Sunday, January 30, 2011


  • Plane Ticket:  $470
  • Rental Car:  $40
  • Gas for Rental Car:  $50
  • Hotel:  8,000 points plus $15
  • Getting to see Aunt Shorty again:  Priceless.

Last week, Aunt Shorty fell again and messed up her last knee surgery (again).  While in the hospital, she had a heart attack, and things just didn’t seem to be going well.  She is 91.  So we flew Dad up to Rogers to be with her, and (after some discussion) Marla and I decided to fly up and see her. 

She seemed some better, for which we are most grateful.

I’ve written in this blog before about Aunt Shorty.  She will never know how much she means to me or to my sister---but one thing that caught my attention on this trip is how very much she means to so many other people.  As word of her predicament spread through the family, family members flew in from California, New York, Florida, and Texas.  Others were ready at a moment’s notice.  Last night, we all kind of sat around and told stories.  It’s amazing how much this one small woman has done in her phenomenal life.  She has mentored so many of us; she has taught so many of us how to live.  She is a real-life “Auntie Mame”; the difference is, Auntie Mame only had one “Patrick”; Aunt Shorty has literally a hundred. 

If love is currency, this woman is rich beyond the dreams of avarice.


Aunt Shorty’s house had burned down last year; the insurance company did their job, and she was literally days (like, this week) ahead of moving into her shiny new “replacement” Greycliff.  Greycliff itself is a promontory overlooking Beaver Lake in Northwest Arkansas.  It’s beautiful, and the view of the lake goes for miles.  Everyone in the extended family has spent many happy hours there; it’s a great spot and the house was full of love. 

When I was doing all my Razorbacking, and during the time Aunt Shorty was still able to accompany us to the tailgate parties and the game, there was a particular time when my –adopted- nephew Jimmy was invited up.  Like everyone, Jimmy loves Aunt Shorty, and like everyone he was taken with Greycliff. 

It was one of those damn Jefferson-Pilot games, featuring the god-awful early kickoff.  Tailgate parties for the JP games were BREAKFAST parties; breakfast tacos, sausage biscuits, bloody marys, screwdrivers, and mimosas.  Since it’s a solid hour from Greycliff to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium under the BEST of circumstances (much less Gameday), we needed to leave EARLY (those who know me know I don’t do “early” very well). 

Nevertheless, we were up, washed, coffeed, flagged, magged, and ready to roll.  Jimmy stood transfixed in the den.  “Come on, Jimbo, let’s GO!”  “In a minute!” 
“Jimmy, we’ve got to LEAVE!”  “IN A MINUTE!”

What Jimmy did was take a picture of the sun coming up over the lake, from the den at Greycliff.  Aunt Shorty loved that view and loved that event; she’d watched it hundreds of times.  Jimmy got a GREAT shot; had it blown to an 8x10 (this predated digital photos), framed it and gave it to Aunt Shorty.  She loved it!  When she’d go down to Fayetteville to stay at Pop’s, she’d take that photo with her and it would sit on the mantel where she could see it from her chair. 

Pop died and she moved back to Greycliff for good—so she thought.  The fire happened, and the photo was lost along with everything else.


Earlier this year, I’d asked Jimmy to dig the actual photograph out and scan it.  The photo he was able to send was very small, low resolution, and didn’t blow up very well.  He worked and worked and got it as good as he could get.  Friday, in amidst all the hoopla at work (I'm very busy at work right now), I was working on that picture, trying to get it good enough to give to Aunt Shorty.  I finally got it “as good as it was going to get” after multiple trips to Wal-Mart.  (Their one hour photo deal actually is pretty good). 

So after work, I screamed over to Wal-Mart and got the print.  Went to Hobby Lobby to get the frame.  All the frames have GLASS in them---Aunt Shorty’s in the hospital, so that’s not so great---you gotta figure it’s going to get knocked off, and a room full of broken glass is no fun.

So I determined to have them cut a piece of Plexiglas and put it in the frame.  The dude behind the counter, bless his heart---well, you know, not everybody can be a rocket scientist, bless their hearts.  I was having a hard time explaining to him what I wanted him to do.  I had left the picture (it was now getting late, and I had not packed or prepped in any way for the trip) on the counter there where they do the custom framing.  A lady and her two little boys came up and the other person waited on them.  One of the little boys had his grubby hands ON MY PHOTO!  He was leaning on it, rubbing on it, etc.  I ran over and said, loudly, “EXCUSE ME?!”  The lady kept right on blabbing, oblivious.  I then committed an unfortunate act.  I roared at the kid.  “GET OFF MY DAMN PICTURE!”  Of course the mother came unglued and went off on me.  I then went off on HER.  Took my picture and had the man working on the frame---and thought, “Now, you weren’t raised like that, no matter how badly you were provoked.”  So, I turned to the little kid (who really meant no harm) and apologized directly to him, man to man.  I then apologized to the mother.  In turn, she apologized to me and we wound up chatting and being nice.  She was concerned that he had messed it up; I explained the trouble I’d had getting it just right and what it was for—and we wound up being very friendly.

