Thirty-three years ago, when my first-born was a newborn, my husband and I, at that time living in New York City, were considering a move to suburban Connecticut. He had accepted a position in Bridgeport, on Long Island Sound, on the northeast corner of Fairfield County, so we mapped a radius of roughly 30 minutes driving time or train commute and spent a couple of weekends driving around exploring options. The town we liked best was Newtown, the northwestern edge of the county, the scene of the disastrous shooting last week.
Newtown is a borough rather than a town, incorporated in 1824, and the quintessential storybook version of a small New England community. Oak trees and maples line the streets, steeples punctuate the landscape, and a giant flagpole marks the center of town. We fell in love with a massive Victorian home a short walk from town center and I had fantasies of walking my daughter in her stroller on my way to the small stores that lined Main Street, stores owned by people who also lived in town, who conversed with patrons about schools and traffic and real estate values. Ssound familiar? The house had been split down the middle and still provided ample living space for two families, with tall ceilings, dark wood floors, and original marble fireplace mantles. Lots of history there and plenty of backyard space for kids.
There was a real sense of community in Newtown, a familiarity that bonds people, and even this city girl felt like she might find a footing there. However, in the end, despite its charms, we didn’t move to Newtown because it was too far from Manhattan and a cumbersome drive to Bridgeport, but we longed for a place just like it – a safe place, a family place, where children rode their bikes to school or to their friends’ homes, where people greeted each other warmly when they met and gathered at town hall to watch movies together on Friday nights. We ended up in a larger and more sophisticated town on the south end of the county, closer to New York and closer to the ocean, and plenty of New England ambiance, but Newtown has always held a special place in my heart.
Despite the influx of Starbucks and traffic jams, Newtown is much the same. At least it was until this week. I think I speak for everyone who has ever been there, or who lives in a small town, or who has children, or who cannot bear the violence that permeates our culture, or who simply feels compassion for the plight of others: my heart weeps for Newtown. And for times gone by.
Randy Kraft is a freelance writer who previously covered the city for the Indy and pens the OC BookBlog for www.ocinsite.com.