Category Archives: Westport life

Town Hall Heritage Tree Shines

Everyone driving past Town Hall enjoys the Christmas tree on its sloping lawn. An ordinary evergreen all year long, it’s lit every night during the holiday season.

But there’s a second one worth seeing. It’s inside Town Hall, just outside the auditorium.

The Town Hall Heritage Tree.

It’s called a Heritage Tree. And for good reason: Every December, for over 35 years, new ornaments are added. Each is designed by a Westport artist. Taken together, the nearly 150 designs represent our artistic heritage in a unique, beautiful way.

Elizabeth Devoll’s ornament features historical Westport photos.

Among the many artists represented: Bernie Burroughs, Mel Casson, Stevan Dohanos, Naiad and Walter Einsel, Leonard Everett Fisher, Neil Hardy, Robert Lambdin, Gordon Mellor, Howard Munce, Jim Sharpe, Dolli Tingle, Barbara Wilk and Al Willmott.

Tammy Winser’s Westport snowman.

This year, 5 new ornaments were added:

  • A whimsical glass ornament (“100% Santa approved”) by Nina Bentley.
  • A diamond-shaped acrylic lenticular featuring the William F. Cribari Bridge — with and without Christmas lights, by Miggs Burroughs.
  • A large, multi-faceted 20-view polygon featuring historical Westport photos, by Elizabeth Devoll.
  • A delicate pine cone, subtly embellished with text and color by Katherine Ross.
  • A glass-domed “Carrot: Building a Snowman in Westport” by Tammy Winser.

Miggs Burroughs’ lenticular features the Saugatuck bridge.

The new ornaments were hung — front and center on the tree — by Eve Potts and Marion Morra. They carry on the Heritage Tree tradition started by their sister, the late Mollie Donovan, nearly 40 years ago. The tree is sponsored by the Westport Historical Society.

Katherine Ross’ pine cone.

So don’t just drive by the Christmas tree outside Town Hall. Drive up, walk inside, and admire the Heritage Tree too.

Happy holidays!

Nina Bentley’s glass ornament.

 

Ho Ho No?

New lights on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge are not enough for at least one “06880” reader.

“After living several years in Westport, I am still amazed at how bland, boring and non-Christmas-supporting its lack of decorations are,” he writes.

“I know they spent some cash on new lights and festive snowflakes. But there is almost no spirit in shopping here.”

Holiday lights, 2015.

He’s heard blame placed on several culprits: “90-plus-year-olds running the town. Corporate store locations not supporting Xmas decorations downtown. I’ve even heard it said that it’s a Jewish town, and therefore not celebrating.”

All of those reasons, he says, “sound like nonsense. I’m from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I’m used to people singing on street corners, and the festive spirit being alive. I don’t understand Westport’s total lack of caring.”

The reader asks about the history behind this. “I’ve heard our wonderful downtown used to be awash with lights and Christmas spirit in the past. A place people would want to celebrate and shop. Seems like it would be a good story, if you feel anyone would care.”

Wow! That’s a lot to mull on (over hot cider).

A few thoughts come to mind:

  • Who are these “90-plus-year-olds” running Westport?
  • Is this really a “Jewish town”?
  • Why wouldn’t a place called Bethlehem be awash in Christmas spirit?

And of course:

  • Is it true?
  • Did this used to be a place filled with lights and Christmas spirit?
  • Is there really a “total lack of caring” for the holidays?

I have my own ideas. But I want to hear yours. Click “Comments” below.

Merry Christmas!

In 2015, a snowflake glistened near Oscar’s.

 

Happy Thanksgiving, From “06880” To All

Stevan Dohanos’ “Thanksgiving” painting drew its inspiration from the red gingerbread house at 55 Long Lots Road.

It’s still standing. And Thanksgiving is still one of Westport’s most cherished holidays.

 

Unsung Heroes #24

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

All across Westport, families and friends will gather to enjoy this warm, nourishing and traditional American holiday.

Putting on such a celebration is a lot of work. But it’s nothing compared to what goes on at Saugatuck Congregational Church.

For 47 years, the handsome white building near the center of town has hosted a community Thanksgiving feast. (With a little help from Christ & Holy Trinity Church around the corner, after the fire a few years ago.)

It’s a free meal. All are welcome. And hundreds come.

Some are alone. Others prefer the company of a community. No one asks questions. They just gather together, and enjoy the day.

A small part of the Thanksgiving Community Feast.

The turkey-and-all-the-trimmings event goes like clockwork. After nearly half a century, the church has it down pat.

Yet it takes a village to throw a townwide feast.

Over 100 volunteers make it happen. Saugatuck Church members, congregants from every other religious institution, non-believers — all pitch in.

They donate food, decorate the hall, do kitchen prep, set up tables, check in guests, cook, carve, serve, oversee the buffet table, bus tables, wash dishes and (of course) clean up. Three of them play keyboard, drums and sax, just for kicks.

They provide rides to the church for those who can’t drive, and deliver meals to those who are homebound.

They work magic.

A few of the volunteers at a Saugatuck Church Community Thanksgiving Feast.

The name of the holiday is Thanksgiving. Many of the helpers at tomorrow’s feast work behind the scenes. They never hear thanks.

That’s not why they do it, of course. Still, it’s nice to know you’re appreciated.

Which is why all the hundreds of Community Thanksgiving Feast volunteers — past, present and future — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

Thank you!

Everyone’s Welcome At This Turkey Table

Caissie St. Onge will never forget the day her younger son Lincoln was born. It was the same day the family moved to Westport. While she was in the hospital, friends hauled furniture into her recently purchased home.

