Jono Walker comes from a long line of Westporters.
Very long — as in Bennetts and Schuylers, who lived on South Compo Road before the Revolutionary War.
Jono’s in Pennsylvania now, but he keeps up with his hometown — and thinks of it often. He publishes a blog — Jono’s Book Reviews — where he adds his own vivid personality to critiques of books from a variety of genres.
(His love of literature is inherited. Jono’s mother, Joy Walker, spent decades as a much-loved Staples English teacher.)
He recently blogged about Richard Ford’s new novel Canada. The book brought up some some “long forgotten childhood fears about how life as you know it might suddenly unravel.”
Those fears took root in Westport. Here’s his story:
It was the summer between 8th and 9th grade. I was a caddy at Longshore, working for guys like Joe Nistico, Sally Peppers and the Izzo brothers.
This cadre of elite Saturday morning golfers was made up of teachers, cops and local business owners who sponsored Little League teams and financed the Memorial Day Parade and fireworks at Compo. They peppered their golf rounds with hilarious off-color jokes, and if they ever missed a 2-foot putt with money on the line, their long pearls of non-repeating curse words were heart-stirringly inventive.
Not only were these men the undisputed kings of Longshore in those days, they were the heart and soul of Westport. While others rode the train into the city, these guys stayed in town and made things run. By no means were they saints, but they were as honest as they were rough around the edges.
A kid named Griff — a classmate at Bedford Junior High — instituted a regular poker game on Saturday afternoons that summer. It cranked up just when we were coming in from our morning rounds flush with cash. With 2 burly bodyguards in tow, he’d plunk down on the caddy bench, pull out his deck of Bicycle Playing Cards, flash a wise guy’s smile and ask, “Ready for some poker, gentlemen?”
He fleeced us week in and out. We were easy marks.
One Saturday, after stuffing another wad of our cash into his corduroy Lee jeans, Griff announced that he had some cherry bombs and M-80’s he could sell us at 5 bucks per handful. I wanted in.
The plan was to meet at Compo Beach just before the fireworks display. We’d do the deal right down at the waterline. The best place, he said, to make a transaction like this was out in a big crowd in plain sight. Nobody would suspect a thing.
At the appointed hour I stood near the brick bathhouses and found myself face to face with that wise guy smirk. Because Griff’s hands were full he asked me to stick the bill in his back pocket, and be quick about it. He said it was my lucky day, thrust both grocery bags into my arms and turned around.
I watched him disappear nonchalantly into the crowd, and peered wide-eyed into the Grand Union bags. They were crammed full of M-80s, ash cans, cherry bombs, Roman candles, and string after string of fire crackers.
I couldn’t believe it! The sweet, exotic smell of gunpowder wafted into the summer air. “Jackpot!” I cried to myself — just as the heavy hand of the law clamped down on my shoulder from behind.
I will never forget the shame of being the person inside the head that policeman puts his hand atop as he assists it into the back seat of a waiting squad car. I sat there feeling scared and queasy for what seemed like hours, as the officer sat up front filling out paperwork.
Finally, he turned around to face me with a smile I wasn’t sure how to read. It was my first good look at his face. Immediately I recognized him as one of the cops I knew from Longshore, which sent a fresh new rush of heat to my ears.
He whistled through his teeth and said,” Your old man’s sure gonna be pissed now, innit he?”