Consolata Melis' eyes twinkle as she regales a packed room of relatives with tales of her courtship and marriage. Her crystal-clear memory would be unremarkable, were it not that the courtship took place in 1925 and Melis has just celebrated her 105th birthday.
"If the memory goes in, it stays there," said the diminutive woman, with a smile. "I just concentrate and it all comes back."
Melis' memories have been much in demand since Guinness World Records last month listed her and her eight brothers and sisters as the world's oldest siblings, with a combined age of 818. The youngest, Mafalda - the "little one" - brings up the rear at the tender age of 78.
The nine now have 180 living descendants, a large chunk of the population of Perdasdefogu, a remote sheep-farming town tucked into the mountainous Sardinian region of Ogliastra. The area is believed to host more centenarians than anywhere else in the world, thanks to good diet and lucky DNA. But the town had also witnessed violence and poverty, Melis said, and the story she tells is one of a turbulent Italian century.
"We were poor, but not that poor, because we had shoes," she said, recalling walking 25km through countryside renowned for bandits with a horse loaded with grain for her father's store. In 1907, the year she was born, Perdasdefogu was rocked by protests against food shortages.
Her father served for three years during World War I and survived, unlike 28 other men in the village, who became what Italians called carne da cannoni, fresh meat for cannon, in the brutal campaigns against the Austro-Hungarian empire.
After the rise of fascism, a Mussolini functionary sent the family a certificate honouring them for producing so many children for the fatherland, but Melis is still scathing. "What good was a stupid certificate if we got no financial support?"
By her teens, Melis had a reputation in the town as a wild child who rode side-saddle as fast as the boys, was given hidings for crashing weddings, and bunked off school to till her parents' field.
Bucking the trend for arranged marriages, her parents allowed her to marry a shepherd, Giovanni, whom she met at a dance.
Unafraid of scandal, she continued to dance with other men. "When Giovanni flew into a rage, I said, 'You are doubting my faithfulness, which shows disrespect,' and I went to my parents for a few days. From then on, he was never jealous again."
When not milling wheat at night and baking bread at dawn to support the family, Melis bore Giovanni 13 children, four of whom she has outlived.
Locals hint at a huge sex drive among townsfolk to explain the large families but Melis recalls that "we just put our faith in God".
During delivery of her 11th child in 1946, what doctors thought was the placenta turned out to be a twin no one had spotted. "Father cried in desperation at the thought of an extra mouth to feed," said their daughter, Antoinetta.
As Melis recalls the past, she is joined by three of her younger brothers - Adolfo, 89, Vitalio, 86, and Antonio, 93 - who hang on her every word.
"I have always had a united family behind me, and that helps you live longer," she said.
Isolated from Cagliari on the coast by two hours of gruelling hairpin bends, Perdasdefogu finally joined the modern world in 1955 with the arrival of electricity, while running water - "a dream come true", according to Melis - arrived four years later.
After he saw a television in a nearby village for the first time, "Giovanni came back and said he had seen a box which spoke and told you what was happening on the mainland", she recalled.
Some inventions have not impressed her, starting with supermarket lettuces sold in plastic bags.
"I would like to meet someone who actually buys them," said Melis, who attributes her longevity to minestrone soup made with vegetables from her garden, washed down with goat's milk.
What pushed Perdasdefogu from the Middle Ages to the Space Age in 1956 was the opening, on the edge of town, of a European launch base for small rockets that would take x-ray images of the Sun. Early prototypes that fell to Earth were collected by farmers using their oxen and carts, while shepherds got rich renting out rooms to foreign rocket scientists.
Melis joined locals in the piazza at night to watch the launches and earned money making lambswool mattresses for the scientists.
Giovanni died in 1968, since when Melis has worn the long-sleeved black garb of a widow, but her family has grown to include 24 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.
As she continues to tell stories of her youth, younger family members step in to help translate her thick Sardinian dialect and pass around sugary biscuits left over from her birthday party.
At the party, as the older men reminisced about their time as prisoners of war, Melis sat with Alessio, her 7-year-old great-great-grandson, who will see in the 22nd century if he becomes a centenarian like so many of his family. "I told him to make it to 100," said Melis, "and that I would be counting."
- ObserverBy Tom Kington