Another Westport: Longtime resident looks back on decades of change

Name: Evelyn Palmer Jackson

Age: 91

Birth: Sept. 6, 1919

Birthplace: 16 Cross St.

Summary: Born in her mother's Cross Street bedroom, Jackson grew up with seven siblings in a neighborhood located on a hill across from the Saugatuck River, nearby the bridge that they frequently traversed to get to Bedford Elementary School and Westport's bustling downtown.

The large white colonial, two-family residence was shared with her grandparents, Peter and Mary Izzo, and the youngest of their eight children, Anna and Joe. They had the bottom floor while the Jacksons lived on the second floor. However, Jackson's brothers shared bedrooms in the upper attic, which was unheated. "They used to say that they froze in the winter and sweated a lot in the summer," she smiled.

"After dinner, though, before we went to bed, I remember my whole family would huddle around the coal stove in the kitchen to get warm. I really have so many good memories of my youth, growing up in Westport."

Eating in the Great Depression: We were lucky because we always had plenty of food because we had a large vegetable garden in our backyards. We also had a lot of blackberry bushes and my best friend, Lucille "Dolly" Purcello, and I would pick the berries and then knock on our neighbors' doors on Lincoln Street to sell them. And, they all went. We asked for 25 cents for a nice big container. Like many Italian families, my mother made a lot of "one-pot meals." She gave me a dime and told me to run down to the meat market, near the beginning of the bridge, and get her some soup meat. We also ate a lot of spaghetti and chicken with macaroni in it. Every winter an abundance of "frost fish," as we called it, came up the river. It was the most delicious fish! We had so much of it that my aunts Kitty and May would get on the trolley car and sell it to fish markets in Norwalk.

Bus to the Beach: We always took the 2 o'clock bus with Mrs. Purcello, my girlfriend's mother. She would pay for herself -- it was about 10 cents -- and we would all scoot in after her. Even though the bus started downtown and we were the first stop, it was usually pretty crowded. It let us off in front of the wooden bath houses at the beach. We took the 5 o'clock bus back home.

The Boardwalks, Bathhouses and Floats: I loved to swim. There were boardwalks at the beach that went right out into the water, especially at high tide. One time I slipped off of the end at high tide and I almost drowned. Lucille saw me out there in the water and she told someone that I looked like I was having trouble.

Picnics at Cockenoe Island and the "Private" Compo Beach: My father, Frank Palmer, used to take about 10 of us on a row boat to Cockenoe Island. My mother Jenny brought pots and pans so we could cook spaghetti for dinner. When we were older, and had our own families, we used to go to our private beach, which was near the jetty heading towards Old Mill Beach. We would picnic and spend the day with our cousins on this little strip of land. Across the road, there were no houses built there yet so if we had to go to the bathroom, we would just walk over, and go in the woods.

Going to the Movies: Every Saturday my father would give me 10 cents for the movies and 5 cents for candy, and we would walk across the bridge and go to the movies downtown. When the silent movies played, there was a piano player who played music to go along with what was happening on the screen. Sometimes they had little amateur shows. I remember once when my girlfriend and I got up there onstage and whistled. We didn't win and I don't even remember the song! We were thrilled when the talkies came.

Working at downtown stores: We all went to work so that we could give money to our mothers and help out a little. One summer I worked at the Louis Sametz Co., a toy factory, where many of my aunts worked. Aunt Annie (Anna Saponare) glued ping-pong balls together and Aunt Kitty (Christine Sarno) painted the dolls. We were paid by the amount of work that we did. I also worked until I got married at the Hart's Five and Dime store on Main Street.

Shopping: What's changed about Westport today are the stores on Main Street. It's now like Rodeo Drive. We used to have the Westport Food Center, the original Oscar's and the Townley. I loved Shilepsky's, which had good quality clothing. I remember buying a dress or a coat for about $12 and giving them a dollar each week when I got paid. I also like to go to Greenberg's Department Store. They sold everything there from buttons and material for dresses that I made to just about anything you would need.

Romance: I met my husband John Jackson when I was 18 at Gristede's, a Main Street grocery store where he worked. His brother, Maitland, was the manager. One day Maitland told us that he has a couple of brothers that were looking to meet some girls. We all met down at the beach on a Sunday. We were going anyway because we went to the beach every Sunday night. We flirted a little. I threw a little pebble stone at him. That night he asked me to go out to dinner with another couple. We didn't get married though for another four years because he had to finish college. He came up to Westport on the weekends and holidays, though, to work at Gristede's. Every Friday night Maitland would offer a supply of potato chips and beer and all of his employees and their friends would go to the south side of the beach and have a party. We would build a bonfire and sing songs. It was a lot of fun.

For Recreation: In the summertime, we went to dances at Roton Point, a big amusement park that had a big dance floor. In the winter, we used to dance at the Ritz Ballroom in Bridgeport. We saw many of the great big bands, like Count Basie and Rudy Vallee.

I also belonged to my church and was part of the "Children of Mary" group. We would put on a play every St. Patrick's Day which was performed on the Bedford Junior High School's stage. This was a big thing in Westport back then.

In the fall, during football season, we always went downtown to watch all of the cars from New York go through town as they made their way to the Yale football games (in New Haven) every Saturday. This was before the thruway and I-95 so they had to go through Westport on the Post Road. They were going so slowly, the cars were bumper to bumper, that one Westport woman was able to sell homemade sandwiches to the people in their cars. They appreciated this because there were not too many restaurants to stop at back then. It was fun for us to see all of the rich people and their fur coats in their cars.

First ride on new Merritt Parkway: When I was about 15, my neighbor asked if me and my sister Tessie wanted to take a ride with her to New Rochelle. With her old Model T, she was one of the first women in Westport to drive a car. The parkway hadn't even been finished yet. It only went so far as New Rochelle. We loved it. We were so happy to be driving on the Merritt Parkway.