Back in Brooklyn, Caissie — a TV industry veteran, who is now co-executive producer of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live” — usually worked right up to Thanksgiving.

Because it was hard for many young co-workers to get home for the holiday, Caissie and her husband, Matt Debenham, hosted a few for the turkey meal.

Several years ago, they revived that tradition here.

“We live in one of the smallest houses in Westport,” Caissie says. “But we can fit 20 people in our living room.”

Friends loan tables and chairs. This year, for the first time, Caissie and Matt got a tent for the deck.

The living room, ready for guests.

Some guests take the train from New York. Caissie’s son Eli shuttles them back and forth from the station.

Eli is now a freshman at Southern Connecticut State University; Lincoln is sophomore at Staples High. As they grow older, they like the event more. Both are good at talking with adults — though the guests include random children too.

Each year, the number grows. Caissie does not know some of them. “They’re friends of friends of friends,” she says. “Everyone is welcome.”

One newcomer tomorrow will be a woman spending her first Thanksgiving away from her now-grown children.

Thanksgiving can be pressure-filled, Caissie notes. “It can be lonely. Even if you stay home and cook with your family, it can be stressful. So I figured, since I’m cooking, I might as well cook for everybody.”

Clockwise from top left: Eli, Lincoln and Matt Debenham, Caissie St. Onge.

Caissie’s family provides turkey and ham. Some guests bring wine or dessert. It’s all served buffet-style.

In the past, people started coming at 2 p.m. This year they’ve pushed it back to 3.

“We’ve had snafus, like blown fuses and the timing for cooking being wrong,” Caissie says cheerfully.

Many guests stay until 9 or 10.

“It goes by in a flash,” Caissie says. “I wish it could last longer. We really enjoy welcoming people into our home.”

RIP, Palm Tree

Maybe it went south for the winter?

(Photo/Giulia Maiolo)

Image

Only 41 Shopping Days Till Christmas

A Sensible Solution To So Many Signs

Voters are not the only Westporters turned off by political signs.

Candidates are too.

In fact, they dislike them so much — the expense, the putting-up-and-taking-down, the “arms race” feeling they engender and the animus they create — that one local politician proposes a solution:

Get rid of them entirely.

The idea comes from an RTM candidate. He (or she) agreed not to be named, because the goal here is sanity and a less visually polluted streetscape, not self-promotion.

(Photo/David Meth)

But here is his (or her) plan:

In the next election cycle, give candidates the option to donate the money they’d otherwise spend on signs to a fund that would create a website. The site would include pertinent information about all candidates who participate, with a link to their own personal web pages.

There would be plenty of publicity, so voters would know which candidates are voluntarily forgoing yard signs, in favor of the website. Each candidate’s financial contribution would be posted on the site.

Each candidate would design their own page. They could write or post as much information as they’d like, including videos.

In addition, each RTM district could hold candidates debates — perhaps at the library. They’d be videotaped, and posted on the website too.

Part of the funds used for signs could instead help rent commercial space downtown. (There’s no shortage of empty stores!) Candidates could have “office hours,” when voters would drop in and ask questions.

Parents could bring their children, to learn about the political process. (After which, they’d all go shopping downtown.)

The RTM candidate who suggests this has his (or her) own website. But he (or she) has to walk door to door, and post on social media, to let voters know about it. (Mailing out flyers is prohibitive.)

“I’ve been chased by people and bitten by 3 dogs, among other things,” the candidate says.

“And I can’t blame homeowners. I don’t like it when people come to my door either.

“An opt-in, robust central information repository, and ‘office hours’ for the public to talk to each candidate, just makes more sense to me.”

Unfortunately, Hate DOES Have A Home Here

A “Hate Has No Home Here” yard sign was vandalized last night, on usually quiet Pequot Trail.

The anti-hate hate message was clear. There was damage on both sides of the sign.

There were reports of similar vandalism to a “Hate Has No Home Here” sign on Old Hill Road.

The Pequot Trail homeowner is not deterred. When Baker Graphics opens tomorrow, she’ll order 6 more signs.

Puerto Rico Relief Effort: “Breathtaking”

Marcy Sansolo organized 2 previous relief efforts via her What Up Westport Facebook page. Both were very successful.

But Sunday’s outpouring of love and care — for Puerto Rico’s victims of Hurricane Maria — was, she says, “nothing short of breathtaking.”

The drive at the Westport Library parking lot was arranged in just 3 days. Drop-off times for goods and supplies lasted only 2 hours. But the response of Westporters was heartwarming.

A woman who works at Pottery Barn dropped off items she had purchased. An hour later she returned, with a large box of donations from the store.

Two young children made cards. Older kids helped parents empty their cars.

A note to the children of Puerto Rico.

“I don’t think there’s any bug spray or diapers left at CVS,” Sansolo says. “I’m sure we cleaned them out.”

“The sense of community was inspiring,” Sansolo says. “Members of What Up Westport came from as far as New York. Everyone asked, ‘How can I help?'”

When it was clear that more drivers would be needed to deliver donations to shipping centers, Sansolo ordered a U-Haul. Many people offered to split the cost. That’s in addition to 6 SUVs and minivans, all filled to the brim.

A small portion of the many donations.

The news from Las Vegas yesterday stunned Sansolo. She loves live music, and cannot conceive of what happened at that concert.

But, she says, “then I think about all of the beauty and love I saw on Sunday. My hope in mankind is renewed.”

Sansolo plans more community events on What Up Westport. She welcomes everyone who wants to join.