Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New Port Richey man, a former orphan, grateful for home and Christmas


Al Guazzo gets the lights out on the first day of November, clearing out his storage unit and getting boxes from his neighbors who let him use what extra space they have. This takes some time, as he is 87 now. His back hurts. He had a quadruple bypass. "I'm feeble," he said. But he still looks strong. He checks the strands, one by one, in his office, the room that is all his in the Seven Springs condo he shares with Lillian, his wife of 63 years. This year, he replaced at least 250 burned out bulbs.

His neighbors have stopped letting him go up on the ladder anymore, so they hang the lights as he gives directions. But Guazzo still does what he can reach — stockings on the carport, lit-up bells and Santas in the windows, white lights on the bushes.

The lights go on the day after Thanksgiving. He plays Christmas music from 5:35 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.

Then he watches and waits. Nightly walks are big around here. When Guazzo sees people stop and look at the lights and do a shimmy and bop to the music, it makes his day.

"Christmas is everything to me," he said.

He never had a Christmas as a child in New Jersey. When he was 8, his father died from heart disease. It was during the Great Depression. His mother worked washing dishes. There was never enough money or food.

"It was tough, those days," Guazzo said. "All we had was 4-day-old bread, coffee and milk."

When he was 12, his mother died. Guazzo lived with an older brother for a short time, but felt like his brother's wife didn't want him there. He didn't want to be a bother, so he left, dropped out of school, got a job at a fish market and rented a room at a boarding house. He did this until he joined the Marines in 1942.

While stationed in Guadalcanal, he was lost in the jungle for 10 days. He got malaria and a fungus that spread from his feet to his knees. He survived and the others called him Lucky. It is still his nickname.

While recovering in Australia, he heard Bing Crosby's I'll Be Home For Christmas. He wept, lonely, desolate.

"It woke me up to Christmas," he said.

He wanted one. He wanted a home.

Guazzo was sent home to New Jersey and worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In 1945, he went to his best friend's wedding. He was the best man. Lillian was the maid of honor. They began dating but a few months later, Guazzo was deemed healthy enough to be sent back to the Pacific. They fell in love through letters.

In Okinawa, Guazzo's best friend — the newlywed, who was also in the military — was killed.

"I lost it," Guazzo said.

He was shipped from hospital to hospital, overseas and then to California and Oregon. Uncontrollable screaming rage. Flashbacks. All of the hurt in his life flooding out. He was broken.

He went back to New Jersey a 95-pound shell. Lillian made him whole.

"I don't know where I would be without her," he said.

They were married in 1946 and had two children, a boy and a girl. Guazzo got a job at General Electric. The rage quelled. He went hunting and fishing as therapy. He finally had Christmas by giving it to his children. He stayed up all night Christmas Eve decorating the tree, fussing with each strand of tinsel, so the children would wake up Christmas morning and be dazzled. He and Lillian say those were their best Christmas memories.

In 1989, Guazzo retired and they bought the condo on Teeside Drive in New Port Richey. He started decorating with a few boxes of lights that Lillian bought for him. Each year, he bought more and more.

"I made a maniac out of him," Lillian said, teasing.

"I want to give everybody a Christmas," he said.

It took him years before he could listen to I'll Be Home For Christmas without crying. But now it makes him happy. He's no longer lost or orphaned. He loves and is loved and is not bitter about things that happened to him. That's in the past. He has Lillian, their children and grandchildren. Dear neighbors and friends.

He has a real home. And for that, he's thankful.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.

New Port Richey man, a former orphan, grateful for home and Christmas 12/24/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 24, 2009 8:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Police: Clearwater man attempted to rob Largo Speedway with knife


    LARGO — A Clearwater man is facing multiple charges after police say he tried to rob a Speedway store with a knife early Tuesday morning.

    Geoffrey Davis, 31, faces a charge of armed robbery after Largo police said he attempted to steal items from a Speedway at 2698 Roosevelt Blvd. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  2. From the food editor: Shout out to my husband, the world's least picky eater, with this bowl of pappardelle


    Oh, hello, end of October. When the heck did you get here?

    Pappardelle with Cream Sauce and Mint. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times food editor.
  3. Bucs: Quick and easy fixes for what ails Tampa Bay?


    The Bucs are 2-4 and have lost five straight road games, so there's plenty to fix. What's the quickest and easiest fix for coach Dirk Koetter and Tampa Bay? The Times' Bucs coverage team weighs in:


    Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter, seen during the first half, had a heck of a day calling plays, Tom Jones writes. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. New Orleans celebrity chef John Besh steps down after sexual harassment allegations


    Celebrity chef John Besh became a symbol of the rebirth of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina leveled the city. Now he faces a storm of his own. On Monday, Besh stepped down from the restaurant group he founded and co-owns after more than two dozen women alleged his company fostered a culture of sexual abuse.

    Chef John Besh attends the Supper to benefit the Global Fund to fight AIDS in New York in May 2015. Besh is stepping down from the restaurant group that bears his name after a newspaper reported that 25 current or former employees of the business said they were victims of sexual harassment. [Brad Barket | Invision/AP, File]
  5. No serious injuries after deputy rear-ends school bus in Thonotosassa


    THONOTOSASSA — No one was seriously injured Tuesday morning after a Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy rear-ended a school bus, authorities said.