Mary has a pleasant disposition, and her velvet green shirt makes her deep dark eyes sparkle. She has had curly hair ever since she started setting it in pin curls when she was young. She and her husband, Gene, offer us donuts as their whole family trickles into their house for Sunday dinner during our interview.
Their one little great-granddaughter is impressively attentive as she listens to her great-grandparents tell their stories.
Mary Jane Palisano was born in 1929 to Joseph and Josephine Palisano. Her father was born in Sicily and then immigrated to the United States.
Her mother, Josephine, was born to Sicilian immigrants in America.
Her parents owned a fruit store in Tarentum, PA, a small industrial town located on the Allegheny River where plate glass and bottles were manufactured, among other products.
As Mary describes the bustling city that was once Tarentum, she distinguishes between the businesses found below and above the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which operated a line running through the center of town and underneath a newly constructed bridge very close to Mary’s home.
Mary has fond memories of her childhood that revolved around the family’s fruit and vegetable store, located on the first floor of their home in Tarentum.
On Christmas Eve for example, the family tended the store while her mother prepared holiday fruit baskets for their customers; the family finally sat down to their holiday meal of spinach with homemade sausages at midnight. Mary reminisces of the people who would pack into their store before high school football games to pick up a bag of freshly roasted peanuts that she and her mother would prepare.
The Palisano residence opened their doors to family and friends on Sundays, and Mary explains, “Our house was a place where everyone liked to come…everyone that came, you just pulled up an extra chair, and that was it.” Her cousin would play the guitar, and Mary enjoyed the company and camaraderie that her home environment provided.
Mary graduated in 1947 from Tarentum High School, and soon after she began working as a secretary for Tarentum borough.
One day while riding the bus in New Kensington, the town across the river from her home in Tarentum, she spotted an attractive shoemaker standing outside of his shop.
Mary says, “I thought, wow, that is a nice looking shoemaker there.” Little did she know that shorty afterwards, this shoemaker, Gene Montemurro, would ask her to dance at a local dance hall.
She remembers Gene pacing in front of her house before entering on their first date to the movies, dressed in his blue suit and “florescent pink tie.” After that day, Mary would look out from the fruit store window to spot Gene making the long walk across the Tarentum Bridge from Arnold, coming to see her twice a week.
It was definitely love; they met in April, they got engaged in August, and they were married in November of 1952.
Gene was one of thirty-six cobblers in downtown New Kensington at the time. Gene and Mary had two daughters, and when their daughters were old enough, Mary would spend all day with Gene in his store to help him sell purses and leather goods.
Their family has grown since then to include five grandchildren and now four great-grandchildren. Reminiscent of Sunday dinners in the Palisano household, Mary, a talented cook, and her husband still host large family dinners of up to twenty family members every Sunday.
It is clear that Mary is still smitten with her husband, the shoemaker, who is still devoted to her and to his trade. She is lady-like and gentle with a mild manner of speaking.
Her cheerful and happy demeanor emanates from her words and stories as her whole family, stuffed into their dining room, listen to her stories before dinner. It is clear that she is the well-loved matriarch of the family.