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Woog's World / Bombs remind us how our world ... and town ... have changed

Published 8:44 am, Sunday, April 28, 2013
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The unfathomable massacre at the Boston Marathon drove home, with chilling, sudden randomness, just how vulnerable all of us are to senseless acts of horror.

Four months ago, Sandy Hook did the same. A decade earlier it was 9/11.

Three times, Westport has been spared a direct hit. Three times though, many of us have known men, women and children directly affected by sheer lunacy.

In the nearly 12 years since four airliners were hijacked, our travel routines are altered. In the weeks since 20 little children were gunned down, we've rethought our daily school routines. Now, in the aftermath of a bomb blast in a joyful city center, our sporting routines may never be the same again.

I wonder what that means for all of us in America. In particular, I wonder what it means for boys and girls right here in Westport.

From childhood to adulthood, I've always considered this a safe town. Not Mayberry -- we have our murders, assaults and other crimes -- but certainly not a place prone to frequent violence. Still, over the years, as society has changed, so too has Westport.

Back in the day, kids played all over the place. High Point Road -- my road -- was a street festival, nearly every day of the year. Kickball, "running bases," snowball fights -- all took place up and down the street. Most often we congregated at the cul-de-sac at the end (we called it the "turnaround"), far from the eyes of any adult.

Mothers appeared only at dinnertime, as if by magic. We would wander into someone's house. That mother would feed us. Then, re-energized, we headed back out to play.

In sixth grade, a few High Point friends and I decided we'd walk to and from Burr Farms Elementary School -- every day. We were 11 years old. We wanted to be independent (and cool). No one stood in our way.

All year long -- in rain, snow, mud, fog and (occasionally) glorious weather -- we walked. Our path took us through back yards and woods, then across Rippe's farm. No one seemed to care. Not our parents, the homeowners whose grass we trampled, not even Mr. Rippe.

What did we get out of it? The independence we sought. The admiration of everyone else in sixth grade. A "Stand By Me" sense of camaraderie. And a feeling of security in our hometown (or at least our neighborhood) that, decades later, remains embedded strongly in my soul.

I came of age a few years before the Minnybuses. But for Westport kids of that era, those red-and-white striped, hard-riding, diesel-blowing vehicles provided the same independence, and evoked the same feelings of comfort and stability.

Several generations of youngsters learned how to navigate Westport -- and control their own lives -- by taking Minnybuses. They were a bit cumbersome -- you had to transfer at Jesup Green, and it wasn't like they arrived every few minutes -- but the long waits and tedious travel time provided opportunities for teenage bonding.

I think about those Minnybuses every now and then -- most often when I see boys and girls shuttled everywhere, strapped in their parents' car, nodding along with iPods, unaware of where they're going and oblivious of how to get there. And all alone.

Sometime in the 1970s and '80s -- perhaps the day Etan Patz was abducted -- things began to change. Outdoor play morphed from normal and natural, to fraught with danger. Transportation -- and I haven't even mentioned hitchhiking -- moved from exciting to fear-inducing.

But that was nothing compared to now. The world after 9/11 is not the world in which young kids can ride bikes unsupervised, walk to school without a second thought, or travel across town on a whim (and without cellphones).

We live in a world filled with uncertainty and dread. It's a world where an airplane can slice into an office tower. Where a child can be gunned down in her classroom. Where a leg or a life can be lost in the time it takes for a pressure cooker bomb to explode in the heart of a city celebrating a Patriots Day marathon.

So what does all this mean to the boys and girls growing up here today? To the Westport youngsters who don't know the tiny but momentously life-fulfilling thrill of walking out their front door, not telling their parents where they're going (because they themselves don't know)? Who won't grow up feeling their world -- even their home town -- is a place of security, stability and certainty?

And what kind of world will today's children -- when they grow up -- pass on to their own little kids?

I don't know. But I do know that while I grew up in this very same town, the world was a far different place.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.