Travels With Poppy

Jono Walker’s Westport roots date back before the Revolutionary War. He lives in Pennsylvania now, but grew up on South Compo Road with a very interesting family.

Jono’s mother Joy was a beloved Staples English teacher. His father Bill was a well-known youth sports coach. And his grandfather — Phil “Poppy” Schuyler — was a noted journalist.

When Jono heard that the trees on the Longshore entrance road were being removed, he remembered them well. Here’s Jono’s story:

Back in the mid-1960’s my grandfather Poppy had a regular 7 a.m. Saturday tennis date on the clay courts at Longshore. He was also my ride to the caddy shack for a couple of summers. It’s a miracle I survived that harrowing weekly commute.

Phil Schuyler

Phil Schuyler

After dropping me off at the caddy bench beneath the big copper beech behind the 1st tee, Poppy headed around the corner to his self-assigned parking space between 2 towering maple trees bordering the back of the tennis courts.

Because it was such a tight squeeze, Poppy found it difficult to get his jelly bean-shaped Volvo angled for maximum shade relief. Being such a lousy parallel parker didn’t help, nor did the fact he was going deaf and couldn’t tell when he was riding the clutch. He raised a thunderous racket as he va-ROOMed forward and then va-ROOMed backwards – several times. That routine provided early-arriving caddies with many minutes of live entertainment.

The worst event occurred the morning we nearly bought the farm while heading up the entrance road. Poppy leaned extra heavily on the accelerator, turning the big stately poplars and maples lining the half-mile long straightaway into twin rows of blurry toothpicks. I saw we were pushing 70, heading fast for the attendant’s kiosk and S-turns by the first green. When I looked back up, there — straight in front of us – loomed the row of trees lining the first curve.

No way would we make that turn. I screamed, but the old boy remained cool. In the final split second before skidding into the trees and certain death, he aimed straight through a gap at the apogee of the curve. Suddenly we were over the berm and airborne, sailing straight onto the 18th fairway. We landed with a loud groan of flying sod and clanking axles, but more or less safely intact.

Caddies sitting near the old Inn at Longshore saw quite a driving exhibition by Poppy Schuyler, back in the day.

Caddies sitting near the old Inn at Longshore saw quite a driving exhibition by Poppy Schuyler, back in the day.

We rolled to a stop, and looked back in amazement at the narrow gap between the trees we had squeezed through. Despite one hell of a divot at the point of initial contact, car, driver, passenger and fairway were none the worse for wear.

The caddies recognized the car. They rose from their bench and cheered like crazy. The whole gang ran over to greet us like conquering heroes.  They gathered round the windows laughing, while guiding us past the sprinkler heads, sand traps, rakes, and beyond the ball washer where we returned to the road.

It took a couple of hours that morning to get my caddy loop. That was fine. I needed the extra time to get my heartbeat back to normal.

In a cruel coincidence, my guy hooked his drive off the 1st tee across the road where we had nearly crashed. I walked past the tire marks and big gash in the turf. But I didn’t start to shake all over again until I saw the stump, shorn to the ground at the exact point where we sailed over the berm. The tree had been removed only recently.

“Leaf scorch,” my guy said as I stared at the stump. “It’s a shame they had to take it down.”

7 responses to “Travels With Poppy

  1. These are the type of people and escapades that brought my grandparents out to Westport from NYC and Long Island. A little salty but well tailored. Kind of what I’m seeing the Saugatuck area shaping Westport back into. Nice. Fun.

  2. I have always loved the story. Totally Poppy! And told with such affection for both Poppy and Westport.

  3. My Mom (Julie Turner) used to play tennis with Phil…He was quite a guy! I remember being amazed that somebody his age still got out there and played tennis regularly. Maybe that was the key to his longevity :-)

  4. Wonderful story. Thanks! And, I hope Jono Walker’s a writer, too. He has that gene.

  5. Thank you Jono. Your mom taught you well. I miss her, your sister Joan and you. Thank you Dan for keeping us all connected. Love, Lidy Engel

  6. Jono, can’t believe I never heard this story. Its telling and entertainment value only get better with age!