CLYDE — For years Tinella “Tiny” Montemorano’s four passions were her Catholic faith, her family, cooking and gardening.
These days she doesn’t get out into her garden very much, and her large, bright kitchen stands empty much of the time.
Faith and family, however, are still at the top of the list for Tinella, who turned 104 on Aug. 21.
Tinella, who belongs to St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde, grew up in a devout Catholic family. Her father, Santo Salerno, was the first Italian immigrant in Clyde and was especially devoted to St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua, said Tinella’s grandson, Michael Montemorano. Tinella’s mother, Angeline Salerno, walked several miles every day to attend Mass, and when she was in her 80s she died in a pew in church after receiving Communion, added Tinella’s daughter, Jean Vetter.
“They’re a very religious family,” Michael said. “She is a very devout Catholic. She didn’t stop going to church until she was about 100, because her family recommended she stop.”
The family was afraid Tinella might fall and break a bone, even though her bone-density scans show her bones are as healthy as those of most women 30 or 40 years younger, he said. Now fellow St. John’s parishioner Marianne Weaver brings her Communion each day, and Tinella watches Mass on EWTN from her favorite chair. Next to the chair sits an end table, where a rosary rests on a stack of well-worn prayer books.
“She says I bet you 18 or 20 rosaries a day. In all her free time she’s praying the rosary,” Michael said.
“I don’t keep track,” Tinella said when asked how many rosaries she prays each day. “I pray for that family, this family, that family.”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Tinella, in all her pious devotion, is a pushover, however.
“Mom has always been quite religious, but she’s not one of those sweet religious people,” Vetter said. “She’s very outspoken, very firm, and if you’ve done something wrong she lets you know about it.”
In the days when Tinella’s late husband, Michael, ran a gravel pit behind their home, most of his employees would come back to the house with him for lunch, and Tinella became accustomed to fixing meals for 18 or 20 people each day. Her grandson fondly recalls visiting Tinella for lunch one day a few years ago, only to find her complaining about how much she disliked cooking for only one or two people.
Tinella told her grandson to go out and find six hungry people to bring back for lunch, he said. Michael did find a family of six, but they declined his offer because they didn’t want to inconvenience Tinella, who was less than thrilled when he came back alone.
“She said, ‘If you couldn’t find me six hungry people, then you’re going to have to go hungry, too. I’m not going to fix something for two people,'” Michael said, recalling how he and his grandmother went for a drive instead, and when they came home she fixed him dinner.
Tinella was never easily deterred from her cooking, Michael and Vetter agreed. On the night before her 100th birthday, her daughter, Agnes McKinney, took the knobs off Tinella’s stove because she was afraid Tinella might hurt herself or start a fire if she tried to can the produce they’d picked earlier that day. The next morning, however, Tinella simply used a pair of pliers to turn on the stove, and she’d already canned three bushels of tomatoes by the time her family arrived at noon, Vetter said.
For all her feistiness, Tinella always carried a soft spot in her heart for her relatives. When her children and grandchildren went away to college, they checked their mailboxes frequently because Tinella would often send them cards with $5 or $10 bills tucked neatly inside, Vetter said.
“She sent me $5 and a rosary when I was in basic training. She said, ‘You’ll need this sometime,'” said Michael, who carried the rosary in his pack during his years in the U. S. Army and now keeps it next to his bed.
Tinella has a special fondness for babies, and Vetter said she made it a point to bring each of her newborn children and grandchildren over to the farmhouse to have their picture taken with Tinella.
“She’s held more babies than I’ve got hair on my head,” added Michael, who still has a full head of hair.
Many of the babies Tinella has held over the years have been her own flesh and blood, as she has four children, 26 grandchildren, 53 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.
“She’s really a great-grandmother to everyone, not just her family,” Michael remarked.
Relatives, friends and acquaintances often call Tinella to ask her to pray and say the rosary for them, and she always agrees, Michael said. She also says a rosary each day for world peace, and another for the sick in her parish, he added.
“She always asks why she’s here, and my sister tells her, ‘To pray for everybody,'” Vetter said.