Woog’s World / Author, Westport native recalls his roots
Jim Noble has not lived in Westport for 40 years. He lives clear across the country, in California, and has spent his working life writing ads and copy for clients like Disney, Apple, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Ellen DeGeneres. (How clever is he? His freelance consulting firm is called Noble Ideas.)
But the former Westporter recalls his idyllic boyhood here with clarity. He and his neighborhood buddies spent summers climbing trees, riding Stingray bikes and discovering girls.
Many kids remember their youth. Some think about writing a book. Noble actually has.
“Nine Tana Leaves” is his first novel. It’s very Westport-specific — with plenty of references to his West Ambler Road house, nearby St. Luke Church, and Borchetta’s store around the Post Road corner — but it’s a book that can be enjoyed by anyone who grew up anywhere.
We all had our childhoods. And though each is unique, there is something about growing up, discovering ourselves and figuring out the world that binds us together no matter where we were.
Noble came to Westport at 2 years old. He left 20 years later for New York University. In between he went to Burr Farms Elementary School, then Bedford Junior High (his parents moved across town), and Staples High School (Class of 1978).
“It was such a special time,” the author says. “And Westport was such a glorious place.”
He started the book six years ago, with one chapter. But he stashed it away, and it sat in his desk for four years.
Finally, Noble returned to his manuscript. It was, he says, “a love letter to my childhood.”
He wanted to convey the “humor and heartbreak” of 1970s-era Westport.
“I lived an hour from the greatest city in the world. But this was really just a small town,” he explains. “There were beaches and woods. There were stores like Remarkable Book Shop, and there was an ice cream parlor. There were people from all walks of life. It was a magical place and time. Everything in the world felt green and fresh.”
Though the events he describes took place over several summers, for literary purposes he condenses them all into one year, when he was about 10.
“Nine Tana Leaves” straddles the line between memoir and fiction. He’s changed names of people, and melded three or four characters into one. Yet 80 percent of what he writes about, he estimates, is true. He and his buddies really did ride their bikes death-defyingly down the Turkey Hill South hill, across the Post Road. He really was spooked by the gruff store owner, Mr. Borchetta. He really did steal money from the fountain at Disney World. (Spoiler alert: Not every scene takes place in Westport.)
The finished product took a year to write. Noble spent much of that time searching his memory, conjuring up images and sounds and smells, making sure to do justice to a formative time in his life.
He returns to Westport a couple of times a year — his mother still lives here, in the home they moved to after West Ambler Road — and he used those trips to jog his memory.
Last year Noble drove around, revisiting beloved sites from his youth. Burr Farms Elementary School was gone. Staples’ nine separate low-slung buildings have been replaced by a three-story hulk. The Westport Pizzeria has moved from Main Street to the Post Road.
But he lingered at each, conjuring up memories. And of course St. Luke, Compo and Longshore are still there, pretty much the way Noble remembered them.
Though it seems as if “Nine Tana Leaves” is aimed at baby boomers, Noble says millennials have enjoyed it too. They are fascinated by life a decade or two before they were born.
One reader could not believe that Times Square was ever dangerous. (The book describes Noble’s jaunt into the pulsing city, from his safe suburban home.)
Like any first-time author, Noble is learning the ropes about marketing and promotion. He’s using Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media — tools that certainly did not exist in the 1970s, which may be the reason he and his buddies had so much time to ride bikes and climb trees — to spread the word.
Of course, book signings are important. Noble hopes to arrange a talk at the Westport Barnes & Noble (no relation) the next time he is in town. (Remarkable Book Shop, alas, is long gone.)
Any author’s biggest challenge, of course, is the reaction of relatives. Noble’s mother told him the book made her cry. “That’s the best review I could have gotten,” he says.
“Nine Tana Leaves” is available on Amazon, Kindle and other online sites.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.