Our Mom’s Story - By Gene Conti - As Told by Carla Sanzone

posted Oct 31, 2011, 8:28 PM by Tip Top   [ updated Oct 31, 2011, 8:36 PM ]
Our Mom’s Story
- By Gene Conti
- As Told by Carla Sanzone (September 2011)
“Keep up the tempo”, says John as he strikes Olga on the head with the wiolin bow. The three young Fiocca children were having a practice session. John the violinist, Mom the pianist and Edmund the cellist. During the late 1920’s and 30’s, radio was al lthe rage and the Firestone Hour featured the young trio on its program lineup. When asked on live radio which was the head of the trio, a sibling argument broke out. By the time the Fiocca Trio got home that evening, their father Carlo proceeded to show the two boys who really was the head of that ensemble. Olga got off with just a mild reprimand since she was Daddy’s little girl.
Mom would often tell us that when her father got home from work, he would pick her up and loudly say – “La bella, La luna!!” However, her mother Fedelia spoke words to the contrary. “You don’t know what she did to me today.”
Born Olga Clotilda Fiocca on October 11th, 1921 in Akron, Ohio into a  strict Patriarchal household, she grew up in relative comfort and security. She attended all the proper Catholic schools – Sacred Heart Academy and Our Lady of the Elms. Never did she feel the sting of the Great Depression, as her father was gainfully employed as an upper level foreman with Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. Mom even recalled the time a local neighbor, out of work, knocked on their door beggin her Dad to find him a job with Firestone- which he did.
Mom who began to study organ in addition to piano. By the time she was about 12 years old, she was hired (at no pay initially- it was the Depression_-as the organist and choir director for her church, ST. Anthony’s. Imagine today a 12 year old commanding an 8 part full voice choir of 60-80 people and playing the organ at the same time! This was a position she held for over 16 years, until she moved from Akron to New York City with my Dad and me in tow as a 2 year old.
One episode Mom relates during her teen years while as organist was an unpleasant encounter between her Dad and her Pastor. Occasionally the pastor would drive Mom home after choir practice about 8 PM. This one evening he was also to pickup his housekeeper from the railway station. Train was late and so was Olga at arriving home- close to 10PM. The pastor escorts mom to her home and knocks on the door-no answer. He knocks again and proclaims in Italian – “it is I, Rather Marino.” Her Dad visibly upset and annoyed answers the door, looks at the priest and tells him in plain English- “I don’t give a damn who you are. Olga is to be home by 8.” Father Marino appointed her Dad as Grand Marshall of the Italian Day Parade and Festival that upcoming year.

Olga grew into a beautiful young woman. Her mom one day told her she had met Angelo, Carmelina’s brother, and how nice and handsome he was. The Contis, Paoluccis and Fioccas were all from the same small town in Italy called Carolvilli. Many of these families immigrated to the US. They kep in touch with one another and knew where each family was living. Carmelina visited Akron and met Tony Paolucci. My Dad attended their wedding where he met Mom’s parents. However, it wasn’t until a few years later at the Carolvilese Club dance, that my Dad and Mom first met. Under the watchful eye of his Dad Carlo sloe by- it was love at first sight for them both. Victor Paolucci (a rival) tried to tell my dad that he was going to marry Olga. It was not to be. My Dad proposed to Mom in front of ST. Anthony’s Church.
As the was drums of World War II heat over louder, Dad enlisted in the Navy. Mom’s dad Carlo told them that they could marry, but only after the war was over. Many letters later and on Sept. 2, 1946, they tied the knot at St. Anthony’s Church, obviously someone else at the organ.
Two years later, I was born and Mom’s Dad died. Angelo decides it’s time to pull up stakes and move his family to his hometown of NYC. That was a defining moment for Olga. Completely separated from the protection of her family and friends to move to a big city where she knows no one; a leap of faither in her God and her husband.
Olga’s mother Fedelia dies, and Mom almost miscarries with Camille. With no family to help, Mom takes a job at St. Mary Gate of Heaven in Ozone Park, NY. It is here that she builds another choir and her reputation begins to grow. A parishioner, after a Mass, makes the ardous climb up to the choir loft. He is flabbergasted to find that the organist and choir director is of all things – a WOMAN. In his incredulity, he praises her, by telling Olga that she plays like a Man. Men had historically held dominance in this musical field, and stilld o. A female was a rarity.
My sister Carla was third on the scene two years later. Mom considered her their Christmas present being born on December 19th. In short oder she earned the nickname of “Paliac” short for Pagliacci – the clown from the Opera of the same name.
One of Mom’s more infamous moments occurred, where else, but on the choir loft at church. Mrs. Haig our babysitter was unavailable and Mom had to take 3 year old Carla with her to church that day. This day was a bit different. A huge concelebrated mass consisting of several priests, monsignors and the pastor. The church was packed. Gate of Heaven was considered by many to be a cathedral because of its size and grandeur. Mom gave Carla some crayons and paper. That didn’t last long. Mom took some candy out of her purse and gave it to Carla. Gobble, Gobble, I want more or I’ll scream. Here’s Mom with a two dilemmas. Play the organ and satisfy a 3 year old at the same time. Eventually Mom ran out of candy. What to do? Here, play with Mommy’s purse.
At the end of Mass, the procession of Ecclesiastes and dignitaries are walking up the aisle to exit. They look up to the choir loft, as the beautiful strains of Mendelssohn reverberate from the organ pipes, only to see the clown face peering over the loft rail at them. Carla had plastered poweder, makeup, rouge and lipstick all over her face. Needless to say, the pastor later gave Mom a stiff rebuke to never bring any of her children to church. Carla was summarily given a spanking by both Mom and Dad. The name “Pagliac” was christned on Carla that day.
Mom had developed a good repoire with the religious of the Parish. It was commonplace for one of the priests or nuns to be over for dinner. Fr. Berico, a friendly old priest with a heavy French accent, really enjoyed coming frequently for dinner. Steak was his favorite and very rare was NOT to his liking. More like alive! Seared 30 seconds each side, still cold and bloody inside. That evening Mom must have been pre-occupied. The steak was burned, vegetables and potatoes undercooked and the Jell-O mold hadn’t hardened yet. The jovial old priest still ate it all. As they were  relaxing having coffee afterwards, he paternally stated, “It’s a good thing your mother taught you how to play the organ.”
The highlight of Mom’s career came, and I believe all will agree, was when she was selected by her peers to play for the new Pope John Paul II, when he came to New York to say Mass in 1979. Only two Masses were scheduled – one at Shea Stadium and the other at Yankee Stadium. Thre are literally hundreds of organists and choirs in the New York and Brooklyn Dioceses to choose from. Mom was accorded that distinct honor.
The day at Shea Stadium started out with a nasty rain storm, virtually no appropriate canopy to cover the main Altar. However, as the Pope entered the Stadium grounds proper, the rain immediately ceased and the clouds parted enough that sunlight  streamed down upon the altar. At the end of Mass and after his oral benediction to the people, Pope John Paul II exited. The clouds closed in again and the rain resumed.

