BRATTLEBORO -- Antoinette Vilardo spent Monday afternoon surrounded by her closest loved ones while listening to some catchy music in the background and enjoying a glass of white wine at The Marina restaurant.
The cold she was battling made it pretty darn difficult to keep her eyes open. But what do you expect for a woman who's 100 years old and still hitting the town?
Antoinette resides at Thompson House Nursing Home, having moved in after living with her niece's family for a while. That niece, Rosemary Gerbino, and her husband, Jerry Remillard, put together a party to celebrate her aunt's 100th birthday on Dec. 7, 2012. It was there, at Thompson House, that Antoinette heard someone make a joke about everyone going out drinking after the party. So when the shindig was wrapping up, everyone saw Antoinette make a beeline for the exit.
"We asked her where she was going and she said, ‘Well, you guys are going partying and I want to go,'" Remillard said. "Finally, we convinced her that we were just going home. But we just thought that was hilarious."
So Sandy Ware, the activities director at the Thompson House, and Kathy Clark, a nurse, began planning a "barhopping" party so Antoinette could enjoy a day of drinks and fine food like the old days. The event was part of the Thompson House's "Dreams Happen" program, which enables some of its residents to fulfill fantasies regardless of the limitations their age might pose.
"This was her dream," Gerbino said. "She was so angry (on Dec. 7). She stood by the door and said she was going with us. I said, ‘Anty, we're going home.'"
Antoinette has trouble speaking now but nodded when asked if she was having a good time. She was joined by Gerbino, Remillard, Ware and Clark as well as Gerbino's son Brandon Ray and his girlfriend Desiree Nichols. Antoinette spent much of the party sitting next to a fire and smiling at her guests. She didn't even seem to mind missing "Judge Judy," her favorite television show.
The daughter of an Italian immigrant, Antoinette was born in Paterson, N.J., in 1912 to a father who was a well-known potter in the old country before opening a bakery in Garfield, N.J., when he moved to the United States. She married her childhood sweetheart, Stephen Gerbino, in her 30s and counted her nieces and nephews as her children, though she had none of her own. Stephen died in 1991 and Antoinette later lived in a nursing home in New Jersey, but Remillard said it "wasn't a pretty picture." So Antoinette moved to Vermont and began residing at Thompson House after breaking her hip in a fall five or six years ago.
Ware told the Reformer Antoinette is very fond of The Marina and had her hair done for the occasion. She said Thompson House residents are brought to the restaurant regularly for lunch. In fact, manager Kate Theirault supplied the birthday party balloons Monday and decided to comp the centenarian's meal.
"The last time that Sandy ... was here she brought a group of people in on National French Fry Day and National Margarita Day and we discussed (the party) at that time," Theirault said. "(Sandy) told me this was on (Antoinette's) wishlist -- to come barhopping at The Marina for her 100th birthday -- so we said, ‘Bring her in.'"
The cold that Antoinette was fighting didn't seem to affect her appetite. She had spent the whole day looking forward to one of her favorite dishes -- fried calamari.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.