Carole Schweid is a longtime Westporter, former Broadway performer, author of “Staged Reading Magic,” artistic director of the popular lunchtime play-reading series Play With Your Food, and a fireworks fan.
However, she writes:
I always loved the closely packed beaches on the 4th of July. I enjoyed the food, the crowds, didn’t even mind the traffic. It was a community celebration, and it felt like everybody showed up.
I look forward to doing it again — but not this year.
We all know that this is not the time to gather large crowds anywhere. And certainly not groups packed together on a beach … after dark … trying to stay warm.
Pre-fireworks scene at Compo Beach, pre-pandemic.
I can’t think of any good reason why we would want to create such unnecessary risk, even with so many people vaccinated (the state of Connecticut is doing a great job). Even if you limit the number of cars, it’s a mob scene. There wouldn’t even be a way to supervise the basic things we’ve learned about protecting ourselves, like masking and social distancing — especially after dark.
It’s becoming easier to forget that there is still a pandemic going on. We have to pay attention to how we behave. As far as I can see, there are so many good reasons not to have this event. I can’t think of any good reasons in favor of it.
One could also argue that it may not be appropriate – this year, at this time – for our town to be spending our money on fireworks when so many Fairfield County families need food.
We are a generous community.. I’m thinking our time and our money could be better spent.
…in early afternoon, for this evening’s 3rd of July fireworks.
Now all we need is the weather to cooperate.
In a few hours this Danbury Avenue yard — like many in the neighborhood — will be filled with party-goers.
Nearly every picnic table at Compo Beach is already reserved — and nearly every one has human beings doing the reserving. A man and his son brought this tent, to keep them cool during the long afternoon.
There are no rules, however, about reserving spots on the rest of the beach. By noon, many folks had already staked out their spots — and left.
Most importantly, tonight there will plenty of places where people can “go.”
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.
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.
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?”
These are not Westport fireworks. I found this image on the web. If I didn't tell you, though, you'd never have known.
Happy 3rd of July!
As Westport readies our own unique celebration — we shoot off fireworks any time between the 1st and the 6th, but never the 4th — here are a few thoughts, tips and reminders for tonight:
Plan ahead! Want a coveted South Beach picnic table? Get there early. A rule of thumb is a couple of hours earlier than whatever you think is reasonable. Be a good do-be, and designate (or hire) an actual human being to hold the fort. “Reserving tables” with ghost tablecloths, balloons and flower vases is not cool.
Be ready to move. In mid-afternoon, a well-choreographed vehicular ballet takes place. All cars must vacate the beach at 4 p.m.; only folks holding fireworks tickets can drive back in at 5. Some people try nefarious tricks to avoid paying the $30 per car fee. That’s just wrong. Fireworks cost money — these don’t come from some roadside stand in South Carolina — and all proceeds benefit the Westport PAL. NOTE: Tickets must be purchased in advance, at the Longshore Parks and Rec office during business hours, and at police headquarters any time.
Enjoy the show. And by “show” I mean entertainment and people-watching. There is usually a marching band, and an imported fife-and-drum corps. This year’s added attraction: For the Heart, a group of show tune-singing teenagers, performs at the cannons at 6:45 p.m. Wherever you plant yourself, take time to meander along the beach, seeing and being seen. The street scene on Soundview Drive is particularly lively. This is Westport “community” at its best.
Let your children go. Unless your kids are 2, don’t worry if they wander off with friends. Independence Day is all about freedom. There’s nothing better for a Westport child than to roam the beach with buddies, surrounded by (but blissfully apart from) other happy people of all ages. And in today’s cellphone and GPS-enabled age, it’s not like anyone can get lost. NOTE TO TEENAGERS: When the fireworks start, sit down and watch. Making cell calls — and texting — is not an appropriate way to honor our country.
Forget the weather. Face it: Summer will arrive in June of 2010. Pack an extra layer; throw some rain gear in with the watermelon and Pampers, and chill (ho ho). A couple of years ago clouds rolled in at exactly 9:15, and the fireworks were less than fiery. Most people took it in stride; a few boneheads demanded their money back. After what we’ve been through the last year, a bit of rain on our 3rd of July parade is the least of our worries.
Stick around when it’s over. Yeah, leaving the beach makes I-95 look like the Indy 500. But it lasts for only an hour. Don’t race to your car as the last firework explodes. Stay where you are; relax; enjoy the evening. Your kids don’t need to get to bed (tomorrow’s the real 4th), and you don’t need to stress out in the parking lot. If you’re not driving: Open that extra bottle of wine!
Happy birthday, America. At 233, you’re better than ever!
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