For a kid growing up in the 50′s & 60′s, there were few places better than Westport. Indeed, we did have the bowling alleys, driving ranges, Coach Hall’s trampoline center next to the hockey/ice skating rink, a ragged but fun Longshore, a nucleus center of the YMCA and really only Little League, Pop Warner football and a few basketball leagues. But eveything was not organized or structured. As a kid, you could jump on your bike, or hitchhike anywhere in this town to find a pickup baseball game or a tackle footbal game down at Doubleday. There were Saturday afternoon matinees at the move theatre followed by a fist fight by the Town Hall (now the Police Station). Once in high school, there were dances at Staples nearly every weekend, a drive-in movie in Norwalk and people hung out at the Crest Drive-in or the Big Toppe. You could watch the “submarine races” at the beach (open all night) and take a run to Port Chester or Vista for a few beers followed by some drag racing down Roseville or or riding the cows on Nyala Farms. Good times. The buildings have changed. The library is vastly improved as are the green fairways of Longshore. The restaurants are new but seemingly lacking in the unique charm of the Cobb’s Mill, Silvermine, Three Bears or the Clam Box. The people seem much the same too. Hard working folks with middle class values wanting the best for their children and their community despite the long hours at work it takes to provide such. And the town has held its beauty. NO place has a more lovely downtown setting as you gaze across the bridge with the flags waving or a sunset stroll down at Compo or take a bike ride down Beachside Avenue. It is a wonderful place and as the late Paul Newman once said: “It is a privledge to live here.”

 

Carl Addison Swanson is freelance writer in Westport.  Preparing for a magazine article, he conducted an interview that he wanted to share with “06880″ readers.

Carl is examining the Connecticut State Senate’s attempts to legalize medical marijuana, as well as decriminalize its possession.  Previous attempts in 2007 and 2009 failed, but Governor Dannel Malloy has pledged his support.

Toni Boucher, who represents parts of Westport, is an ardent opponent.  She led the 2009 filibuster that defeated passage.

The name of the woman Carl interviewed has been changed at her request.

“My granddaughter made me some marijuana Rice Krispies treats.  Quite honestly, I was afraid to eat them,” she explains.  We are sitting in her dark den, in a split level off Cross Highway.

“I thought some police would come crashing through the door and arrest me.”

“Norma” is an artist, activist, mother of 2, grandmother of 4, and ex-wife of a famous Westport producer.  She is also a cancer survivor.

“When I first realized something was wrong, my stomach swelled up like I was pregnant.  It was horribly frightening,” Norma says.  “Of course, they operated and got most of it.  Ovaries.  But I had to go through nearly a year of chemotherapy.”

Norma is fragile, and I am afraid to ask her age.  She has liver spots on her hands, which shake repeatedly.  For some reason, this makes me nervous.  My prepared questions are virtually abandoned as a result.

“The chemotherapy was dreadful,” she continues without being asked.  “I couldn’t keep anything down.  It was like a terrible case of the flu.  And just when you started to feel good, you had to have another round of the damn stuff.”  She seems shocked by her own use of the word “damn.” She smiles.

I tell her I am writing an article about medical marijuana in Connecticut.  I say that bills have been submitted to the State Senate since 2007, but have failed.  The new governor has promised to back any new attempts.  Westport’s senator is strongly opposed.

“Well, I did eat finally eat those Rice Krispies treats, and I will tell you it helped,” she says.

“By my 3rd round of chemo I was ready to try anything.  It nearly cured my nausea, and I slept better too.  I started baking them myself.  The key is to melt the grass in with the butter.”

Norma stiffens in her antique straight back chair with this confession.  She is of the “Great Generation,” and still obedient to the rules of that culture.  The use of illegal drugs makes her uncomfortable.

“But I did keep using it.  I mean, why wouldn’t I?  My daughter got me some and it helped.  It got me through the god-awful drugs and made me feel almost human.”

I tell her one fear:  that the use of marijuana may lead to other addictions.

“Oh poppycock,” she actually says, sitting straight up.  Her eyes focus for the 1st time in our session.

“I have one glass of sherry every evening, and that’s it.  I never had any interest in those treats after I got better.  I’m more dependent on my sleep medication than those things.”  Her eyes twinkle for a second.  I can see that she was beautiful when she was young.

“You don’t have any on you, do you?” she asks, crossing her legs.

