Janey Way Memories #162
Learning about My Family History
By Martin Relles
Back in the 1950s when I was growing up on Janey Way, every Father’s Day my family attended an Italian Picnic in McKinley Park. In fact, all of my extended family attended.
It was a big deal. People filled the entire area of the park between the baseball diamond and the tennis courts.
Italian songs like “That’s Amore” and “Arividerchi Roma” blared from a loud speaker. The smell of grilled Italian sausage wafted up from a gigantic barbecue. Grizzled men served beer and soda. And families sat together along long paper-covered picnic tables.
At some point in the festivities, my father always took me around and introduced me to long-time friends. “Hey Jake, this is my oldest son Marty.” I shook Jake’s hand and said, “Glad to meet you.” And so it went, as we worked our way around the crowd.
Afterward, we returned to our table where all my cousins sat eating sausage, potato salad and grandma’s homemade pizza.
One year, I asked my dad, “Who are these people?” He answered, “They are the Arberesh, the people who migrated from our village in Sicily, a town called Piana.”
Dad was second generation Italian, born in Chicago Illinois, but his mother and father had migrated from Piana in 1912. Virtually all the people at the picnic either came directly from “the village” or were sons or daughters of those migrants. Now, I understood why this picnic was so important to my father
Flash forward to today. Now, I am the Secretary of the Arberesh Club of Sacramento. Our board of directors meets about four times annually to plan events for the club. We still have our annual picnic and a Christmas dinner.
We also host an annual genealogy luncheon. This year that event will take place April 17 at the Dante Club. It features a speaker on Arberesh history, and a presentation on the genealogy of our families. It’s an important event for our club.
Sadly though, the days of the big Arberesh family picnic in McKinley Park are long gone along with my father and mother. Now those great times are just another unforgettable Janey Way memory.