Woog's World / "Singing songs of spring"
Published 1:02 am, Friday, April 23, 2010
Suddenly the world comes alive.
Last month, Westport was a disaster area -- literally. Trees pierced homes and crushed cars; transformers and electrical poles sat in the middle of streets for days.
We were still removing limbs, fixing fences and restocking refrigerators when biblical rains swept in. For nearly a week we were soaked. Basements flooded, rivers overflowed, and ponds lapped at our doorsteps.
Today, Westport is spectacular. The town is deep green, bright purple, brilliant white and a thousand other colors. Fresh smells -- grass, flowers, air -- compete and combine gloriously, while birds tweet (the old-fashioned way) in a symphony of spring.
Spring is many Westporters' favorite season. And in spring it is especially wonderful to be a Westport youngster.
Most of my fondest growing-up memories come from spring -- far more than you'd expect from one ephemeral season. Spring has sprung here now, in full flower, but by early June heat and humidity will already have staked their claim on our days.
While it lasts, though, nothing beats a Westport spring.
It was spring of sixth grade that I first tasted real independence. The oldest kids in school, my friends and I ruled the halls of Burr Farms Elementary School with a swagger. We owned the cafetorium, the gym, the playground -- especially the playground! -- and if we harbored any doubts about junior high looming ahead, we certainly did not confide them to each other.
My first boy-girl party, first sleep-out in the woods behind Staples, first cigarette -- all took place that sixth grade spring.
So did my first acceptance by a "gang." It was hardly the Crips and Bloods -- we called ourselves the Surfers, and our baddest act was cutting in line at the World's Fair -- but being part of that juvenile gang meant everything to me that spring. The sky was bluer, the grass lusher, the world a better place because I was a Surfer.
Two years later, spring meant putting on a French play with Mademoiselle Delgado at Long Lots Junior High. Setting aside our audacity in charging $1.50 to watch a bunch of eighth graders perform "Astérix et Clèopâtre" in French, I remember that spring for the overpowering sense of independence I felt. My friends and I walked to rehearsals; we goofed around backstage as much as we could (with Mademoiselle, that wasn't much), and when it was over we walked to Chubby Lane's for burgers.
It wasn't far, but getting there by ourselves -- sitting at our own tables, spending our own money, taking our own sweet time -- gave me an intoxicating sense of freedom. We didn't have to be home until dark, and in spring the night takes a long time to fall.
The next year brought the famous spring of 1968. Martin and Bobby were murdered; France nearly fell to Danny the Red, and at Columbia students just a few years older than I seized the president's office.
I was affected by those events -- I cried as the Kennedy funeral train made its way south that stifling Saturday -- but I also felt strangely apart from what was happening outside Westport.
We had our beach that spring, and because we went to Long Lots it wasn't Compo. Our school hung out at Burying Hill -- this was the pre-erosion days -- and our favorite spot was on top of the steep, sloping cement wall. That's probably a metaphor for being 15 -- we sat high above everyone else, arrogantly strutting our stuff and thinking we were safe -- but no need to read too much into it. The wall was really just a pretty place, a perch where we could lie in the sun, check each other out and listen to "Honey" on our transistor radios. Soon, we knew, we would be 10th graders -- low men on the Staples totem pole.
But by the spring of '69 we had adapted well to high school life. We got our driver's licenses in batches, and if walking to Chubby's or biking to Burying Hill had given my younger self a tasty whiff of independence, being able to drive was a full-frontal assault.
That spring my horizons expanded exponentially. No longer was I bound by how far my feet could walk or pedal; suddenly all of New England was mine. I had a particularly good set of friends that spring; we played in a soccer league that stretched from Greenwich to Springfield, Mass. We didn't abuse our car privileges more than most 16-year-olds; what was as important as driving ourselves to games was stopping afterward to eat, whenever and wherever we pleased. To this day, my former teammates and I reminisce rhapsodically about the rides we shared our very first high school spring.
I don't remember the next two springs well -- I think I went to Staples -- and once I got to college, spring represented finals more than fun.
But every year around this time, spring breezes into Westport. It comes softly yet suddenly; it fills the town with the sights and sounds and smells that more than make up for the five months of February we've just endured.
And every year around this time, I say a silent prayer of thanks for having enjoyed so many wonderful Westport springs.