Diversity of a different color

My late friend Richard B. Cosgrove, who wrote a delightful column for the Citizens’ Voice in the final years of his newspaper career, often talked about how the smell of cooked cabbage would waft through the air of Pittston in the early morning hours nearly every day in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Men off to work in the mines needed a hearty meal under their belts, and for those of Eastern European descent, Polish, Slovak, Lithuanian, cabbage was a staple.
In their lunch pail might be an item they learned of from their Welsh brethren, the pastie, a dough pocket filled with a meat mixture.
When I was in elementary school in the late ’50s, my friends of Italian descent might pull from their lunch box a sandwich of a leftover veal cutlet on Italian bread. I’d be so jealous as I bit into my peanut butter and jelly on Stroehmann’s sliced white.
Years later my wife Mary Kay, whose mother’s roots were in Sicily, told me those Italian friends of mine were wishing they could have peanut butter and jelly too for a change.
At the homes of my friends of Italian heritage I ate things I’d never heard of: polenta, baccala “baked” spaghetti. It was the same when I was asked to stay for dinner at the home of a friend of Polish descent to discover “pirohi” and “golumpki” (pigs in the blanket).
In college I dated a girl from Dupont who taught me to bless myself in Polish, which I can still do, by the way.
The point is while some may look at the history of a place like Greater Pittston and say it lacked diversity, they are making the mistake of thinking diversity can only be measured by skin color. The area may have been predominantly, actually almost exclusively, white throughout the years, but it was definitely not lacking in cultural diversity.
Saturday, March 7, Pittston will celebrate one of its largest ethnic groups with its second annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Most of my ancestors, everyone on my dad’s side and half on my mom’s, have roots in Germany, but my maternal great grandmother, Sabina McGlone, was born in Ireland, so I am quite familiar with the wearing’ of the green.
I’ll be thinking about my Irish roots and a host of my friends of Irish descent when I walk in the parade as part of a contingent of Greater Pittston Progress, a sponsor of the event. When you consider the name of our parent company, Times-Shamrock, our sponsorship is most appropriate.
We’ll be lining up at the corner of Main and Frothingham streets, not far from where my friend John P. Cosgrove, who now lives in a condo in Washington, D. C., practically in the shadow of the Capitol, grew up. If the name rings a bell, he’s the guy who got the ball rolling on the current expansion at Pittston Memorial Library, the Cosgrove annex.
At the invitation of John Cosgrove, my wife and I attended a cocktail party at the home of then-Ireland Ambassador Michael Collins. How I wish my grandmother could have seen me there.
As the parade begins, we won’t be far from where pharmacist Dave Gavigan ran Ford’s Drugstore at the corner of Main and Columbus Avenue, and Sabatelle’s Market, noted for its fine Italian foods, and matriarch Jane Sabatelle, a Irish lass from Scranton, and proud of it.
We’ll walk past the locations of Judge’s tavern, which was on its way out as I came of drinking age, and of the saloon run by “The Great” John Moran, which wasn’t. If you didn’t find me in Moran’s on a given night, you might have tried The Rendezvous across the street, operated by George Killian, long before any of us heard of the beer Killian’s Irish Red..
Just before we reach the Joyce insurance building in the heart of town, which will conjure up memories of the late Joe Joyce, as fine a gentleman as you’d ever want to meet, my thoughts will be of Francis “Bunny” Linnen, the lovable City policeman who manned the busy corner at Water, Main and Broad streets.
And through it all, I’ll be thinking about my friend James “Spot” O’Donnell, whom I often refer to as “a 365-day-a-year Irishman.” Spot, who is in his 90s and lives in a boathouse at Harvey’s Lake, was the dean of local printing press operators. He raised his family in an old mansion across the road from where he now lives. At the entrance of the long driveway leading up to the home, he had a big sign that I painted for him. It had a leprechaun and shamrocks and the message “Welcome to O’Donnell’s Donegal Hill.” And welcome all were.
The Irish are like that.

Ed Ackerman