Fox reflects on his 100 years
One hundred years ago when Al Fox was born, the world was still struggling to recover.
It was 18 months after the end of World War I and less than a year after the third wave of a pandemic that had killed even more people than the war.
Fox, who moved to New Milford around age 25, celebrated his 100th birthday July 10.
THE EARLY YEARS
Fox grew up without electricity, hot water or central heat in New York City. Some of the apartments he lived in did not even have gas lighting. They used kerosene lamps, and one of his chores was cleaning the lamp chimneys each morning.
He took a bath once a week in a tin tub set by the coal stove.
The family kept a few food items cool in a wooden cabinet and bought a large block of ice to suspend above the food to try to keep it from spoiling for a few days.
When Fox was born, women still wore corsets and dresses almost to their ankles. They did not have the universal right to vote, they were locked out of most professions and were more restricted in many other ways.
Fox’s own mother could not find work; employers would not hire her, a widow, once they found out she had a young child at home.
With no other recourse, she hid him, boarded him out with friends from the time he was a toddler, visiting him on Sundays when she could.
He lived with “Grandma” Martha Ceasar, an African-American woman, as a member of her extended family, in a predominantly African-American neighborhood until he was age 12.
“I remember the good times with the Cesar family and going to their church,” Fox said.
Eventually, he wound back up living quietly with his mother. And the Depression began.
Fox recalled often wearing clothes that were worn and had grown too small, and wearing shoes with big holes in the soles.
Although money was tight, Fox’s mother bought him a special gift, a big dog, which he named My Own.
It was after this, Fox “finally met” other relatives. He said he has fond memories of family members singing and playing music on various instruments, and of his vegetable garden behind their apartment.
In 1945, Fox found himself in a predicament. He, like other men who had returned home from World War II, wasn’t going to get back his former job and everything had changed on the home front.
His best friend, his cousin Jackie, hadn’t made it home from the war. Friends were gone or had moved on. He had no ties to his neighborhood.
President Roosevelt had signed the GI Bill the year before. For the first time in Fox’s life, he could afford to go to college. But a city girl, Louise Dollinger announced she was accepting a position that would require a transfer to New York City to a town 80 miles north and suggested Fox apply for a job in New Milford.
LIFE IN NEW MILFORD
In New Milford, Fox and his mother both landed jobs at Maggi, which was later acquired by Nestle, and he and his mother shared an apartment in the house that is now the New Milford Public Library annex on Main Street.
It was an adjustment. At first, Fox had trouble sleeping. And he wondered what people did in town. Having come from New York, he was used to the hustle and bustle of activities.
In New York, he had gone to dance halls and seen his first big bands and musicians such as Frank Sinatra, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Harry James and his favorite Glenn Miller.
In New Milford, he saw his first cow.
Many years later, the now-former New Milford Times staff asked residents, including Fox, what their favorite thing about New Milford is. “This is where I met the girl of my dreams,” Fox replied.
He was referring to Jeanne Cuddy, who he describes as a reserved girl with auburn hair and hazel eyes to whom he was introduced by Cuddy’s cousin in front of the former Slone’s Pharmacy on Main Street.
Fox was introduced to the Cuddy family, including her parents, Bill and Lena Reynolds Cuddy. Lena was described as a “formidable woman (who) wasn’t sure she liked this fellow from New York City.”
Fox recalled that Lena “so unnerved” him that he made a point to bring his boxer as his wingman whenever he visited the house “so that Lena was equally unnerved.”
Fox and Jeanne married in 1947 and drove across country to California for their honeymoon. They liked it so much they stayed for three years before they came back to be closer to family.
The couple started a family in New Milford and, over the years, had six surviving children.
Fox worked for Berkshire Transformer, Winchester Electronics and later, Kimberly-Clark, where he worked as a buyer for more than 30 years.
He also had a side job taking tickets and selling candy at Bank Street Theater for many years.
That job not only provided a little extra income but allowed him to indulge in one of his great enjoyments, going to the movies.
In the little spare time he had, he also enjoyed working on his house, flower gardening and watching the wildlife in the backyard, putting out bird and hummingbird feeders, and never begrudging something for the squirrels.
Over the years, the Fox’s had children-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Jeanne died at the couple’s home seven years ago, with her husband at her side.
Fox, who worked out at the former Club on Grove Street well into his 90s, enjoys a cappuccino and watching movies on Netflix these days.
“Years ago, while we were on a day trip to New York to see a show, and as we walked around some of his old haunts, I asked him if he had any regrets, such as not going to college or not being able to complete flight school during the war,” Fox’s daughter, Cynthia, recalled.
“He said he has often ‘kicked’ himself for not going to college when he had the chance, and, yes, he really wished he had been able to qualify as a pilot in the Army Air Corp.,” she continued.
“But then he said, ‘But maybe then I would never have come to New Milford, never met Jeannie. Maybe it all worked out in the end, right?’”
Fox didn’t care for the show he saw that day, but he was “energized to be back in the city for the first time in years,” Cynthia said.
As Fox left the city for the day, he commented that he had been fun to visit the city but he couldn’t “wait to get back home.”
Cynthia Fox is one of Al Fox’s children.