Antonio H, 94, is pure sunshine, like the city in which he lives, Sarasota, Florida. I met him less than 12 hours before he and his daughter, Norma, were to board a plane headed back to his hometown, Agua Buenas, in Puerto Rico to reunite with his family to celebrate his 95th birthday on January 3, 2015.
What does he anticipate upon arrival, since his yearly visits stopped abruptly in 2009 due to health reasons?
“I want to see its (Puerto Rico’s) prosperity. I think it’s wonderful that compared to when I was growing up, everyone goes to school, and people have their own homes. I feel so wonderful! I will hug everybody and wish for everyone a better life every day.”
Antonio is filled with sprightly spirit and sparkle. He lights up any room. Starting from meager means, and now a gratified self-made man, he volunteered for the Army (age 21), is a proud WWII veteran, was at the Battle of The Bulge, awarded 2 Bronze Stars, and proud of his life, his long marriage to Amelia (the love of his life), and his daughter, Norma.
Antonio with an image of himself and his wife, Amelia, during WWII
After 6 years of military service, having never finished high school, Antonio received his culinary arts degree, which led him to becoming a Supervising Chef at a veteran’s hospital in Montrose, New York, for his whole career.
“We had 2000 patients. You know how many turkeys we cooked for Thanksgiving? 63. And how much corned beef for St Patrick’s’ Day? 800 pounds!,” he twinkles proudly.
That passion for cooking is now replaced by his bountiful backyard garden which has 30 cabbages, 20 broccoli, and 20 cauliflower plants, in which he gingerly walks and tends to all by himself. Surrounding the vegetables hang full fruit trees he planted; mango, papaya and tangerine.
What has life taught him?
“I think that education is the most important thing. Without it you go nowhere. I also think that you have to be ready for life and prepare for the hard times because they will come. Also, you need to take care of your family and try to keep healthy.”
So what are his wishes for the New Year?
“I want to win the Lottery and be healthy!”
And what was his reaction when he found out that his daughter, Norma, applied for and received his wish to return to Puerto Rico?
Smiling a blinding smile, “There were no words in my mouth!”
Antonio and Norma
With an abiding philosophy, “You should not waste time,” with his gardening and his joyous and bright view of the world, he is clearly walking his talk. And if you are lucky enough to hear him sing “Que Sera Sera” he will light up your world too.
Antonio’s wish was fulfilled through the collaboration between Phillips Lifeline and Wish of a Lifetime. Together the organizations are empowering seniors to achieve their dreams by granting their greatest wishes.