned just enough events to keep the kids from getting bored. Before Santa Claus’ big entrance, there was story time and a Christmas sing-a-long, which kept the kids busy.

The event reminded me of the many years I spent visiting Santa Claus on “The Ave” (Michigan Avenue). The first Santa I recall would be the one in parades when I was a youngster of 6, which would make it 1952. I can’t tell you if the parade was long or short or what the floats looked like, but I do remember Santa being on one of them. He was always accompanied by Elves throwing candy to the kids. The other Santa we got to see was the one inside Gately’s Peoples Store. That situation was a lot like Ralphie’s in “A Christmas Story,” not a surprise since Ralph was from nearby Indiana. Those were the good old days when we were kids and the world was so much bigger.

Switching to another topic that has to do with love, but not of Santa Claus, after Mass one Sunday, the 8:30 coffee club was joined by Dennis Panozzo on one of his non-official visits to St. Anthony’s. The conversation covered the general topics of current events such as my Santa Claus efforts, then switched to a topic we hit upon pretty often: food. Of course, Beverly Carli, Jo Navarette, Gina Frighetto Sakiewicz, Louann Sola Pretto, Kathy Sandona, and I wouldn’t let that conversation go anywhere but Italian food.

The talking began with the back door of Torino/Gonella’s Bakery. That’s the famous door where many of us Kensington/Pullman kids went to get fresh ciope on a Saturday night. We could tell they were baking ciope, as Beverly said, by the smell wafting from the chimney. At the time, Beverly lived on 115th near the Illinois Central tracks, and when the smell would reach their apartment, it was time for her and her friends to take the walk over to the back door. A simple knock on the door and the baker would open and ask how many ciope they would like. Not eating any of the freshly baked ciope before getting home was always challenging.

After exhausting that topic with a discussion of the “Rockford Ciope” from Piemonte Bakery, we ended up talking about the availability of Italian foods. The hot topic being that Steffanelli’s in Blue Island had closed, a sad fact that was brought to the attention of Jo by a friend who had recently driven by. As it turns out, they still have their newer store in suburban Lockport.

That led us to naming the Italian import food stores in the south suburbs. I had previously looked up Italian food markets on the internet but there were no such listings. The listings that did show up were of Italian restaurants rather than food markets or delis. Narrowing the search down to Italian food markets and delis in ‘Chicago south’ or ‘Chicago southland’ I could still find no listing. (Of course, it was interesting that no matter what listing I used in the search area, the South Loop’s Panozzo’s Italian Deli & Market kept popping up.) Considering that, in our discussion, we had named the stores we knew, when I got home, I decided to search for those stores individually by suburb. After all, when we need our Italian food fix, we have to know where to go.

The following list may not be all-inclusive, but it contains the ‘local’ southland stores that we could remember. If anyone is aware of any stores that are not on the list and are located in ‘Chicago southland’ or even Northwest Indiana, please let me know.

* Ambrosino’s Deli, 20495 S. La Grange Road, Frankfort; 815-464-5002

* Calabria Imports; 1905 W. 103rd St., Chicago; 773-396-5800

* Calabria Imports; 3512 W. 95th St., Evergreen Park; 708-425-3880

* D & D Food Shop, 1023 S Halsted St., Chicago Heights; 708-755-1520

* Dal Santo’s Italian Sausage; 976 E. Steger Road, Crete; 708-367-0070

* Frangella Italian Market; 11925 S. 80th Ave., Palos Park; 708-448-2598

* Italia Imports, 13150 W Lincoln Highway, New Lenox; 815-463-9870

* Rubino’s Italian Import; 16635 Oak Park Ave., Tinley Park; 708-614-0755

I’m not recommending one store over the other, but am offering the listing in an attempt to keep alive a part of the Italian memories we shared in Roseland.

We either shopped at or were aware of where to go for Italian specialty foods right in the neighborhood. Pannetti’s was always a popular stop for those who lived “up the hill” towards Michigan Avenue. Spigolon’s was right across the street from St. Anthony’s old church and very convenient. There were other grocery stores scattered throughout the Pullman/Kensington area that carried a variety of Italian foods, but it seems that we all knew the best variety could be had at Italian Cheese on 115th.

The Bernardi brothers — Victor, Max, and Bruno — provided St. Anthony’s parishioners with great food, sponsored many sporting teams such as bowling and Little League, and provided a good number of local high school students with long-term part-time jobs. As much as kids “up the hill” remember their part-time Gately’s jobs, kids in Pullman/Kensington were forever thankful for the jobs they had at Italian Cheese. They not only had a great place to work part-time but they also made life-long friends.

While you’re reading this column, if you have any recollections of shopping at the Pullman/Kensington stores or working at the local stores, send me a note telling me about your experience. If you’ve shopped at any of the stores I listed, let me know about your experience and your favorite item that keeps you going back.

In Memoriam

Richard Traverso, 69, of Orland Park, formerly Roseland-Pullman; a bartender at Traverso’s Restaurant for over 30 years. … Lorryane Basile, 87, of Roseland-Pullman; retired after 30 years with General Motors Electro-Motive Division. … John Sandona Jr., 80, of Roseland, a retired Machinist from Amforge Corp. and Verson Press.

Contact Petals From Roseland: CJ Martello, 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; cjfranoi@yahoo.com; leave message at 773-701-675.

About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.