Olga Grace Susi was wearing a sequined dress, her hair was perfect and she was smiling.
She was at the home of her daughter, Anita DeLuca, in Cranston and she was prepared to talk about life – not just hers – but what is happening in the world.
Olga will mark her 100th birthday on Feb. 27. She finds that difficult to believe, as do those who meet her.
She started with what she identified as her greatest regret. She said she still wishes she had been able to take advantage of a scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design she won at the age of 18.
“But I couldn’t; I had to go to work,” she said.
Of course if she had attended RISD, things might have turned out differently. She might not have met her husband Danny and she might not have had three daughters. But not being able to pursue her creative abilities academically didn’t stop her. She still sewed her own clothes and did needlepoint work. And she learned, by watching, how to upholster furniture. Olga is not one to be idle.
She glanced around the living room and casually pointed to the chairs and sofas she has recovered. There doesn’t seem to be a stick of furniture she hasn’t touched.
In recent months, she’s doing watercolors. One of those has been selected as the cover for an invitation used by the Hope Alzheimer’s Center, where she is a client.
Olga’s memory is sharp. She speaks of her job as bookkeeper at the American Egg Company and how they would buy eggs in the spring when they were cheapest and keep them in storage – sometimes for five and six years – until they had to meet demand, which was always at Easter. Later, she was the bookkeeper at the Warwick Municipal Employees Credit Union. The credit union went on to become Wave Credit Union.
Olga fondly remembers former Warwick Superintendent Henry Tarlian, who chaired the credit union board.
“He was a sweetheart,” she said, and he occasionally took her out for dinner. Of course, she adds with a twinkle, with the full knowledge of his wife Angela.
Olga was born at 56 Tell St. in the Federal Hill section of Providence, the daughter of Leonardo and Louise Martino. She spent much of her childhood summers at Grant Station, a section of Longmeadow in Warwick that was washed away by the 1938 hurricane.
“We walked everywhere,” she recalls.
Those walks often took her along the shoreline to Rocky Point. However, tides were not always favorable on the return and she remembers she and her aunt climbing fences and even being chased by a cow on the way home.
Not long after the start of World War II, the family rented a cottage at Horse Neck Beach in Massachusetts. It turned out to be a horrible week, one rainy day after the next. One night they went to a community hall to dance. As Olga remembers, she was paired with a boy she was doing her best to teach to dance when a young man, accompanied by a “big, fat lady,” asked if she would show him, too. The man turned out to be an excellent dancer and eventually her husband. He immigrated to this country from Italy and was enlisted in the United States Army. They exchanged letters while he served in the Pacific operating heavy equipment, a job he continued to do after the Army and took him to different parts of this country. Danny and Olga married when she was 29. They bought a house on Beatrice Avenue, not far from Gorton Junior High School in Warwick, and started a family. She was always active in the community.
“You know, I was an actress,” she says.
Olga, who speaks Italian fluently, was in Italian plays performed at the Uptown Theater, which, her daughter believes, is now the Columbus. She remembers the onstage ad-lib comedy routine that followed the performance as being especially challenging.
Dancing at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet was a Saturday night routine.
“I loved every bit of it,” she says.
She was also a member of the Rostrum Club, a social club on Broadway on Federal Hill, where members had to be 21 years old and older.
Later, Olga was active at St. Benedict’s Church and became involved with the Daughters of Isabella. She put her sewing skills to good use. Her guess is that she made at least 1,000 christening bibs, embroidered with a cross and the child’s name.
Olga has always been a perfectionist, said her daughter, Anita. She also placed family first by maintaining a tradition of dinner together and of carefully cooking each meal.
“I give her credit for that,” said Anita.
And does she like cooking?
“I’m a good cook,” Olga declares without reservation.
She still cooks. She lives in a condo not far from her daughter. She laughed when they teased that she is not known for her modesty.
“I am a good cook,” she insists.
Olga said moderation is a key to long life, like wine, for example. Wine has always been a part of dinner for Olga and her family.
“People can do anything in moderation. It’s when you overdo it that you get drunk,” she said.
She also cites “peace” as essential – family peace and inner peace. And she lists the importance of eating the right foods and being healthy.
Olga tried smoking once, but quickly gave it up.
“I took one puff and thought I was going to die,” she said.
Her mother, Olga recalls, “was much more modern than I.”
Her mother was a smoker and anxious to get on with life.
“You have to do it now,” Olga says of her mother’s axiom, which was eventually reduced to the single Italian word, Mo. Even in death, she said, Olga was unable to suppress her mother’s flare. Olga instructed the undertakers not to paint her mother’s fingernails, but when laid out the nails were a brilliant red. Olga demanded to know why her instructions hadn’t been followed and the undertaker, a friend of her mother, insisted, that was her. Olga couldn’t argue.
Olga has had her hardships, the loss of her eldest daughter, Elaine, at the age of 50 to cancer and then the passing of her husband 15 years ago. She doesn’t dwell on the sad times. She’s upbeat and positive. She talks of the wonderful people she has met and those she expects to meet yet.
What did she look forward to accomplishing?
She pondered the question. There will be a party for the 100th, and there will be plenty of family and friends, she answered. She is looking forward to that.
There’s much more. And surely that will include some cooking, more creative works such as her watercolors and, who knows, probably dancing, too.