Woog's World: Summer in Westport went from sunny to sobering

It’s the surest sign of the end of summer. At Burying Hill Beach, the lifeguard chair is empty.

Compo follows. Monday is the last day of duty. Then those five chairs will be stowed too. It will be nearly nine more months until they’re hauled back onto the beach, for Memorial Day and the summer of 2022.

With Westport youngsters back in school, the summer of 2021 is already fading into memory. It’s astonishing how quickly that happens. One day we’re swimming, grilling, enjoying life. The next day we spot ads for pumpkin spice lattes, and chocolate turkeys on the CVS shelves.

Before summer recedes completely, though, let’s look back. What got us here? And what does it say about the months and year ahead?

This summer in Westport began with great promise. The Memorial Day parade returned, a year after COVID knocked it (and every other town tradition) to its knees.

Police officers, politicians, Little Leaguers and school bands marched. The Y’s Men won the float contest, as they do every year (they probably did last year too, even if no one saw it). The grand marshal was a World War II veteran; one year soon we will honor one of those for the very last time.

It was an exciting moment for Westport. For the first time in 14 months, we gathered as a town to celebrate. After the parade and Veterans Green ceremony, we spread across town for the picnics and barbecues we’d always enjoyed, pre-pandemic. There was hardly a mask in sight.

The next tradition — the Independence Day fireworks — had been scuttled a couple of months earlier. The lead time required to hire a barge, secure insurance and take care of all other details influenced that decision; so did the uncertainty in early spring of what summer would bring.

By July 4, we considered the cancellation to be one final, unfortunate COVID casualty. By then, the virus was on the run. We’d turned the corner. Happy days were here again.

Except they weren’t.

A new danger — the Delta variant — lurked somewhere out there. Westporters, by and large, had done their part. Those of us eligible for vaccinations had gotten them. Many of those who were too young were not around anyway — shipped off to summer camp, presumably safe in the woods.

Westporters know we live in a bubble. But we also know that’s an imperfect analogy. We are not a walled, gated community. We exist in the real world. We work elsewhere. We travel. And of course, not all of us who could be vaccinated were, either.

So the Delta variant was real. It struck even vaccinated people (in a relatively mild form). It put unvaccinated folks in hospitals. The masks went back on.

They’re still on, in stores, schools and gyms. The summer of 2021 is ending differently than it began.

Of course, it’s still been far better than the summer of 2020.

The grills and picnic tables were back at Compo. So were out-of-towners — at least, those willing and able to pay the sticker-shock prices for a day at the beach. The smells and sounds of summer returned. So did the concession stand, under new management. Reviews were mixed, but lines were long.

This may be anecdotal, but it seems the number of South Beach sunset-watchers was higher than ever. Perhaps the pandemic made Westporters realize the wonders of our own back yard. And though one of the reasons for so many bright red sunsets was sobering — particulates drifting east from wildfires out west — it was still thrilling to watch.

The Levitt Pavilion was back too. Concert-goers had to reserve tickets online, “pods” were spray-painted onto the grass and dancing was limited to everyone’s own little areas, but otherwise it was business as usual. A year without outdoor pop, jazz, country and children’s music whetted our entertainment appetites. The Levitt’s summer series was a welcome feast.

Nearby, the Westport Library was still a place of energy and refuge. Around the corner in the Imperial Avenue parking lot, the Remarkable Theater delivered classic movies at night. Every Thursday, the Westport Farmers’ Market — safely, but with fewer restrictions than last year — welcomed shoppers.

At night, the dining scene sizzled. From Church Lane, Post Road and Jesup Green to Saugatuck, new spots and old favorites were packed. It was as if we were nutritionally — not just emotionally -— starved, after a year all of us would like to forget.

We had high expectations for summer. Some were met. Some fell by the wayside. Now fall looms. Where will be, three months from now?

No one knows. Just buckle up. Enjoy the ride. And — once again — wear a mask.

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 danwoog06880.com.