Brenda Wants To Know…

“06880” is a blog by, for and about Westporters.  But “Westporters” is a very broad concept.

Many folks who left long ago — even those who lived here only briefly — still consider themselves Westporters.  A large number are avid “06880” fans.

One — a woman named Brenda — emailed me last weekend.  She said:

I really enjoy this blog.

I spent my young years in Westport in the 1960’s, and have nostalgia for those days.  I really miss it and dream about it.  It seems so changed, but somehow the same in some ways.

A view any Westporter can relate to.

I grew up off of Main Street and then on Bridge Street.  It was almost magical, even though they seemed like plain ordinary neighborhoods.  The spooky abandoned houses on our street, the embalming fluid factory at the end of our road gave us kids major nightmares!  And the beach, Big Top hamburgers, all of it is etched in my memory.

The book signings at The Remarkable Bookshop, Rico’s Hair Salon on Main, Carrols, the Carousel toy shop — I really wish I had stayed in Westport for my teen to college years.  I visited several times when I lived in NYC in my 20’s.  It was changing then, but still so much the same.

I would love to move back with my husband, but does it in any way resemble the Westport in our day?  The magic in my mind of Westport is perhaps unrealistic from all of the comments I’ve read about how much it has changed.

Thanks for all of these memories.

Brenda is not the 1st person to ask such a question.  It’s a great one — and not easy to answer.  Here’s my attempt, in an email back to her:

Thanks, Brenda — much appreciated.  We definitely grew up in a magical time, and you’ve nailed many important memories, places and events.

Remember Westport Bank & Trust? It's now Patagonia.

So is Westport the same?  Yes and no.  Some nice old homes have been torn down.  Places like Welch’s Hardware, Remarkable and Selective Eye — the stores that made downtown so memorable and homey — are long gone; the chains that replaced them have sucked the soul out of Main Street.

Kids don’t ride their bikes all over town; they don’t walk to school; they don’t play running bases at the end of cul-de-sacs.

BUT — you hoped this was coming — many newcomers are as involved in Westport as our parents were.  They are intelligent, creative, hard-working, and just as dedicated to making this a true community as previous generations.  They’re doing good things for others, and having a great time in the process.

Our school system is in tremendous shape.  I know Staples best — and with a dynamic principal, an outstanding staff, superb facilities and a remarkable student body, this could be the “best” Staples has ever been (however you measure such a thing).  That’s really saying something.  From everything I see and hear the middle schools and elementary schools are also highly regarded, and in excellent shape.

Despite being overbuilt (and over-banked), Westport remains an incredibly beautiful town. As Longshore celebrates its 50th anniversary as a municipal park; Compo retains its grace and allure; trees grow, leaves turn and snow falls — this really is a special place.

You didn’t say where you live now.  But if you’re close by, I hope you can get to the Westport Historical Society on Saturday, March 6.  From 1-4 p.m. there’s a party celebrating a very cool map and exhibit of “Main Street Memories.”  It’s dedicated to the downtown of the 1960s.  You’ll enjoy looking back — but you can also see Westport’s present, and envision our future.

I hope that helps.  Thanks again for writing.  I’d love to see you on March 6 — and, soon after, as a neighbor.

That’s my 2 cents.  But I’m just one guy.  I invite other Westporters — wherever in the world you live — to toss in your own thoughts.  Click the “Comments” tab at the top or bottom of this post.

Let’s give Brenda a piece of our Westport minds.

25 responses to “Brenda Wants To Know…

  1. Brenda, Dan hit the nail on the head for you! Of course Westport has changed from what we all knew as kids but there is a soul here that is constant and will be familiar to you. We moved here in 2001 having lived away for many years and we found the same kind of core atmosphere that I recall as a child. Just as Dan said, many here (residents and others, like teachers, librarians, etc) are dedicated to making this a true community. Plus if you want to try to “replicate” some of those freedoms we all recall as children, many still send their kids out to play at the end of the cul de sac or ride their bikes. There are other parents here who value that play, though I had completely forgotten about running bases! Thanks Dan!

  2. Diane & Dan Herman

    We both grew up here in the fifties and sixties…Moved away and then came back! There is no place like Westport…love this town and your blog Dan! See you at the Historical Society party on March 6th.

  3. This is fantastic, Dan and all –to read these comments this morning really started my day off right.

    Somehow, I feel there’s a mystical (?) or whatever term one feels comfortable with but I’m OK with mystical — force drawing many of us back there in body or spirit anyways. I’m glad to hear those who’ve moved back still find that certain almost unspeakable yearning for whatever our beloved Westport calls out in us, is being filled in us.

    I’m eager to read more comments! Many thanks, Dan for chronicling these magical days for us and keeping us up to date. Our world needs more Westports now.

