Today’s little Italy is a popular spot filled with trendy clothing boutiques, fun cocktail bars and quaint restaurants with outdoor seating. Little Italy in the 30’s and 40’s was a tight knit Italian fishing community. Many Italian and Sicilian families lived there, working on Portuguese fishing boats in Point Loma and near today’s Embarcadero area. Jennie was born into this community on May 25th, 1925, as one of six children, two boys and four girls. Her parents were Sicilian. Jennie’s father worked on fishing boats, coming out onto the water early in the morning and coming back to shore to sell the day’s catch. Her mother stayed home to take care of the children. Days growing up were spent attending classes at San Diego High School, smelling freshly made wine while walking down the streets to run errands and attending Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Church.
After graduating from high school, Jennie started working for a telephone company as a long-distance operator. She began dating Charles, who was also a part of the little Italy community and worked as a Safeway meat cutter, and they married in 1948. Jennie and Charles wanted to take a longer honeymoon trip, but Jennie couldn’t get the time off of work, so she decided to quit. They took the train east toward Chicago and Milwaukee, to see Charles’ family. Upon returning, Charles returned to work and Jennie stayed home. They began their family together and raised a daughter and two sons.
Throughout the years, Jennie was truly a warm and hospitable homemaker. Jennie and her sisters were all avid seamstresses and would sew clothing for the children. One of the sisters even made custom sailor suits for military members during wartime. They had many relatives that would come over for large family meals. For most, cooking for thirty or forty people is a daunting task, but for Jennie, it came naturally. Later in years, family reunions had to relocate to the beach, as the Balistreri family numbered in the hundreds! Jennie and Charles would take the family on camping trips and traveled around the United States and Mexico, but never went further beyond, as Jennie was afraid of flying.
After some time sitting together, inquiring about Jennie’s life and interests, Jennie explained that her top concern was always about what went on in her own home. Jennie was never a shy, quiet person, but didn’t see a need to reach out and interest herself in outside affairs. Her most important interests were always nearby. Warmth and love emanated from Jennie’s voice as she shared her family story. Although days now aren’t spent with as much hustle and bustle, it is clear that the most important thing in Jennie’s heart has never left.
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