 

We’ve all seen her around Westport:  the woman with the limp.  We see her on the Post Road; at the Y; in the library.  Some of us wonder if she’s homeless; others of us can’t imagine that anyone here does not have a home.

Some of us think about her after our eyes lock for a few seconds.  Others of us try to forget.

An “06880″ reader thinks about her — and more.  He’s spoken with her a few times; now he writes eloquently about her.  Here’s what he says:

Her name is Tina.  She has long, graying blonde hair in a neat bun on the top of her head.  “It keeps me warm at night,” she says.  “I don’t need a hat.”

Her eyes are brown, flirting with too many questions but clear and precise at the conveyance of a $20 bill.  She wears 5 layers of clothing in the cold, and shows off her leather coat insulated by rabbit fur.

“It’s new, too.  Nobody else has owned it,” she remarks proudly.  “I bought it when I had money.”

She wears sandals with several socks.  “The boot place down there,” she points aimlessly in the direction of Main Street, “promised me some boots when it snows.”

Tina has no money, no address, no driver’s license and no home.  “I had an apartment last winter but I don’t trust any of the landlords in this town,” she confides.

Where does she live?  “Oh, I can’t tell you that,” she says in an upbeat mood.  “That is where I keep all my stuff.”  Malone Refuse workers have found her sleeping in their dumpsters.

The homeless in Westport do not look like this. They are much more invisible.

When you first meet this 50-something lady, she is shy and removed.  She continues to walk past you, head to the ground, limping on her right leg.  When you mention money, her mood changes and she talks a blue line.

“I used to live in Hawaii, then California and well . . . all over, you might say.”  She is coherent, with no smell of alcohol on her breath.  Tina says she grew up here, and was a member of the Staples Class of ’71.  The yearbook does not substantiate her claim.

“I went to the old Staples,” she says, “when it was down by the water.”  The dates are wrong.  You don’t correct her.

Her luck turned bad when her brother and mother died, according to her story.  One tries not to judge, but her saga is full of contradictions.  At our second meeting, a long coat and fur hat I found in the basement are rejected.

“If I walk into Oscar’s in that hat, they’ll throw me out and that coat has a satin lining.  No way, brother!”  We talk more.

What about the shelter?  “I have a cat.  They won’t allow me to stay there with my cat.”  There is no evidence of a pet, but that is her story.

“I’m afraid of when the snow comes,” she smiles.  “I don’t mind the cold.  It’s the snow that gets you.”

You mean like dying?  “Yeah.  That’s crossed my mind,” she says.  A rasp accompanies her chuckle.

A call to Town Hall reveals true compassion.  “We know about her,” says coordinator Terry Giegengack. “But we really can’t go into the particulars for privacy reasons.”

The woods beyond the Westport Library riverwalk -- behind the Levitt Paviliion -- is a popular spot for Westport's homeless people. It's a lot less comfortable in December than other times of year.

There is a place for her to stay.  “Tina doesn’t want any part of the indoors.  They’re called ‘campers’,” Terry explains. “They like their lifestyle.  They don’t like to be confined.”

When Tina is told that the Town of Westport has a place for her to live, she replies:  “What, in a insane asylum?”  I assure her it is not.  “Then I should check it out.  Next week maybe.”

When the topic of homeless Tina is brought up at a dinner party where lobster is served the following night,  the reaction is mixed.  Two seem uncomfortable with the topic.  One asks:  “What’s wrong with her?”  I have no answer.  Interest fades.

An elderly woman comments, “it’s sad that in Westport we have this problem.”  My first reaction is that homelessness is only a “problem” for those without a home, but I stuff another bite of lobster down without comment.

Tracy says there are only “4 or 5” people like Tina, who have no place to live in this town.  She uses the word “campers” again, like they’ve lost their RV.

I see Tina a 3rd time –  sneaking out of the YMCA.  “You know sometimes, they let me take a shower there,” she says proudly.

It was cold last night — in the 20s.  I keep the conversation moving as, for some strange reason, I feel uncomfortable around this woman.

“I do okay.  The wind died down.  I’m okay.”  It’s supposed to snow tonight, I say.

“Oh, my, then, I need to get over to Town Hall, shouldn’t I?” she remembers.

I hand her a $20 bill.  “Thank you, I’m starving.  I’m going to Oscar’s to get something to eat.”

But she walks the opposite way.

 

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