It’s picnic time!

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As Italians, our fast food might be pane e formaggio on the fly, but when is the last time you savored an al fresco feast in the great outdoors? Before summer escapes, take time now to plan a picnic with your cherished family and friends.

One summer weekend every year, my family and I are lucky to be part of the annual PDG picnic.

The PDG lodge originated in Chicago in 1925 as the Piana dei Greci (PDG) Aid Society. It was a haven for nuovi arrivati Arbereshe from Sicily and helped them get established and assimilate into life as Americans.

PDG was intrinsic to those newly arrived immigrants who lived near and supported each another. It also hosted celebrations, including Christmas parties, dinner dances and, yes, summer picnics. Lifelong friendships emerged and endured.

Many members lived in the St. Philip Benizi Parish in Little Sicily on the Near North Side. Others settled in Lincoln Park and along Oak Street and Chicago Avenue. Throughout the years, they migrated to other areas farther north and northwest, but PDG remained intact.

Much smaller than the original membership of hundreds, there are dedicated families of descendants who carry on the summer picnic tradition today. Among them is one original member who is still very devoted to its success.

Rose Guzzetta joined the PDG lodge in her 20s and has been a member for almost 70 years. A groundbreaker as its first female officer, she is and forever will be the group’s recording secretary. Rose is now the matriarch of the picnic and continues her hard work and dedication. For years, she was responsible for securing the picnic grove by being the first at the permit office every January. In recent years, technology has made things easier, and reservations are made online by her son, Paul.

Paul is the master of ceremonies. It is not a PDG picnic without his booming “Attenzione!” made even more commanding with the help of a time-honored bullhorn. Mrs. Guzzetta is the keeper of the bullhorn, safely packing it away after each picnic where it waits to fulfill its venerable role next year.

There are kids’ games, softball and, of course, bocce. The egg toss, however, is the signature event loved by participants of all ages, attracting 50 teams of two vying for the coveted win.

Amid all this fun is food, glorious food! Tables overflow with all you would expect from a culture that loves and lives to eat: Italian beef, sausage and peppers, hot and cold pastas, spiedini, arancini, bocconcini, and salads of all sorts. Delizioso dolci include biscotti, cakes, cookies and juicy watermelon wedges.

Last summer’s picnic was especially memorable as Rose and her best friend, Babe Pistone, both celebrated their 90th birthdays. They have known each other for years, and Rose’s husband, Sebastian, was best man at Babe’s wedding. Sebastian was also a past president of PDG as was his brother, Peno. Rose’s father, Paolo Lanza, and father-in-law, Antonio Guzzetta, were two of the many immigrants who founded the lodge.

Although many of the PDG picnic traditions endure, gone are the old days when male members played cards for hours, serenaded by Italian songs from a strolling concertina player. But the conviviality continues as family and friends celebrate the day into dusk.

Of course, the PDG picnic is a finely tuned machine that has been years in the making. While it’s impossible to name everyone responsible for its success, all are grateful to participate in this ongoing celebration of culture and heritage.

While the demands of our daily lives make it difficult to plan one year in advance, let alone one season, we can all at least spend a little time together. So, grab a blanket, some food and, like Rose and her extended family and friends, get out there and enjoy.

Attenzione! Summer is fleeting!

The above appeared in the June issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.


Babe Pistone (center) with Rose Guzzetta (right) and their children.



About Lucy Latourette

Lucy Biancalana Latourette is a second-generation Italian American whose descendants hail from the villages of Massa Macinaia and Compito in the province of Lucca, region Toscana. With an extensive background in advertising and client services, her writing for Fra Noi explores what it means to be Italian as she delves into individual stories and experiences to connect the past with the present. Her award-winning work on broader topics has appeared in national, regional and local publications. I migliori auguri a tutti! Possa il tuo picnic estivo essere una meravigliosa festa di amici e parenti!

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