Caddying, Roman Candles And Cops

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.

Jono Walker

Jono Walker

(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.

Longshore was a bit rougher back in the 1960s. So were the golfers.

Longshore was a bit rougher back in the 1960s. So were the golfers.

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.

FireworksAt 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?”

50 responses to “Caddying, Roman Candles And Cops

  1. Marc Sholes

    Wonderful piece! I have not seen a picture of a Cherry bomb or m 80 in 40 years, thanks for your story and your pictures!

  2. What year was it?

  3. Those were the days. Great memories. Westport was a great place to grow up in.

  4. Now that’s the Westport I’m talkin about — Jockey Club style! Grand Union bags are a great and important detail to include for that era for sure. Still think of those days riding bikes around Peter’s Bridge Market and seeing those cooool guys even though we might have been a just touch afraid of them. And the Arrow Restaurant and the Nisticos — those were some soulful days in Westport.

    • Loved those Jockey Club hamburgers. What about Frannies? There was also a store called Slims in that strip. Soda fountain and pinball machine My brother Chip wouldn’t allow me to play. He was very protective of his younger sisters.

  5. Jamie Walsh

    Great Memories of a more innocent time…when a kid with a bag of Fireworks was….well just another kid with a bag of fireworks…or a BB Gun…or a minibike…

  6. Estelle T. Margolis

    For me, one of the most serious changes in our town is that our teachers,
    fire fighters, police and others can no longer afford to live here.
    When we moved here in 1965. It was a very different place. No national chains had taken over Main Street. We had stores owned and run by local residents. Others have commented about the wonderful old stores.
    In the early 70’s the Planning and Zoning Commission proposed some low and middle cost housing regulations. The RTM turned them down twice.
    On the third try Manny Margolis, who was on the Commission, said he would vote against the proposal in committe in the hope that the RTM would vote for it! The RTM turned to down again.
    Manny resigned from the P and Z. He saw no way to welcome the teachers and others who had once been able to afford to live in Westport. They gave their time and talent to our children, but were not welcome to live among us. It wasn’t Our Town any more!

    • I agree. The people who built the town used to be able to afford to live in the town. Now, only the folks who have roads named after them are still around. 45 miles to Manhattan is a blessing and a curse.

      • Times change; happens everywhere. The changes reflect the changes in demographics; you can’t build a moat around Westport.

        • Thanks Mr. Obvious. I knew you would show up – just like the funky smell at low tide.

    • It has also become more dangerous!

      People bring firearms and ammunition to RTM Meetings!

    • It has also become more dangerous!!!

      People bring firearms and ammunition to RTM Meetings!!!!

    • Compo Old Timer

      Is the BB gun toting hippy really trying to suggest that Westport has gone to hell in a hand-basket? My word, Estelle. Lighten up.

  7. WELL SAID, Estelle! My dad was a teacher in the Westport school system in the sixties, my mom a violinist and bank teller and more at County Federal on Main before working at Weston Woods, and we could (barely) afford to reside in Westport but we did and it was truly the Wonder Years childhood. It’s lamentable what happened to the town on too many levels to go into but it was a true town in those days. But I will say those Jockey Club days made the town memorable. Before we moved to Bridge St., we lived on Richmondville Ave as did the above mentioned author, and I remember there were old Italian women in the neighborhood who would rest their large arms out their windows and offer us their homemade “meataballs” as a snack. The chef for the now Coffee An lived on our street too. Those kind of folks cannot live in Westport now which gave the town it’s heart and soul. But it is what it is.

  8. Westport Expat

    Liked the book Canada a lot, and loved the tales of old Westport. My paper route took me through Longshore; and while I may not have learned any new words from the golfers as I passed by, I *did* find out how to use them. Good times, indeed.

  9. I was a caddy the summer of 1964 when I was 12.5 years old. As a newbie and on the bottom of the hierarchy, I was doomed to caddy for the worst golfers, mostly women who hit the ball twenty yards at a time and then talked for 10 minutes between shots. My most memorable lesson from the older caddies: Win Headley taught us how to light our farts with matches. I completely lost all desire to ever golf as a result of that summer, but I bought a go-cart with the 100 dollar bills that I saved from the lousy tips and had a blast with it the next summer instead of caddying.

  10. Oops, again.

  11. That was 100 one-dollar bills for the go-kart.

  12. Old Bridge Grill Patron

    I am sure Win Headley is quite glad you referenced him as your instructor in the art of semi spontaneous combustion!

    Wonder if he reads the blog?

  13. Carl Addison Swanson III

    Great article. But it should also remembered that Longshore Golf Course was a great place for juniors to learn the game as well. Many mothers, including mine, would just drop us off and we played 18 if not more holes at an incredible low rate. Ranger Don Rice would keep an eye on us in case of misbehavior but there was little. There were few organized structured classes or lessons back then. George Buck mostly taught the ladies. The course itself had no irrigation system back then. In the mid-summer months, many fairways were like parking lots and #17 was a dry, sink hole. Great times in the 60’s on Longshore as there still are . . .

  14. U. Zooelly N. Trouble

    I had to grow up and leave Wetspot before I could learn and afford to play golf. Jono and his family as well as Danny Woog and his have been special “Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn type people and they helped make Wetspot a “special place.”

    • My point UZ/NZ was golf was very affordable for kids back then. I think we got a pass for 20 bucks a season? Wonder Years! And I used to beat Win Headley readily in our matches. Not so much when he became a Green Bay Packer.

  15. U. Zooelly N. Trouble

    I took up wrestling in the 7th grade because I hero-worshipped Win Headley. When we were in JHS the crop of Staples athletes were like GODS to us.

