She can tell you that there are more white cars than any other color. She can tick off the cars that have big dogs with their faces hanging out the window, looking happy and excited about the breeze blowing back their ears. She waves at every car that passes, and almost all the time, there’s a cheery wave or a horn honk back.
There’s no doubt about it. Helen Marchetti In her heart is still the lovable happy mayor of her own little domicile.
At 96 years of age, the native of the borough gets most of her excitement these days sitting on her front porch across the street from St. Agnes Church watching the world pass by.
Her two pots of flowers just beneath her porch and her bright red chair where she comfortably assesses the world are distinctive; so is the little stuffed scarecrow at the foot of her lantern. A friend gave her the scarecrow just for fun, and Helen brings it in when rain is forecast because she doesn’t want it to get ruined.
She’s got a little bird feeder in the tree in her front yard, one that attracts the birds for brief visits. But she is partial to the sparrows and finches, and stands up and yells at the blackbirds and pigeons when they dare to sample the seed. She loves it when the big mushrooms pop up I the lawn overnight. A little miracle, it seems, designed just for her entertainment.
Helen still loves the house in which she was born, and loves looking across the street at the beautifully maintained vacant lot where the local kids often go to play or have games. It conjures up stories of the old hotel that used to be on the site when she was a kid, and she’ll tell you the excitement she felt when summertime came and the ‘summer people came down and they all went to parties and dances and had great times at the hotel.
She’s lived in the house most of her life, having been born in the upstairs bedroom, just like her brother as well. She loves telling stories about her father the milkman, the hardworking gentleman who got up before 4 in the morning to get his supply of milk in Long Branch to deliver to all the families in Atlantic Highlands.
She only moved from the house when she was married to Lester, her first husband, then moved back in with her parents when Lester died after a deliriously happy marriage of only a few years. When she married the second love of her life, Pete Marchetti, after the deaths of her parents, it was only natural they, too, would live in the house.
Now, with some assistance and others in the house with her, Helen still loves to look back on the happy years, the people she has known.
And all those waves from passing cars. “I don’t always know who it is,” she giggles mischievously, “but it’s so nice for them to wave.”
Not that Helen is always happy with passing cars. She pretty well has it down pat when someone is driving above the 25 mile an hour limit. She’ll call out to them from her chair on the porch, and has even threatened to move her chair to the lawn and hold up a sign telling the ‘regular speedsters’ to slow down. And when it gets really bad or she’s really frustrated, the former mayor is not above calling her friend the Police Chief and asking him to get the speed indicator sign back on the corner of her street so motorists can see in large electronic letters they indeed are going over the limit. Her front yard always has signs promoting the police, the firemen, the first aid, her political favorites, anything that has to do with Atlantic Highlands.
What are the things that get her angry? Not much. Those cars that go past above the speed limit for sure. But more importantly, anyone who dares to say anything against her beloved town. Having earned a reputation over her ninety decades for not being afraid to express herself loud and clear, this sprightly outgoing lady is apt to say things like “if you don’t like it here, there’s the highway.”
To Helen Marchetti, Atlantic Highlands is truly her town. One above criticism.
There are so many things that make her happy while she watches the world go by. All those waves and horn honks are at the top of the list. So are all the friendly folks who walk past with their dogs, many stopping for a pet of their fur or to give her a paw to shake. The neighbors across the street who wave and say Hi all the time, or bring garden grown tomatoes or apple treats. There are the kids next door, who frequently stop over for a chat; she loves watching them and their friends as they play and do their gymnastics with an agility that keeps her amazed. She loves having her 5 p.m.. cocktail, and will even raise her glass in a toast to the passersby.
And now there’s something new. Helen has noticed a trend she hasn’t seen before and it’s keeping her happy.
Have you noticed, she’ll ask anyone sharing a glass of wine or a cocktail with her, have you noticed something a lot more people are doing now? As they get to the corner, but I can still see them, and they’re making the sign of the cross as they pass St. Agnes. It’s something she was taught to do as a child, she explains, every time she passed a church. And now that she sees others doing it, it’s started a new habit for this kind and generous lady. “Well, if they’re making the sign of the cross, then I think I better be saying a prayer for them!“ she reasons. “I don’t know everybody by name, but what difference? Maybe it’s just the extra prayer they need.”
Helen Marchetti. Queen, Mayor, Hostess of her own domain. At 96, still thinking of doing nice things for others.