Story By: Paige Solomon
Video By: Brittany Gervais
The rain fell heavily on the Boston Public Garden lagoon and the mallards crowded into the adjacent puddles. The wind was cold and 85-year-old Ollie Capizzi gripped his forest green sweater close to his frame, pulling his beanie down to cover his ears. Standing on the swan boat dock, Ollie reminisced about stories of growing up with his parents. Yards away rested two trees that serve as memorials to Ollie’s parents, Toni and Carmela Capizzi.
“I loved them and they loved me, and I lost them both,” Ollie said.
Toni was an Anthony Quinn look-a-like, standing at 5’10- towering a full five inches over his smiling bride, Carmela in their wedding photo. Ollie has his mother’s dark eyes, button nose and strong chin, but his father’s smirk.
Toni was born in Floresta, a town of 2,600 located on the island of Sicily. He met and married Carmela, a native of the same village. From humble lives, Toni and a pregnant Carmela immigrated to America in 1920. They were 22.
Following their arrival to Ellis Island, Toni took a job with a contracting company, Richard White Sons, as a contractor, while Carmela had a full time job as a mother to their newborn daughter, Mary. To make an extra two or three dollars for his family, Toni worked various side jobs. He would feed the horses and clean their stalls. He also worked as a garbage collector where he would separate the garbage and drive it to farms to be made into pig feed.
Toni’s hard work blossomed into his own business. Founded in 1936, Antonio Capizzi & Co. began as a landscape construction company. In the beginning, Ollie worked alongside his father. They mowed lawns and maintained properties, but Toni’s proficiency with flowers expanded his business to gardening as well. With a crew of 22 men, Toni’s business blossomed from lawn mowing into a fully-fledged landscaping business. His workday began at 5 a.m. and ended at 7 or 8 at night.
“Of the 22 men he had in his operation, my dad did it all,” Ollie said. “My dad had a keen interest in flowers. With his big hands, he could take a little posy and make it into a large beautiful thing.”
Toni’s large hands made him an excellent gardener. He did the gardening at work and at home. He liked to plant petunias and geraniums in his customer’s gardens. He also planted a vegetable garden and a flower garden around his own home. He worked on the gardening while Ollie worked on moving heavy trees.
After Toni’s death in 1952, the company changed its name to Capizzi & Co. Now headed by Ollie, Toni’s legacy lives on in his business. The expansion of services the company provides includes moving and planting large trees, irrigation services, landscape construction, landscape design, and maintenance of land.
“I think my dad would be proud of what we’ve done,” Ollie said.
While Toni brought life to landscapes and gardens, Carmela brought life to their home in Newton, MA. After ten-hour workdays, Toni and Ollie would go home to family dinners prepared by Carmela. Spaghetti was Carmela’s signature dish and an old family recipe.
“I loved their sauce,” Ollie said. “No tomato paste, just tomato sauce. That was a twice a week ritual. Thursday and Sunday. She was a good cook.”
As Ollie spoke of his mother, he remembered the story of how she saved him during the hurricane of 1938.
“I was in a field across from our house,” Ollie said. “My mother kept calling and calling. I wasn’t paying much attention and the wind was blowing and the rain was coming down.”
Carmela was able to get Ollie into their house before the hurricane ripped through their yard.
“We looked out of the front windows, and there were probably 20 trees that toppled,” Ollie said.”She saved my life.”
As the rain calms down around the swan boat dock, Ollie described the relationship between his parents. Sundays were days off and evenings when his parents would go dancing.
“They were great together,” Ollie said. “They were fun makers. They were as gracious as they could be-financially and otherwise. They were just good parents.”
Together, Toni and Carmela’s legacies live on in the Boston Public Garden. Toni’s love for gardening and landscaping is captured in a Japanese Umbrella Pine planted near Boylston and Charles St. in 1993. Carmela’s “sweet and loving” personality was memorialized in the Japanese Flowering Crabapple Tree located near Arlington St.
On this Sunday afternoon, as the winds pick up again in the Public Garden, the trees appear to dance.