Lovable Lena

Sammy Parente was named Mr. Pennsylvania. What was it, 30 years ago? 40? I suppose I could look it up, but does it really matter?
Kenny Feeney and I swung into action as soon as we heard the news. Kenny was the Sunday Dispatch photographer, I the chief writer. We loved stories like this.
On the way, I told Kenny about seeing an article on soccer legend Pele in Esquire magazine, I believe, in which they pictured Pele’s thigh actual size. “We should do that with Sammy’s bicep,” I said.
I could see little kids (and not so little kids) all over Greater Pittston “making a muscle” and comparing it to Sammy’s.
Kenny was all for it, but it proved a lot harder than we at first thought. Had to measure his “muscle” precisely and then print the photo to the specifications. It turned out great.
That’s what went through my mind as I stood in line at the Oblates of St. Joseph chapel Thursday night to pay my respects to Lena Parente, Sammy’s mother, who passed away last Saturday. I knew Lena, the face of Parente’s Italian speciality shop and bakery and Parente’s restaurant in Pittston, was well loved, and the turnout at the Oblates confirmed it. It seemed the whole town was there.
Of Lena’s and Angelo’s four children, I know Sammy and daughter Angie best, but am equally fond of daughter Carmelina (Oliveri) and son Peter. All lovely people, but how could they be otherwise?
Angie’s vision and faith in herself and her husband Larry in starting Sapphire Salon and Spa in downtown Pittston predates the current renaissance in the city. One could actually make a case she started it. The night she brought celebrated chef Rocco Dispirito to town to meet and spend time with her customers is something no one who was there will ever forget.
Angie’s success has a lot to do with her personality and that surely can be attributed to her mom. Lena had a way of making everyone who walked into the store feel like her favorite, most important customer. Whether it was plates of cookies for a special occasion, jars of meatballs and sauce, or loaves of fresh Italian bread, every item Lena handed you, she handed you with love and tenderness.
More than once I attended Super Bowl parties with trays of Lena’s cannoli. Gosh, how she fussed over them, not filling the shells until the last possible minute for fear they might get soggy. She prepared food for her customers they way she prepared it for her family.
The last time I saw her on Labor Day weekend when I stopped in on Sunday morning to pick up something for a party I had been invited to. With her sidekick Mike Restuccia following her directions, she fixed me up with stuffed hot peppers, olive salad, and eggplant in olive oil. When I paid, she insisted I take a loaf of Italian bread as a gift. I broke it apart with my hands and ate most of it in the car.

Ed Ackerman