On March 20, 2011, I blogged about my own grandmother who was to become a Centenarian on May 29, 2011. This year, May 29, 2016, she will be 105! It’s not often that you experience a Centenarian who can lucidly and vividly tell stories from decades of living. I have updated the story a touch in honor of her upcoming birthday. Hope you all enjoy it.
One day, when I was about fourteen years old, my grandmother came to town to visit. She would come to Dallas from time to time to visit us, and I couldn’t wait to get home from school to see her. She always came bearing gifts and outlandish stories from various parts of the world she had been visiting. Not only that, I loved looking at all of her jewelry, and there was a lot. She was always dressed nice, wore lots of gold necklaces, bracelets and rings, all at one time, and her hair was always stacked high on top of her head. (Ann Montin, pictured here from March of 2015).
On this particular visit, when I arrived home from school, we hugged and kissed, and as usual, I ran upstairs to my bedroom to change my clothes. As soon as I got to my bedroom, I let out a scream that made everyone run. On my dresser sat a large circle of thick, braided hair in a dressy hair net. I couldn’t believe it! After the initial shock of finding her hair in my bedroom and not on her head, my grandmother explained that she had grown her hair long, cut it off, and made a braid out of it. The hair on her head was still down her back. She simply put her hair in a bun, and then added the braid on top. No wonder she wore so many hair clips. That was my first real insight into the unique style that is my grandmother.
Ann was born in 1911 in New York City, during a time of building and innovation in America. She exhibits the excitement that was part of the American culture during the beginning of the 20th century with her unique and vivacious personality, intellect and style.
Ann was the middle child of eleven to Adelina Vaccaro and Antonino Ajello. She was surrounded by wonderful brothers and sisters her entire childhood, growing up in Manhattan and the Bronx. Since Ann and her siblings went to all-girl catholic schools or military academies, holidays were her most memorable times because her entire family would be together. After dinner, Ann’s family would gather and have parties, or they would sit around her father and listen to him play guitar.
On April 23, 1933, a grown up Ann married Vincent Anthony Minchillo, whose family was from Foggia, Italy. They had two sons, Joseph and Vincent. When her two sons were very young, Ann’s husband passed away unexpectedly. Ann eventually remarried John Fusco, from Italy, moved to Vermont, and expanded her family with a third son, Mario Fusco.
In the 1950’s, Ann left Vermont and returned to her home state of New York to start a new chapter in her life. She began working for an executive assisting him with travel arrangements to support herself and her family. It was this job that gave Ann her first peek into the world of travel, and from there, she took a keen interest in working for a travel agency. She got her first passport in 1958 after starting her new career as a travel agent for an agency in the Federal Building in New York City.
Over the next 40 years, Ann and her career took off, literally. Ann traveled around the world several times over. Her travels extended up and down the Ivory Coast, took her to China after the Chinese borders were opened, flew her to many parts of Persia including Iran and Afghanistan, all over Asia, south to Australia and New Zealand, and all over warm and friendly South America. One of her favorite places to visit is Indonesia. During every trip, she made it a point to attend a funeral, a wedding, and a fiesta, and all of these events combined reminded her of all the beautiful traditions and things life had to offer. She has fond memories of wonder and amazement from visiting many countries that are now experiencing natural disasters, strife and war. Ann took hundreds of photographs and Super 8 film recording her discoveries and stories that were beyond belief. She brought her children and grandchildren back mementos from each trip representing the indigenous people and culture of each country. I couldn’t wait for her to make a trip through Texas and visit.
Many people refer to Ann as the Contessa (an Italian Countess). She is truly a Contessa, and certainly treated her sisters, friends and granddaughters as such. But I had to ask her how she got the nickname, and this is what I learned. On one of Ann’s many visits to Italy, Ann and her sister were boarding a train in Palermo. They boarded the dining car in hopes to be served lunch on their trip back to Rome. However, they were told they could not sit in the dining car since it was not time for dinner, but Ann was hungry and refused to move. The waiter had no choice but to relent and grant Ann’s wish to dine. As the train started, the dining car doors were locked, the curtains were drawn, music began, and six men entered the back of the dining car. The waiter went straight to the six men and took their order first. When he returned to Ann’s dining table to take her order, Ann lectured the waiter on the American custom of women first. But that did not matter, as the waiter explained that one of the six men was the current Italian Premier, Amintore Fanfani. Not to be outdone, Ann announced to the waiter that she was the Contessa Anna Maria. He was astonished, and informed the Premier that he was sharing the dining car with a Contessa. Once the six men learned there was a Contessa on the train, the mood changed. Prime Minister Fanfani and the other men stood up and bowed at Ann and her sister. They sent over a bowl of cherries and tasty liquors. And finally, when Ann and her sister got up to leave the dining car, all six men greeted them and kissed their hands. Ann was an Italian Contessa for a day, but has lived her life as if she really is a Contessa.
Ann’s family is originally from Sorrento, Italy, where in 1775 The Ajello Candle Company was created. In 1785, Ajello candles were recognized by the Catholic Church, and The Ajello Candle Company was commissioned to make all of the candles for the Vatican. From there, Ajello candles spread to be sold to Europe’s elite including kings, queens and the Pope. In 1862, the creator’s grandson, Rafael Ajello, and his two sons, came to America and opened a candle shop in Manhattan. Antonino, one of the sons and Ann’s father, took special care to make sure the business was a success. It was in New York that Antonino began producing candles for people like President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As the company grew in popularity, it helped to celebrate grand events all over the United States and Europe and eventually expanded west to Beverly Hills. In 1935, the Ajello family opened a candle shop in the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, and celebrated a new generation of elite customers for the next 40 years. Ann spent part of her youth working in the family shop. Today the Ajello family still operates candle shops in California and New York.
Ann married Joseph “Nino” Montin in 1982 at the age of 71 in New Jersey. Together, they moved to Florida and lived happily in love in Cape Coral for many years. Although she lost Nino many years ago, she still loves and has a beautiful heart. Ann moved to Denton, Texas in 2003 to be close to her son Vincent. She ultimately moved to Largo, Florida, where she has brightened many lives. Ann is as vibrant as the North Star, and, as many family members describe her, “sharp as a tack”. You can ask her every day what her secret to longevity is, and her answer always includes garlic, red wine, olive oil, laughing, watching game shows like the Wheel of Fortune to keep her mind sharp, watching The Bachelor for fun, and treating others the way she wants to be treated. And Ann has a lot to smile and laugh about. She still brags about her teeth and long hair, especially because they are all hers.
It is fun to listen to her reminisce about the horse and buggies on Pleasant Avenue in New York City, the five cent subway fares, and her days as a young school girl at a Catholic school started by Saint Francis Cabrini (1850-1917). Even more interesting are facts including that Ann never had a driver’s license and never drove a car, but managed to travel all over the world. More amazing, Ann has never worn pants! She is too stylish and always dresses like a lady with her hair beautifully pinned up.
Ann is the mother of three boys, six grandsons, two granddaughters, and twelve great grandchildren. Her family and friends are gathering from far and wide in Largo, Florida to celebrate her now 105th birthday. She truly brings inspiration and joy every day to people around her whether family, friends, neighbors or complete strangers. She is a daughter, sister, mother, aunt, grandmother, great aunt, friend, neighbor and a Contessa!
Happy Birthday Ann “The Contessa” Montin.