Earlier this month, Greg Wolfe and Nancy Lewis dropped their daughter Emily off for her 2nd year at the University of Michigan.
After dinner, the couple passed a tiny t-shirt shop near campus. As they looked at merchandise set on the street, the owner came out to chat.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Westport, Connecticut,” they said.
He was stunned. “You’re the first people I’ve ever met here from Westport!” he said.
And then Elmo Morales told his story.
In 1957 he was an 11-year-old living in Washington Heights. The Fresh Air Fund arranged a week in Westport. He stayed with the Petrucci family. They owned a liquor store, and had a son around Elmo’s age.
His eyes welled up as he told Greg and Nancy his story.
On the way home after picking Elmo up at the train station — with his clothes in a shopping bag — the Petruccis took him to a toy store. They told him to pick out anything he wanted.
He chose a Mattel 6-shooter. “I never got anything, except at Christmas,” he says. “And then it was pajamas.”
It was the first time Elmo had seen carpeting in a house, or a TV in a bedroom. There was orange juice every morning. Every day, they went to the beach.
Most importantly, Mr. Petrucci talked with Elmo about college, and what he wanted to do with his life. It was the first time the boy had thought about his future.
“They broadened my horizons,” Elmo says. “I was able to see the rest of the world. Everything grew from that little seed.”
Elmo went back to Washington Heights. A shared love of jazz cemented a friendship with a youngster named Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
Elmo earned a track scholarship to Michigan. He stayed in Ann Arbor, and became a teacher.
About 40 years ago, he opened Elmo’s T-Shirts as a sideline. For years it was on Main Street. Not long ago, he moved to East Liberty Street.
This is one of those great “Westport meets the world” stories I love so well.
But don’t just read it and smile.
Every year, Staples sends at least a dozen graduates to the University of Michigan. So, students and parents: Head to 404 E. Liberty Street.
Buy a t-shirt or souvenir.
And then tell Elmo you’re from Westport.