As Tony Aiello entered his nineties, he had false teeth, an artificial hip, and an artificial knee. He gripped a walker to hoist himself out of bed. Stiff in the back, he had contraptions to help him pull on his pants and socks, along with a shoehorn to slide his feet into velcro-strapped shoes. He had hearing aids and a pacemaker with a defibrillator for his triple-bypassed heart. He would read recipes in the living room and forget the ingredients by the time he reached the kitchen. Arthritis stiffened the fingers that had served him for decades as a deli butcher, so he cut food with scissors. He took blood thinners for his congestive heart failure. The slightest nick while pruning trees in the yard would make him bleed until his wife, Adele, would, as he put it, “patch me up.” After losing an inch or so to age, Tony stood 4’11”.
Still, Tony would brag, “Nobody believes that I’m 90.” He could do anything—“a little slower.” Perhaps that was just Tony being Tony. People who’d known him for decades said he’d always had “little man syndrome.” But maybe there was something to the bravado. Neighbors said that not so long ago, Tony seemed hale—a stocky figure walking down the sidewalk in a tank top, like a pint-size, sure-stepping Marlon Brando. He was gutsy too: When he was about 80, he met Adele Navarra while they were in line at the Save Mart meat counter and asked her to coffee the same night. He bought two dozen roses for the occasion.
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