  4. Grumpy Old Man

    There is no question that Westport has retained its beauty. It remains gorgeous. The old timers still say hello but the New Yorkers have taken over the town. They are in a hurry on the roads, celling, tailgaiting and running stop signs. It is much more crowded now. The Post Road resembles the turnpike. More people commute to Westport to work than the opposite. Everyone is still enraptured with the value of their home and the excellence of the school system (which many of us Staples graduates debate). All in all, if you go out at 10:00 p.m. at night, there is a brief resemblance to the ole Westport. Quite and peaceful. Unfortunately, there is nothing to do at that hour. But to differ with a previous blogger, the sites are much the same but the town has lost its soul. It sold out to the highest bidder as did much of our boomer generation.

  5. Addison Fletcher

    In 1958, my grandfather, who was a Senator from Vermont, wrote in his diary: “I just
    visited Westport, Connecticut. Has to be
    the snootiest town in America.”
    The discussion on the condition of Westport
    indicates that much has not changed. We
    ain’t all that special folks!!

    • Interesting that a year after the senator’s visit, Look Magazine and the Municipal League of Cities named Westport an “All-America Town.”

  6. Wow! This topic brings up a lot of stuff here. The last 2 comments — I’m not surprised. My sister does not share all of my magical memories. She remembers it a bit differently and perhaps more like you do.

    I grew up not as a rich kid in Westport. My mom was a mom, a concert level violinist(not working as a violinist) but as a bank teller at County Federal on Main Street, my dad was a school teacher and getting his masters at night at NYU –so we lived in “little” houses. Some of my friends were rich but we weren’t but I didn’t care. My life was perhaps built in my own mind on the dreamscapes of Westport — I played the violin with Mr. Ohanion (sp?) from Staples; ran through the fields and woods; wrote stories, read tons of books from the Westport Library mostly from the children’s section upstairs — I knew some of the shelves by heart; played with my wild neighbors some kick ball and running bases; progressed from minnow to shark at the YMCA; played on the beach, or at the pool at Longshore and frankly, I could have given a rip about the social caste system in Westport. But I knew it existed.

    Who knows, maybe some of us have to breathe the soul of Westport back into her. Sounds like she needs it.

    Thanks for all that you’re sharing.


  7. Westport is not the same as it was – no place can remain frozen in time. However, it is still a wonderful place to live. I think one of the largest indicators is the number of people who grew up here and have returned. I did, and I have run into many more. Most of us have lived somewhere else during the college and early marriage periods, but we came back. Why would we do that if not because we knew that this was where we wanted to raise our families?

  8. Brenda I am a cross of old guard and new guard Westport…. I grew up here in the seventies and eighties as Westport started changing…. Some for the good and some maybe not… But like any place or anything you get out of it what you either put into it or want from it…. There are vistas and scenes that are just breathe taking at different times a year…. The school system is beyond reproach on many levels…. The arts, food, and shopping are great…. People are people some you like some you don’t but Westport is like 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon some one knows some one who is from Westport.. and that is cool

  9. You’ll still find that the wonderful library plays a huge role in Westport’s community life. Tomorrow Westport native Cathleen Schine is reading from her latest novel, The Three Weissmans of Westport.

  10. Carl A. Swanson

    I will chirp in here although Professor Woog did devote an entire column to my return to Westport after 30 years practicing law in Texas. My favorite ancedote about the new Westport happened one night at Stop & Shop. A thirty-something pretty blond ran into the store in great alarm and hurry. She skirted the aisles for several items and then approached the check out lines. She ran back and forth searching for an express line. At the late hour, none was to be had. Finally paralyzed out of anger, she dropped her items and yelled: “How can this be happening in Westport, Connecticut!!!” For those seeking entitlement, there are still some lines here in Westport. For those seeking less pretentiousness, it remains super.

  11. katherine hooper

    I can’t stand when people dis westport. i have only lived here for 9 years but my family and I LOVE WESTPORT!

    1. Westport is a great town for families. it has an amazing plethora of fun for kids, including the halloween parade, 4th of july fireworks, an old fashioned memorial day parade, an outdoor iceskating rink, a local ymca, earth place, longshore sailing, a million activities thru parks & rec and cont. ed, compo beach… the list is endless.
    i loved when we first moved in and i was doing a million things with 2 little kids 15 months apart and i would walk into the bank or the post office and the employees would whip out toys for the kids to play with or better yet many shops have a little play area!
    2. Not many towns have such an abundance of cultural activities for all ages-the westport country playhouse, the westport arts center, toquet hall, the senior center (just such a wonderful place), the westport historical society, the levitt, to name a quick few.
    3. I also the love the pride the townspeople have here. everyone is up on all the local issues (just read our letters to the editor in the local papers or come around in november when the political signs are everywhere). many get involved in beautifying the community (i.e sherwood mill pond, refurbishing the compo playground, flower plantings around town, etc etc etc). The PTA is top notch. passionate parents in abundance! i even love the arguing over where to put the YMCA and banning plastic bags. Westporters care!

