Salt of the Earth


In 1936, two-year-old Angelina “Angie” Oritano emigrated from Sicily, Italy, to Little Italy in San Diego. Since graduating from San Diego High in 1952, she never missed a class reunion.

Angie married Giuseppe “Joe” Giacalone in 1953. For their honeymoon, they rode a train to Los Angeles, where it rained for five days straight. Joe smiles when telling the story about how they never left their hotel room... except to eat.

I’ve lived across the street from Joe and Angie’s house in Mission Hills since 1997, and they’ve been like surrogate grandparents to me ever since. When their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have come to visit them over the years, I’ve been the jubilant benefactor of the extra mounds of food Angie made, but her family - albeit a large and growing group of loving people - couldn’t finish.

“Here’s a little something from Angie,” Joe would say, handing me a 10-pound bowl of her homemade spaghetti and tennis-ball-sized meatballs. “Just bring the dish back when you’re done with it tomorrow.”

If I had a family of 10, it would take a week to get through one of Angie’s “little” dishes.

When I’d return the dish a couple days later (having secretly moved 75 percent of its contents to a plastic container), Angie would give me a hug, tell me I looked too thin (I didn’t) and try to send me home with more food - or at least “a couple cookies,” which, for her, meant a couple dozen, minimum. I never left empty-handed... or without smelling like her perfume.

A few weeks ago, I was outside my house when I noticed Joe walking toward me. He wasn’t carrying a plate; he was coming to tell me that Angie had died in her sleep the night before.

This Dining Issue of PacificSD is dedicated to Angie Giacalone, one of the most loving and wonderful people I’ve met. By my math, during her 61 years of marriage, this angel incarnate prepared, with generous helpings of love, nearly 70,000 meals for her husband and family - growing her clan, literally, from two to two dozen since her wedding day.

Two weeks ago, I saw Joe in his garage and walked over to see how he was doing. I invited him to come eat dinner with me, Simone and Lex, but he declined. Instead, he opened a freezer in the garage and, with tears welling in his eyes, showed me the food Angie had prepared for him before dying.

“I have enough here to last me for months,” he said.

I get a lump in my throat when thinking about how Joe must feel when opening that freezer and taking a package of Angie’s frozen food up to the kitchen to reheat it.

Angie spread love - with hugs, with kisses, with food. The crowd at her funeral, held at the same Little Italy Catholic church where she married Joe, was a testament to the passion with which she led her life. The city, the world, has lost one of the good ones.

The day after the funeral, Joe brought me an enormous mound of spaghetti and meatballs, telling me one of Angie’s sisters had brought too much food to the house (must run in the family). He smiled and told me I could keep the container for a couple days.

When I returned the container, Angie wasn’t there, of course. If she had been, there’s no doubt what she would have said:

“You look hungry. Let me make you something to eat.”

David Perloff