If you dined at Puerto Sagua restaurant in the 1970s, 80s, 90s and early 2000s in Miami Beach, you may have known him simply as Juanito, the fast moving, handsome counter waiter with the crisp white shirts and black pants who worked the late afternoon and night shift.
People may also remember him as a hardworking exterminator who took pride in his work at Miami Beach and Little Havana homes, apartment buildings and hotels that he visited up until five years ago when his Parkinson’s progressed to another level.
To my sister Cary and me, he was simply Papi or dad, always trying to solve our problems and willing to listen to anything we had to say.
To my late mother Milagros, he was the love of her life. He never left her side during her cancer ordeal five years ago at the hospital and during their 48 years of marriage.
He was the reliable little brother to his five siblings. (His late brother Augustin worked the morning, midday and early afternoon shift at Puerto Sagua where people often confused them.)
And my dad was a beloved Tio to my cousins on both sides of the family and the Florida straits.
He lived for beisbol and enjoyed watching the Miami Marlins while listening to the play-by-play in Spanish on his small radio at his nursing home where he was like a celebrity or simply “Juan de Dios” or “Juancho.”
He loved mangoes and avocados freshly plucked from people’s yards in Little Havana.
And he never missed an opportunity to play his lucky numbers in Lotto on the weekends.
He was also my biggest fan. During his Puerto Sagua days, he always had one of my recent Miami Herald articles behind his counter to show to his loyal customers. Whenever I had a book reading in Miami, he was the first to offer to attend with my mom. They'd sit in the back, watching and smiling.
He also enjoyed boasting that my sister was a multilingual, high school teacher in Miami Beach and real estate broker.
Most of all, my dad was a sensitive caballero, an unselfish man with a big heart, a Cuban class act. We miss you Papi. May you finally rest in peace.
In addition to this tribute, I also wrote an official obituary on the funeral home's website. It can be found here.
|A collage of photos of my dad over the years.
|My parents at one of my Miami book readings at Books & Books.