“I once had a beautiful sandwich, oh man, I'm talkin' hey!
It was made with fresh beef baloney, and Mom bought it yesterday.
It had butter and American cheese on white bread, boy oh boy!
Slap a little brown mustard on top and, buddy, you're full of joy!”
Each year under the cottonseed barn at the Visalia Co-op Gin, west of Visalia, Calif., hundreds gather to experience the joy of a “baloney” sandwich.
This year almost 1,000 were fed at “Tennessee's 23rd Annual Memorial Bologna Feed.”
Tennessee was Quentin Roosevelt “Tennessee” Gallian. For almost a half century, the big man in the bib overalls was a bigger than life figure at the gin and in the community of Visalia. He “built” the gin in 1950 and was its superintendent until he retired in 1990.
“Even after dad retired, he'd still come to the gin every morning at five o'clock…make coffee and talk to anyone and everyone who came by,” said son Larry Gallian, now the manager of the gin where his brother Gary took Tennessee's place in the gin after working along side his father for 26 years. Their other brother, Terry, has his own business, but helps out during ginning season driving a module truck.
Tennessee died of a heart attack in 1996, but the bologna feed he started almost 25 years ago continues. There was never any discussion in the Gallian family about ending it.
“This year was the biggest yet,” said Gallian, who along with Gary and Terry and sister Jane Redwine and their children and community volunteers feed the community each year on the Friday closest to July 17.
That's Larry's birthday, which was the reason for the first bologna feed.
“Each year dad would take us all to town for a steak dinner for my birthday. One year he decided ‘let's stay home and have fried bologna in the backyard.’ That's what started it all,” said Larry.
Each year Tennessee would invite more people to the bologna feed. “Mom would fix homemade ice cream and cobbler, but about 15 years ago it just got too big for her and us all so we moved it to the gin,” said Larry.
“Dad loved to socialize — get people together — get the community together. It's a time when people can come together — forget about 40-cent cotton, paying back the banker, and enjoy visiting with each other for about four hours on a summer afternoon,” said Larry.
“We are all too busy to do much more than wave at our neighbors. This sits people down at a table over a baloney sandwich.
“I had one grower tell me he has a neighbor that he has farmed next to for years, but they never sit down and talk until they come to the baloney feed. That's what makes this special.
“This is not just a Gallian family thing — it is a community event,” said Larry Gallian There were 18 sponsors this year and there is a waiting list of 20 who want to sponsor when there's an opening.
“I just figure up the cost when it is all over and send the sponsors a bill. They don't even know what their sponsorship costs until they get the bill. It is their generosity that makes it all possible,” Gallian said.
A painting of a smiling Tennessee Gallian wearing his trademark overalls is perched on an easel welcoming everyone to the bologna feed this year. You could almost hear him say, “Enjoy your baloney sandwich.”