Mornings in the Conti household were  a bear on school days. With the advent of stereo records and the equipment to play them, we were the high tech house on the block when my Uncle Ed sent us a very high end stereo system and speakers, the kind that looked like furniture. Mom was always first up. For the Conti clan no alrm clocks were needed. She would play some opera on that stereo cranked up to 10 on the volume – o so it sounded. The whole house would shake with those arias. There was no hiding under the covers from that ‘noise.” One just had to get up, get washed, eat and exit the house as fast as possible. To this day, I don’t think any of us like opera.
The neighbors however, really enjoyed those summer evenings when Mom would play her Grand Piano. Whether the music was popular, Broadway, or Classical, the neighbors reveled in it all and there would be frequent requests for encores. There was something to be said of no A/C in those halcyon days.  Windows and doors up and down our street were open. Screens kept the bugs out.
One of Mom’s quirks was her fear of animals. She like them, but from a distance. We had a dog. I should say a puppy, for one day. I think it was beagle. We all had been begging our parents for a dog. Dad was OK with the idea-Mom was another matter. In a weak moment, she must have given in, such a cute little puppy. That evening when Mom realized that the dog would physically be in the house, she freaked, even though it would be in the basement on a leash. She kept my Dad up all night fearing that this animal had come loose. Several times my poor Dad got up to assuage her fears by going downstairs to the basement to check on the puppy. He got no sleep. By the time we got home from school the next day the puppy was gone. Mom had convinced some neighbor to take the dog away. We were both angry and saddened. My Dad was more than miffed that he was left out on this.
The three of us siblings grew up, married nad moved away. Returning to New York, however, was always a treat, knowing that at the end of our long journey there would always be Mom’s homemade soup and Italian bread awaiting us and our tummies.
Mom’s work brought her to two more parishes – St. Margaret’s and Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Besides her routine duties of weddings and funerals, Christmas and Easter choir preparations, she trained the graduating  classes in singing for their ceremonies also. Weekends were her busiest times. Mom pushed the envelope of her musical career further than most. Her multimedia Passion Story was a labor of love  and always well attended. Her calim to fame was she did it way before Mel Gibson.
As part of “The Greatest Generation” her love for God and Country was expressed in her productions by the same title after the 9/11 tragedy. Her pastor culminated the presentations with Todd Brewe’s cry on Flight 93 to “Let’s Roll.”
With my Dad’s passing in 1991, Mom still stayed very busy and was very independent. But time takes its toll on us all. Mom retired at 82 after working professionally for 70 years. And after several bad back to New York winters she made the decision to move. I believe the straw that broke the camel’s back was paying fifty bucks to get her sidewalks shoveled, only to have another snowstorm repeat itself that same night.
Mom’s move was to Virginia Beach – no snow. Here her new neighbors called her affectionately, “Mrs. Manhattan.” Mom was set in her ways-dress shoes and suits-always. The Capri pants and sandals Barbara and Camille purchased and encouraged her to wear were subsequently donated. Hopefully some lady out there has a stylish beachy look.
Currently Mom resides at First Colonial Inn. She and her sidekick Kay Folkes are usually found in the dining area together giving Murray (“formerly of East 8Th Street, Apt. 4C in Manhattan”) a hard time.