My neighbor Angelo turns 91 this week. I met met him just a year ago during one of my morning walks. He lives four or five doors down with one of his kids. They built a father-in-law suite for him several years ago, and since then several times a week I run into him walking. We wave as we pass–like the proverbial ships in the night– an acknowledgement but no real communication. Although sometimes he shouts, “Its a beautiful day” or “GodBless!”
Then one morning in early October he approached me and very excitedly announced, “Tomorrow I’m turning 90.” I was flabbergasted; he was 10 to 15 years older than I would have guessed. He’s a short, deeply tanned man with an erect posture and a steady gait. He doesn’t shuffle like most men his age. He walks a couple hundred yards up the street and then back several times a week. He dresses like a teenage surfer–levi shorts and colorful O’Neill t-shirts. He wears a large wooden cross around his neck suspended on a rawhide cord. His blue eyes are as clear and as peaceful as an early Autumn sky.
We spoke for a while and he told me about his remarkable life. He was a survivor of the brutal air combat over Europe during WWII. He was the ball turret gunner on a B-17. Not many know that the 8th Air Force’s casualty rate was over 50%. And so Angelo was a survivor, but more importantly, in my eyes, a hero. He acknowledged that he was lucky to have survived the war and he gave the credit to God.
He moved to Deltona from NY in the 1960s when Deltona was just a few dozen block houses lost in the piney woods. I can’t recall for sure what he did for a living or why he moved to Florida. He made it clear that his faith was the most important thing in his life and that’s what impressed me. Being Italian he was probably reared a Catholic but in Florida he attended a Methodist church and sang in their choir. I knew about the choir because one day he was wearing a t-shirt advertising the choir. Catholic or Methodist, somehow I don’t think the right dogma was of any importance to Angelo. He’s a man who loves God and loves life. Seeing him trudging up the street a couple times a week gives me hope–I describe it as “another near life experience” in a youtube video I did back on Jan 1.
Happy Birthday, Angelo – hope you have many more !