We all come to Westport in different ways.
Some of us are born here. Others are brought here by parents, spouses or work. We come here wonderingly, wanderingly, willingly or by whimsy.
Hanne Jeppesen arrived as an au pair.
She grew up safe and secure, in a small town 30 miles south of Copenhagen. Wanderlust took her to a kibbutz in Israel, to Iceland, to a hitchhiking tour of England, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland.
Then a chance glance at a newspaper ad changed Hanne’s life.
Instead of heading to a Danish teacher’s college, she decided to become an American au pair. She knew nothing about Westport — her destination — other than that it was near New York City.
That was enough. She arrived on December 28, 1966, ready for adventure.
Hanne Jeppesen in 1968, as a Westport au pair…
Life in the suburbs was lonely at first. But she met a German au pair. Hanne took a night school English class at Staples, where she met a “real live wire” Dutch girl. Fifty years later, they’re still friends.
Hanne started going out. The Ship’s Lantern bar downtown was a popular destination. So was the beach.
Westporters were very friendly. Hanne dated a few men. She had a wonderful time. Life was good.
“We drove around in a Corvette, with the top down,” she recalls. “This is what I dreamed America would be like.”
In October of 1968 she returned to Denmark. But her parents encouraged her to live the life she wanted, and 2 months later Hanne was back in Westport. She and her Dutch friend rented a house here.
Soon, though they moved to New York City. New adventures beckoned.
…and in New York, a year later.
From time to time, Hanne and her friend returned to Westport to visit. Once, at Compo, she met a married man. He invited her to a party that night. And he gave her the keys to his car, in case she wanted to drive around and have fun.
In New York she met a man. They got married, moved first to New Orleans and then San Francisco. They divorced. She had a daughter, and a career in insurance. Now — still living in the Bay Area — Hanne works at Macy’s.
She stayed in touch with a few friends. She always thought fondly of Westport. But except for a couple of visits — the last was in 1998 — Hanne has not spent any time here.
A few years ago though, she saw news online about Jeff Simon. That’s a common name, but it was the same guy she’d dated in Westport. She was intrigued to learn about his life as a photographer and video director.
Then she stumbled on a story about Tracy Sugarman. She’d known his son.
Finding “06880” — including a story about her old friends Alan Sterling and Steve Emmett — helped her reconnect with Westport. She doesn’t know many of the people I write about, but photos and references to the past bring smiles to her face.
Hanne Jeppesen with Jeff Simon, at Compo Beach.
Living here during a very lively time in Westport and America’s history was wonderful, Hanne says. And she was exactly the right age to enjoy it.
“We did what we were supposed to do in our early 20s,” she explains. “We partied, at people’s houses and the beach. We went to Port Chester, because the bars stayed open later. We had a great group.”
While she lived here, Hanne kept a journal. It was stashed away for years. But after seeing the movie “The Big Chill,” she looked at it. Reading about her time here, and her close-knit friends, she felt a surge of familiarity.
Of course, a movie is not real life.
But Hanna Jeppesen loves the story line that Westport provided to hers.
Hanne Jeppesen, Christmas 2014.