    • Tom Allen '66

      Win, who was a football teammate and a year behind me, was a state champion heavyweight wrestler as well as a high school and college football All-American. He was also a fine baseball pitcher who chose instead to compete on the Staples golf team that CAS captained. Golf’s gain was baseball’s loss. Mike Tingley ’69, a former lefty Staples QB, lived across the hall from me in college with Brian McCarthy ’67 as his rommate and was a frequent partner in crime. In the liklihood that Win reads this blog Mike is probably burrowing into the Indiana turf to hide.

  16. Jono,

    Thanks for the story!! It is a wonderful piece!! Growing up in Westport then was exactly like you described!! It was a very special time!! A very special place!! We each have our stories of a wonderful place!! We should put a book together of Westport’s Wonderful Wonders!!

    Tom Wall

  17. At the 50th anniversary of Longshore (2010) it was suggested that an oral history be made but nothing has become of it. One fine gentleman, the guard at Greens Farms beach, used to caddy for Babe Ruth in the 40’s at Longshore. Remarkable stories and a great one why the practice green is next to the 17th tee.

  18. U. Zooelly N. Trouble

    I was blessed to grow up in the same wonderful extended family with Jono and i can vouch first hand that his stories are not embellished. Not one iota!!!

    • As opposed to yours?

      • U. Zooelly N. Trouble

        Ennui, (as in bored, or boring, you could be both which I believe makes you a double entendre) If that’s the way you want it, yes. My point was, he’s got a wealth of memories. And you don’t.

        • Compo Old Timer

          Who are you? Show yourself, man behind the curtain. Please.

          • U. Zooelly N. Trouble

            Its safer not to around here. A burnt child dreads the fire. Will you protect me Compo Old Timer? I thought I was one too. My mother and family moved to Apple Tree Trail from Ohio in 1930.

            • Compo Old Timer

              Very nice! I am one of the few on Compo South in a home that is actually older than the kids in this town. 😉 No teardown for me — until I die, that is.

            • Take no offense, UZ, No Trouble. I was referring to your dirt eating contest when you were six.

              • U. Zooelly N. Trouble

                Ennui!!!! You’re boredom is affecting your memory!!! I was eating dirt at four. We moved from Treadwell Ave when I was four. I then graduated to eating s**t (gotta keep my nose clean. This isn’t FB!!!)

  19. Michael Tingley–My brother was in Win’s class and was a good friend of his. Win was a terrific athlete, an overall very nice guy, and he was someone younger guys playing sports really looked up to. I guess I wonder whether it was really necessary to identify Win by name in your story. I think you could have told the same anecdote without naming him. I’m thinking of the possibility of Win’s grandchildren googling his name to read about his many accomplishments and then they come across….well, you get the idea.

    • Tom Allen '66

      Fred, I met Win in Little League, shared the football locker room with him for two years in high school and was president of the high school fraternity — CSC — of which Win was a member. Very nice guy, as you say. Great sense of humor. Never put himself on a pedestal. I don’t think he’d mind Mike’s mention of hm at all. In fact, I think he’d chuckle at the memory.

  20. Win was our role model throughout my years at Long Lots and Staples and inspired us to work hard and give all that we had in all of our endeavors. As teenage boys in the caddy shack at Longshore we often engaged in horseplay to pass the wait time. None of that horseplay would, or should, be considered reputation-damaging some 50 years later. It is also a testament to Win that his is one of the only names that my old brain recalls from that distant, and rather idyllic, summer. If I could, I would gladly further my vicious indictment of all those present in 1964 with their names so their grandchildren could have a laugh, but like I said, my old brain…I admit that I have been scolded often throughout my lifetime for running my mouth and I give Win Headley much of the credit for helping me learn to scramble as if my life depended on it.

  21. Dan — Thanks for re-posting my caddy story. Since one of the commentors asked, the story took place in the summer of 1966

    • Tom Allen '66

      Thanks for the story, Jono. You had the Saugatuck diction down perfectly. Very funny. I had your mom for senior English ’65-’66 and she was one of the best I had in high school. In the mid/late 80s my dad and I sat with your parents at a Staples football game. Your mom asked me what I was up to. I told her. I had a semi-prominent Wall Sreet speechwriting job Given my (non) performance in her class, this information was clearly a shock to her. She said, “Tom Allen, you could knock me over with a feather.”

  22. Old Bridge Grill Patron

    For the record, I was joking about WH’s concern about the mention of his antics half a century ago. Thought it was somewhat humorous and gave a comical sense as to the “Caddyshack” nature of the Longshore caddyshack. Well done.

  23. For the life of me, I do not remember caddies at Longshore during my tenure playing there (’60-66). I briefly caddied at Patterson Club (20$ a double loop) which was damn good money then.

  24. U. Zooelly N. Trouble

    Win Headley could light his gas in public on the corner of Main and State streets at high noon in ladies lingerie and it wouldn’t diminish his aura among Wetspotters of our era or any other. The guy was a legend 45 years ago. I’d love to see what his grandchildren must look like. They’ve got some very special genes. and I bet they light up his life much more than lighting gas did at Longshore 50 years ago.

  25. Win is certainly a Westport legend. He was also a super nice guy. A gentle giant to us shrimps.

  26. Tom Allen '66

    In the spring of 1964 I was moved from tackle to end, which probably saved my life. During scrimmages the following fall, however, for old time’s sake, I’d occasionally jump in and play DT or middle guard. One day I found myself playing nose to nose with Win. Head-up with him I had less than no chance. So I dove through his legs, stuck out my arm and the ballcarrier fell down. On the next play I leapfrogged him. “What’s next, Tommy?” he asked me. I thought I’d fake Win out by leapfrogging him again. He stood straight up as I was in mid-leap. I went straight up and then straight down, landing on my head. I saw nothing and then stars. Win, laughing, helped me up. “You’re not going to try that again, are you?” he asked. No. Never again.