Don Willmott’s Westport Wonder Years

Today’s “06880” post belongs to longtime Westporter Don Willmott. His father  Al was a noted (and beloved) artist. Don, meanwhile, paints a wonderful picture with words.

In a few weeks I’ll sign the papers to sell my late mother’s Whitney Glen condo. With that signature, my lifelong connection to Westport will come to a sudden end that I should have anticipated, but never really did. After 49 Christmases, my 50th will be celebrated somewhere else. Suddenly, a wave of nostalgia crashes over me.

A red and white Minnybus putt-putt-putts noisily through the middle of my childhood memories: Laughter and tears at Seabury Nursery School. The beautiful Miss Amendola, who taught kindergarten on Bayberry Lane. Beach school. The friendly cashier at the Main Street IGA, and the even friendlier man who ran the liquor store next door. Microfilm in the old library reference room.

A red-and-white Minnybus, putt-putt-putting at Jesup Green.

A red-and-white Minnybus, putt-putt-putting at Jesup Green.

Play rehearsals in the darkened auditorium of Coleytown Junior High. The candy collections at the Merritt Superette and Carmine’s Smoke Shop. A swimming lesson at the Longshore pool on the day Nixon resigned. The line outside Fine Arts I to see “Star Wars.” A field trip to the police department’s basement firing range. Tense driving lessons with my father in the Sherwood Island parking lot.

Endless hours in the Staples hallways even as they were being rebuilt around us (for me, every high school memory includes the smell of roofing tar). Compo in every season. Putting my purchases on the family account at Dorain’s. The combo hero at Westport Pizzeria, and chocolate fondue at Ships. Talcum-scented haircuts at Lou Santella’s barber shop until I grew longer hair and demanded to see a “stylist.”

Many things change in Westport. The pizzeria is not one of them.

Many things change in Westport. The pizzeria is not one of them.

WMMM’s Bicentennial Quiz. Bike rides deep into Weston to discover the sources of the Aspetuck and the Saugatuck. Hot Memorial Day parades with a heavy saxophone strapped to my sweating neck. Nerve-wracking busboy shifts at The Treehouse Café and Comedy Club.

Clinging to the rope swing at the secret swimmin’ hole of Riverfield Drive, and all the block parties and holiday bonfire singalongs Riverfield’s parents orchestrated through the decades to make memories for their children that would last. And they have.

I won’t complain, as some others do, about what’s been lost over the years. After all, in the ‘70s my parents told us how much better Westport was in the ‘50s, and more is sure to change — and disappear — in the future. That’s life! It only moves in one direction, and we all move with it, even as we stop every once in a while to look back, smile, and remember how fortunate we’ve been.

Thanks, Westport. I’ll be back to visit soon.

Al Willmott painted his 6 Riverfield Drive home in 1989.

Al Willmott painted his 6 Riverfield Drive home in 1989.


8 responses to “Don Willmott’s Westport Wonder Years

  1. Thanks for your memories Don. Many of us share them!

  2. Jack Whittle

    Don, our shared experiences remind me that Westport was a special place for not just me but for a whole generation of us, which must also surely include past and subsequent generations of kids who grew up in this Town. For me too, something broke when my parents moved out of town and we no longer owned a home in Westport – which I eventually fixed by moving to Town myself later.

    And I cannot smell roofing tar without being immediately transported back to Ms. Blumehart’s English class , c. 1980 . . .

  3. Michael Beecher

    Don, your post on old Westport was so beautifully stated. Between that and the Westport 150th Anniversary video someone posted on Facebook recently, we’ve been awash in memories of the Westport of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

    Seeing your dad’s painting of his house was an added bonus; he freelanced quite often for the company I used to work for (Barry Blau & Partners) and in the early years of my tenure there, I made many trips to your dad’s in-home studio to deliver and pick up work. I still have all of the beautiful prints he gave at Christmas of Westport scenes.

    Thanks again.

  4. Linda Gramatky Smith

    What a delight to read Don’s memories! I heard him speak (eloquently) with his siblings at Helenanne’s funeral, but this poignant article brings back what a great mom/person she was and how WSPAC (Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection) values the many pieces of Al Willmott art it owns. In the spring, the students in an English class at Staples had a project to put on a exhibit in the halls of the school (7 different locations?) and they learned about choosing artwork, curating, writing up the provenance, etc. It was fabulous. AND what struck me is that they chose several Willmott drawings/watercolors. Wouldn’t Helenanne and Al be happy to know that the admiration of his talents never ceases?

  5. Don – Thanks for sharing these wonderdul and vivid details about Our town. Even though we’ve only been here for 12 years I really appreciate knowing what came before.

  6. Nice memories. One thing that always struck me as odd: “beach school.” I know that’s what the day camp at Compo was known as back in the day but I always thought it was sort of an unusual name for a summer camp.

  7. Margaret Hart Rynshall

    Don, as a 2 Riverfield Dr. resident, I loved those bonfires and carol sing-a-longs on the night before the night before christmas with all our families. Your parents were special people and I miss them terribly. I saw your mom a couple years ago. She was framing some of your dad’s artwork for my stepmom, Barbara. Was very saddened to hear of her passing. What I also remember were the snow sculptures your dad created on your front lawn. My favorite was a Snoopy rendition. The secret swimming hole! Good memory. This was a most wonderful piece to read. My thanks to you and to Dan for sharing it.

  8. Virginia Frederick

    Great memories Don. How Wonderful that you put them all down so beautifully. I remember going to the beach, snow sculptures, The beautiful art in each one of the schools and the fabulous library. Westport was a truly a great place. One of my favorite memories was looking for “Dracula’s crypt” in the cemetery on the drive up. I’m sure the new condo will bring happy memories to its new inhabitant. I hope you are doing well and am sure you will have a happy 50th birthday. I love you, your cousin, Ginger