Woog’s World / Proud to be a townie
I’m a townie.
I say it proudly. I wasn’t born here, but from age 3 on I grew up in Westport. I attended nursery school through high school here. I went away to college, and lived other places. But I came back. And I stayed.
I’m not alone. There are lots of people like me. Westport is filled with folks from other places: Manhattan and Brooklyn, sure, but everywhere else in the country, and the world.
In our Staples High School boys soccer program alone, we have families from India, Spain, Greece, Mexico, South Africa, England, the Netherlands, Israel, Norway and Brazil.
But we’ve also got players whose parents grew up here. I’ve been around long enough to coach the sons of players I also coached. A couple of years ago, I coached a fourth-generation Westporter.
The halls of all our schools are filled with the sons and daughters of men and women who grew up here. Sometimes their kids attend the same schools they themselves went to. More than a few parents have flashbacks every time they go to Town Hall. All they think of is their second-grade classroom, or the cafeteria or gym, all of which have changed since it was Bedford Elementary School. Or the auditorium, which has not.
If you grew up here, you remember big things: The Memorial Day parade. Fourth of July fireworks. Candlelight Concerts, Staples Players shows, state championship games.
But you don’t just remember the events. You remember very specific things about them: Sitting on top of a Main Street roof, watching the parade below. The smell of fireworks as they were shot off in a flimsily roped area next to the cannons. Backstage moments before a play or concert; a specific comment made on a bus going to and from a game.
You remember well-known, popular stores: Klein’s. Remarkable Book Shop. Bill’s Smoke Shop. Not just the places, but sharp, specific things: Sally Klein recommending a certain record in her space at the back of Klein’s. The cat curled up on an easy chair in a Remarkable corner. The pinball machines — and later, video games — downstairs at Bill’s.
You remember when a heavy snow caused the roof to fall in on Greenberg’s. You remember fires: the furniture store. The bowling alley. Carousel toy store (twice, at different locations).
If you’re a townie, you have clear memories of houses all around town. Some look pretty much the same while others have been torn down, replaced by something looking nothing like the original.
Still, you drive by and remember: That’s where we played spin-the-bottle in sixth grade. That’s the basement where I had my first beer. That’s where I hit a tree backing up, two days after I got my license.
If you’re a townie, you remember when being a townie was much more of a big deal than it is now. Being a townie in the post-war 1950s and 1960s meant, by and large, that your family had been here in the 1940s, 1930s, 1920s or even earlier. They helped make this town what it was — creating it physically, as builders, masons and electricians — and they helped run it, as policemen, firemen, road workers, shopkeepers and much more.
But suddenly Westport was flooded with newcomers. There was tension at times between the kids who had grown up in the same house their parents and grandparents lived in, and those who recently arrived, often living in brand-new homes.
I did not think about those things then, when I was growing up. I did not wonder what folks who had lived nearby for decades thought about the 70 houses that sprang up, seemingly overnight, on newly created High Point Road. It was my street, and that’s all that mattered.
I did not think about the tax burden — for new schools, new services, more police, more firefighters — we imposed on the people who would have to pay for them.
I simply hitchhiked, rode my bike everywhere, went to school and the beach, and grew up here. I never realized that every experience was part of what became, slowly but steadily, my rock-solid image of what a home town is and should be.
I did not set out to become a townie. None of us do. When I was a teenager, I could not wait to get out of Westport. That’s true of many youngsters here today.
But I landed back in Westport. Some of us return by choice, others by family duty or coincidence. When we do, we realize — finally, as adults — that this is quite a remarkable place.
There are many more of us townies here today than anyone knows. And today’s kids — well, some of them — will one day be townies too.
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.