So remember, a little nice goes a long way, and bad kharma always comes back to you.

In any event, the picture turned out great.  Aunt Shorty loved it, and it’s now in her hospital room.

And here it is:  Sunrise at Greycliff, by James P. Yarbrough.

Aunt Shorty Sunrise 1



Helpful advice:  Whatever you do, under no circumstances should you go on a trip and buy something like a thermos-style coffee cup (for coffee-to-go in the car), along with several shirts (that you can’t get at home, but that you leave the tags on when you pack the suitcase) and then try to go through the freaking TSA checkpoint at an airport.  My GOD, they were all over it.  They ran my bag through 3 times.  A Supervisor was called.  The clock ticked (as flight time got closer).  I offered to show them what was in the bag; apparently speaking to them at such times is tantamount to shouting, “I AM A TERRORIST” in the airport.  After much consultation, THEY unpacked my bag and spread everything out on the table.  They ran the full-spectrum test on the bag.  “Sir, we’d like to ask you some questions.”  “Sure, just don’t make me miss the last nonstop to Houston on a Sunday afternoon.”  “Don’t get cute with us, sir.”  “I’m not, but I don’t want to miss my flight---and there’s nothing at all that says I have to be any nicer to you than you are to me.  What do you want?”  “We notice that you have a suspicious item (holds up coffee cup; people are staring.”  “It’s….a COFFEE CUP.”  “It looked like a bomb casing on the x-ray.  Why would you have this in your bag?”  “Um, I bought it, paid for it, and wanted to take it home with me?”  “Why didn’t you put it in your checked luggage?”  “I didn’t have any checked luggage.”  “Why not?”  “Because my whole trip is scheduled (if I make this flight…) to be 23 hours; I didn’t NEED to check anything.”  “Why do you have all these clothes with the tags still on?”  “Because I bought them at Wal-Mart on my way out of Rogers; they are 3-X Razorback shirts and I can’t get them in Texas; I just stuffed them in my bag while my sister was turning in the rental car.”  “Sir, this is very unusual.”  “Well, then, I guess you need to arrest me for buying souvenirs while I was on a trip.  I have done nothing wrong, I have nothing in there except clothes and a coffee cup (which you may have if you want it; I paid $5 for the thing) and my digital camera (which you may NOT have).  Now either arrest me or clear me so I can make my flight.”  “You have a nice day, sir.”  “Oh, it’s peachy-keen already.”

The TSA is worthless as tits on a boar hog.  And you know what?  This here’s America and I can STILL post that on my blog, because we STILL have freedom of speech (sometimes).


This week was the 25th anniversary of the Challenger Disaster (my original blog post subject, before all this other came up).  For a certain generation, this was a seminal event in their lives, probably because they were little kids when it happened and it made a big impression.

Not to say I’m jaded; the Challenger disaster was AWFUL, but it didn’t upset me any more than the launch pad fire for Apollo I (I went to Edward H. White Middle School; Ed White was one of the Apollo I astronauts, who, along with his colleagues Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Roger Chaffee, died horribly when a flash fire engulfed their capsule, fed by pure oxygen---and there were no INTERNAL clips to blow the hatch, and the EXTERNAL process took 10 minutes.  By the time the horrified gantry workers were able to pry the hatch off, the three men had burned alive.

Apollo 13 is an amazing story of human daring, brilliance, and extreme courage in the face of certain death.  It made a fabulous movie (thank you again Tom Hanks); it was riveting in person.  We watched it on those big black and white TV’s the schools had then, EVERYBODY watched.  We had success with that one.

The Spaceship Columbia, crewed by a brave group of daring astronauts, exploded in a hail of fire over Texas in 2003, with the loss of all souls aboard.  They’re still finding pieces of it. 

Space is a very, very dangerous business.  Each one of the successful flights is a triumph of human intelligence, will, and plain old guts.  Every one of those people is a hero for trying. 

It is my belief that we MUST get mankind spread around a bit, off this big blue marble.  Those of us who stay here (I always wanted to go, but at this point I’m too old and my health is too bad) may perish, but the race will continue.  We MUST keep reaching for the stars (as Kasey Kasem used to tell us).

Many of my friends remarked on the Challenger Disaster how much they appreciated the words of Ronald Reagan.  I’m not a Reagan fan, but he (along with Bill Clinton) was a very good “Mourner in Chief”.  I do want to set the record straight, though---the words he quoted were not his; they were from a marvelous poem, by a young man who, shortly after he wrote it, was killed in combat in World War II.  It has been recited many times, and is the favorite of many pilots.

In honor of the Challenger crew, the Columbia crew, the Apollo I crew, and all those brave men and women who risk their lives in the air:

High Flight

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds -
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of -
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I've chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Pilot Officer, Royal Canadian Air Force


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