    4. Westport has one of the BEST libraries around. besides all the great guest speakers and programs, just go over and meet one of the childrens librarians. they are awesome; so kind and enthusiastic and have probably read every book in there!

    there are many other obvious reasons to love westport; the easy commute to NYC, Staples High School and the rest of the great westport schools. The gorgeous beaches and rocky streams, the old world charm with our historical houses and stone walls but i honestly like the people here. i love linus in the post office. i love aj and jimmy from ace hardware, mike and the gang from coffee an’, charlie from the getty station. the pastry guy at fresh market, the white haired man from parks and rec. (who knows everything!) i seriously could go on and on.

    westport is a true community. my family made real friends here, friends to grow old with and a lot of them are transplants who care about westport too; friends from south africa, holland, NY, california, england, even Zimbabwe.
    Of course some of our favorite westporters are the old time locals who we get excited when we see them milling about on main street- like the twins dusty and honey and the famous dan woog!

  12. Thanks for the last entry, Katherine. You feel about Westport the way we did when we lived there. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    To finish off this great thread, here are some classic memories of mine. I’m sure a lot of people could relate who grew up there in the 60’s.

    Back in the day, we used to ride our bikes up to the Merritt Superette for gum, the old multi-colored candy necklaces and of course, wax lips. All of us kids in the neighborhood wore wax lips including the boys until we ate them! I remember the Purcell boys who lived a few blocks from us and thinking they were kind of cool and tough, and they played kickball with us. And the Coffee and Donuts place now used to just be an old fashioned donut shop. Our neighbor, who was really a professional chef — Jaz –worked there when he didn’t have a restaurant at one point, and he would pick out the donuts for us. My sister and I would ride up there every Sunday morning and get a dozen donuts of various kinds. Who cared about fat in those days!! — we were skinny kids. They were honestly the best donuts around– and next door, there was the gas station that my dad would take our classic gray Oldsmobile with tons of chrome to polish!! to get the oil changed. Really nice guys worked there, and one of the mechanics, I’ll never forget– lost his arm up to his elbow and he had a wooden forearm and a huge hook for a hand. That hook would reach in and check under our hood and I would be terrified until he smiled. He was a nice guy — forget his name.

    We had a genuine Good Humor man every night ring his bell on our street in the summer time, and that was a huuuge event for all of us. The families all played kick ball and wiffle ball together and then we would race to finish off the night with a toasted almond bar or an orange creme bar. Mr. Softie and his truck were a close second. He came in the late afternoon before dinner.

    Nice to know that the Westport Library, one of my favorite places in Westport as a child, remains such a big part of the community. I remember going up those back stairs every Saturday, and having “story hour” with one of the librarians in one of the little rooms down the hall. Then after that, picking out great books to read for the week. The I would play hide and seek downstairs with my sister in the huge adult section overlooking Main Street. Then many times, we would go to Westlake for dinner. The best egg drop soup and spareribs around that came steaming in those old fashioned silver dishes with covers.

    Great memories and I think magical always. My daughter is now 22 so, I won’t have a family to raise there but is it great for empty-nest age folks to live too? I know it’s a great place to raise kids but what about one stage beyond that?

    Thanks Dan for a great thread. It really makes me think about things including, yes, maybe I could live there again. — Brenda

  13. Linda Gramatky Smith

    Just one last comment (knowing 06880, it won’t be): Brenda, your question has evoked so many memories. I too came back to Westport 16 years ago and found some of the “entitled” folks mentioned above. But a much larger percentage are as nice and down-to-earth as when you and I grew up in town (in different eras). As the daughter of an artist, you know we weren’t part of the wealthy crowd, but it didn’t matter.

    AND coming back, I’ve found so many good friends, old and new. Ken and I do yoga with a woman who is 93 at the Senior Center (the center is another treasure that wasn’t around when we were first here), and I have friends on the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection committee who have toddlers.

    I’ve joined with six other Staples 1960 classmates to work on our 50th reunion next September 25th and when you hear the laughter and memories pouring forth, it’s as if no time at all has passed.

    Ken and I love the most to go down to South Beach at Compo on summer nights and bring our dinner and watch the most gorgeous sunset across the inlet. The beauty of Westport drew us back, and the library and events and art and plays and people keep us here.

    Once a “Westporter”, the town always stays inside our hearts. And yes, not all of our memories are good, but it’s still our hometown and a fantastic place to grow up. Thanks for a great question, Brenda!

  14. Grumpy Old Man

    Westport is a great place to retire and the town caters to old folks in many ways. But in no way is it cheap to live here. It is double what it cost you to live down south.

