SOCIETA DUCA DEGLI ABRUZZI
by Angelo DiBenedetto
I have a photograph that measures 33 inches wide by 8 inches high showing the members of this society and across the bottom is noted "10th mo. Anniversario della Societa Duca Degli Abruzzi" Boston ,Mass. September 5 1907. This is one of only two that I know exists.
When I was a young boy in the very early twenties (born 14 July 1921), the society had an informal meeting place located in an apartment behind Milliuccio's (Emilio Placido) store located on the corner of Porter and Cottage Streets in East Boston, MA. We lived at 165 Cottage in the middle of the block. This area is a part of Logan Airport at this time. For their formal meetings and special occasions they met at Meridian Hall located on Meridian Street, East Boston, which was in the Central Square area.
For the most part everyone living on this block, composed of three and four story row houses having two apartments on each floor with no heat except what a black iron stove provided, were from Abruzzo. There were others in this area from other regions of Italy but it seemed like it was one family. A young person didn't dare do any wrong because it didn't matter if they were related or not, you were taken to task.
The society was involved in several important community functions and one of which was the annual picnic in the summer, held in a huge pine grove in Sudbury, MA which was composed of several playing fields and a sizable pond for swimming. Tickets were sold and priced according to the transportation used. If they came on their own using their own transportation, it was less expensive than riding a bus. On the Sunday morning of the picnic, the block on Cottage Street was lined up on both sides with probably thirty or more buses because of a very great number of people coming from everywhere for this day.
When people arrived at the grounds and found an area that they were comfortable they set themselves up for the day. They would circulate looking for friends to share food, wine and stories with. Bocci sets appeared for the more active people and card games were played in the shade of gigantic pine trees. Young people like myself were allowed to scamper all over playing games or just hanging out. The most important thing that I remember was that people who hadn't seen each other for a time congregated to enjoy being together for a happy time.
My father who was in charge of the barbecue concession and had a large truck that he would load up with whatever was needed for this venture and be off by the crack of dawn. I know because I followed him everywhere he went on this occasion. A pit was set up that would be about 25 feet long using concrete blocks to hold the fires that were set up using charcoal to barbecue lamb, and sausages beside selling beer, wine and tonic. There were many men I recall helping my father to achieve the success with this fund raising event.
Another great celebration sponsored by the society in the late summer was La Festa Di Sant'Anna. In preparation for this three day event that took place on the whole length of Cottage Street, that was six blocks long, was decorated for the feast. On Friday morning a neighbor by name of Luigi Memmelo (from Avellino) along with several men would set up temporary poles on both sides of the street so that a frame spanning across could be fastened to them, onto which the lights and decorations consisting of colored banners (green, white and red) were applied.
On Friday night the vendors would start lining up on both sides of the street with their pushcarts to sell, popcorn, peanuts, honeycomb and all kinds of goodies beside sausages and other kinds of hot foods. Beside food, balloons, and toys other units were also sold by these vendors. On Saturday night when the feast officially began, the Roma Band of Boston would take their place on a temporary stand located near our church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and play all types of music all night long, even some dance numbers encouraging people to dance in the street.
Early Sunday afternoon the band would present itself at the church where the men were assigned to escort Saint Ann on the procession along the area streets. There would be a special rack they fasten to the saint so they could carry her along the streets. When the saint appeared in door of the church the band would start playing and didn't stop until she was returned to her station in the church. There were streamers of ribbons tied to the statue on which were pinned the dollar bills donated by people along the way so that it was a slow moving unit accompanied by many men and women. All the women held lighted candles while the men held different banners. When it became tiring you would hear some women say, "La canela si sqia, pero la processione non camine" meaning, the candles are melting but the procession is not moving.
At evening time the band once again took its place on the bandstand to serenade for the night. On Monday, the people who set up the fireworks on the rise in the far end of our park behind my house would show up to set up a display of fireworks showing moving figures ending with a cannonade in the sky. This all took place about 9 o'clock at night so the heavens were lit up in splendor. When the display of the American and Italian flag was lit the band would play both American and Italian hymns until they, and the event, fizzled out.
Another great undertaking was the formal ball in late September that took place at Meridian Hall. What sticks in my mind was that to begin the ball, the first dance was "La Marcia Reale" where the officers and dignitaries would, in a dance- march fashion, enter and circle the hall until they were all in the hall with their ladies to begin dancing. To see them all dressed in their Sunday best was something to behold. My father, being an officer in the society, escorting my mother is a picture forever imprinted in my mind.
When I think back, though times were very difficult for many people, they helped one another. All the traditions they brought from the "old country" were very much alive. Now I see organizations such as the Center for Italian Culture here in Newton trying to restore some of these happenings.
I hope that this little story of mine will bring to others like myself, in the deep winter of my years, happy thoughts reminiscing about what was.
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