A couple weeks back we headed to the town of River Vale, New Jersey, where John grew up to celebrate his friend Lou’s mom's 90th birthday. We also stopped in to visit John’s Aunt Kay who is in rehab doing great at the age of 95. If you met both of these beautiful women you would have guessed them to be maybe in their 70s at the most.
Agnes the birthday girl and Kay are both lovely, elegant and “sharp as a tack," as my dad would have said at the age of 86. John wanted to see both of these women because he has always admired them so much. Attending Agnes’ birthday party was important because he said she was always welcoming to their gang of friends and Little League teams. John said to me on the drive up “that she never said a bad word about anyone” and “she was always happy to see you." One of their friends Victor said in his tribute that Agnes had really helped hold his life together when he was a child, something most people in the room never knew. The old truth that so often someone can be right next to us and we have no idea what is going on behind closed doors.
John reminded me that Aunt Kay who raised a family of five with her husband Frank, always put her family first. They were No. 1. I think this is why for John he always puts our family first and he always puts the great town of Londonderry (and Derry in many ways) first, too!
Now for just a couple interesting things.
Aunt Kay raised her family in a very small house in Washington Township, New Jersey. For 20-plus years she had a quiet neighbor across the street that was raising her family, too. John showed me the house as we were touring around the area. Well the woman was none other than Mary Higgins Clark, the very famous author. Mary had always been involved with writing, but it wasn’t until her early 50s that her work was recognized and now she is known as one of our best loved writers. Mary is now 91 years old and has written 51 best selling novels.
Agnes' son Lou started toasting his mom by sharing a little about her family with us. Again, we think we know people but we seldom really do. Then Lou reminded us of how the world has changed in the last 90 years.
Agnes was born in New York City in 1928. At that time the life expectancy of a woman was 58 years. In the 1700s the average life expectancy was 35. Can You Imagine? Today life expectancy for a woman is 81 and for a man 76 years.
Back then the population of America was 120.5 million. Today it is 325.7 million. People born in the 20s have lived through 14 presidents. Agnes said that her favorite president was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her reason was that “he was a man of the people and for the people." I really think that’s what all presidents strive for deep down. My favorite would be a tie between John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. John just said overall for him it's Abraham Lincoln.
The cost of a gallon of gas was 21 cents compared to today at about $2.75. The one we always hear… a loaf of bread maybe 9 cents compared to $1.99 today. Average car price $600 verses today $25-$30,000 and a house, dear goodness, $3,845 then and today around $300,000, of course depending on where you live.
Now back to Aunt Kay.
Sitting across the table with someone at the rehab center or a birthday party gives you a chance to really focus, talk, listen and learn about a person’s life. I had no idea that for much of Aunt Kay’s life she held a similar position to our own Kirby Brown. Aunt Kay was the town manager’s administrative assistant for over 20 years.
I knew that John’s love of volunteering and helping in our towns came from his dad who served on the town zoning and planning boards for years, but I had no idea about Aunt Kay.
Aunt Kay also shared stories of how politics even back then had a major, often negative, impact in their towns as well. Now the difference is in New Jersey they consider town business to be very partisan — no non-partisan elections there. Aunt Kay told us she almost lost her position once simply because of a shift in the town politics.
Hopefully this will make all of us appreciate our beautiful area all the more. None of us like to pay property taxes in our great state of New Hampshire, but when you read this you might think we have it pretty darn good here compared to other states.
Back to Agnes birthday party.
Many of John’s friends still live in the New Jersey area. Well get this — an average 2,500-square-foot house in our area would have taxes of between $8,000 and $9,000. Horrible to all of us!
Well that same house in New Jersey would have property taxes of at least $20,000 dollars on average.
John just stepped in to remind us that New Jersey used to be just like here in New Hampshire. No sales tax and no income tax. They promised citizens that supporting these taxes would stabilize or decrease property taxes.
They didn’t! We all have to note and remember this! If we are not careful, well-informed and do our due diligence this could be us. Something else I noticed was how many towns we drove through in a short span of miles. John explained that five towns there could easily fit into the 42 square miles of Londonderry or the 36.5 miles of Derry.
Just a fun fact to note before I end: To help celebrate the beautiful life of Agnes, one of Lou’s friends flew in from Oregon just to be with them. He looked familiar but didn’t want to stand out in anyway. It turned out that he was Eric Close, a pretty famous actor in Hollywood.
They had met on Lou’s honeymoon 20 years ago. What a nice guy and really just like all of the rest of us. You might know him from shows like "Suits," "Without a Trace," and "Nashville." He has been in many of the Hallmark movies that so many people love.
Sherry Farrell is Londonderry Town Clerk and a lifelong resident of New Hampshire.