  15. Yes, thanks for that information Linda and GOM — I think it seems like a nice place for empty nesters. We’re in no way retired — we both are active and work. I will probably work as long as I can breathe so…

    I’m know Westport is expensive but so are most places that are worth living in– to me anyways. We live in Minneapolis and it’s not too cheap either. But we love the vibrancy of it.

    Thanks again for all of the great info I’m getting here and the chance for some really wonderful memories of a more simple time. I miss those times, really.


  16. Grumpy Old Man

    Lived in Farmington for a time. Easier winters here but don’t plan on seeing the sun from Thanksgiving to April. Average house is going for 1.1 million up from slumping $900,000.
    Commercial real estate is now taking the hickey.
    Good luck. Grew up here too. Nice to be back.

  17. All these adulations bring me back to the opening line of Sloan Wilson’s “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit”

    “By the time they had lived seven years in the little house on Greentree Avenue in Westport, Connecticut, they both detested it. There were many reasons, none of them logical, but all of them compelling.”

  18. addison fletcher

    Wonderful Cassandra! Bravo. Thanks for sharing. Those who “love” Westport should realize that loving inanimate things is rather
    sophomoric and somewhat disturbing!

  19. Wow ,again Mr. Fletcher! How about being a bit kinder?

    There’s no one sophomoric nor materialistic around here – you know nothing about me or my childhood. I train animals for a living and my husband is a counselor. So perhaps a bit of kindness and understanding and compassion from both you and Cassandra.

    How about thinking before you write something so mean.

    I’m woman who, as a girl, grew up in Saugatuck in a little house with no material means to speak of remembering the simple things of life that mean something to many of us in the human race. How about being human?

    Your posts, Mr. Fletcher, make me hope that there are not many more like you in Westport. They’re mean spirited and snobby. Who would ever want to live there.

    Sorry Dan — had to speak up here.

  20. Hi Brenda, I don’t know whether or not this will answer your question but I hope it will give you another perspective. 🙂

    My family and I moved to Westport 15 years ago from the Bronx. We love everything about it and consider it our home, in spite of the fact that through the years many editorials and letters to the editor and even some of Mr. Woog’s own columns, (which we thoroughly enjoy) have made me feel a little uncomfortable to admit in public that I was New Yorker for 35 years before coming here. To Grumpy Old Man, I’d like to say please don’t lump all of us New York transplants into your generalizations.

    In full disclosure, yes I drove my kids back and forth to school in my minivan; but I have never once, in Westport or the Bronx, gone through a red light or stop sign or talked on my cell phone while operating my car. Not all of us former New Yorkers are jerks all of the time. And the opposite can be said about all homegrown Westporters not being the salt of the earth all of the time. My family and I have made many friends in the years we have lived here and they are an even balance of Westporters and “transplantees”. The one thing I know for sure is that none of us can be model citizens 100% of the time, but it gets a little old to always hear about how we New Yorkers are ruining the Westport of yore.

    Everyone becomes nostalgic about their wonder years no matter where they spent them. Looking back on our childhood, being free from many of the stresses and responsibilities we experience as adults can really rosy up our glasses. I have some of the fondest memories of my life growing up in what is now considered to be the “South Bronx”. I’ve been back to my old neighborhood and in many ways it still appears the same, but the people are different and some of the landscape has changed. Unlike Grumpy Old Man I don’t begrudge the people that are in my old neighborhood. It’s their turn to try and grasp a piece of the American Dream; like we did when we moved to Westport to give our children a great education in one of the most beautiful places on the east coast. We wanted the yard, the dog and the town community which we got in spades. We love Westport and will never regret choosing to live here after an exhaustive search of many, many suburban towns. We are very proud and feel fortunate to be able to call ourselves Westporters.

  21. Amen Tara! Couldn’t have been said any better.

    I love many New Yorkers — I lived there for about 7 years in my 20’s. There are so many down-t0-earth people there too. My husband is a native New Yorker so obviously, I love New Yorkers 🙂

    I totally agree about those special wonder years — it’s nice to share the same memories with fellow Westporters. They become more precious as time goes by.

    Thanks for help restoring my faith here. You should be proud!

    • Thanks for your kind response, Brenda!

      I hope you and your husband get the chance soon to come and relive some of your happy childhood memories. You are so right…the older we get the fonder they become! 🙂

  22. Grumpy Old Man

    I believe Judge Fletcher was referring to Katherine Hooper’s comment about “loving” Westport. Since I know the Judge quite well, I can assure you he is one of Westport’s biggest boosters. However, that being said, enough on your own personal blog here. Can we move on?

  23. Thanks for all of the nice people who wrote genuinely trying to help. I appreciate it and for people who use blogs to bully others — well enough said. There’s a real bully on here.

    It’s enough for me to unsubscribe now. I think I can research Westport without this.