Visiting family

It’s no exaggeration — Atlanta traffic is bad. Even though we live 60 miles north of the city, my family lives three hours south. There’s no way around it. If I want to visit them, I must travel through a sprawling congested mess. The interstate straight through the city is often snarled and the loop around it is just as bad.

So when I learned to fly years ago, it was a relief to my Old Man that I finally had a safer mode of transportation to use when I wanted to see my family. He didn’t worry as much when I flew down in my C-172C than when I traveled by car. Since many of my visits involved “female” type activities — weddings, baby showers and just plain gabfests — he was delighted that I could travel alone without the worry of road hazards.

I smile now when I think of some of those trips. My aunts and cousins may have thought it a little odd to arrive via airplane, but that made me no stranger than many of my other kinfolk.

After my mother passed away, it was my habit to stay with my Aunt Pie. It was our custom for me to give her a call before I departed. I typically flew straight through, and since the local airport didn’t have fuel at the time, I planned a fuel stop on the return trip. I would buzz her house to let her know I had arrived, then head to the airport to land. It was a good system, but it wasn’t foolproof.

That was the plan when I flew down for a baby shower she was hosting for one of my cousins. It was hotter than blue blazes as it often is in middle Georgia in July. The flight was a little bumpy, but the visibility was good. I flew at a higher altitude than I normally would to keep my temps in the green.

Upon arrival, I circled her house several times, didn’t see any activity below but was sure someone would show up shortly to pick me up. That would be my second surprise. The first was that the small apron at the airport had been repaved since my last visit, and all the tie-down rings were now under that new pavement. There was no hope for it. I pushed the Cessna into the grass and used the portable tie-downs Henry insisted I keep in the cargo hold.

Needless to say, my frock was less than fresh and my brow was, as my relatives so gently say, “dewy” by the time this work was finished. I was ready to escape the heat. I wanted a cold drink and I needed to heed nature’s call. The only building was locked up tight and there was no motorized conveyance in sight. Hmmm.

As this was the age before cell phones were common, I didn’t have the convenience of whipping out my smartphone and calling to let Aunt Pie know I had arrived. But I wasn’t completely unprepared. Both ashtrays in the Cessna were stuffed with quarters, another clever idea from the mind of an old taildragger pilot who happens to like my cooking and keeps my airplanes airworthy. I would just use the pay phone to call and let them know that I was ready for that lovely air-conditioned Buick to arrive and take me away. Except…like the tie-down rings, the pay phone was gone as well. Darn. Why couldn’t there have been a NOTAM?

I used the lone bush for a little shade and a little privacy as I considered my options.

I hated to untie the airplane after all of my efforts. I also didn’t like the idea of walking to the nearest telephone in the July heat. I was pondering my dilemma when an old red Chevy Camaro turned into the airport. I was leery. The airport sits on property along a county road that is populated by my relatives. In fact, if I recall correctly, the original property was donated by one of my great uncles. But I had been gone a long time and made infrequent visits. I didn’t know most of these folks and they didn’t know me.

However, it was a very polite young man who asked if I needed assistance. He lived nearby, knew the airport was often unattended, and thought I might need a lift into town. After a little conversation, I learned that he was my second cousin. I grabbed my overnight bag and my gaily wrapped shower gift and accepted a ride to my uncle’s house, which was just a couple of miles down the road.

My Uncle Ronnie was glad to take me to Aunt Pie’s house. I was welcomed warmly with a hug. After all the well wishes were done, I asked her if she heard me buzz the house. With all the drama that only a deeply southern woman can manage, she said, “I did, but I thought you were that danged ole crop duster that’s been pestering us all morning.”

Ah. The joys of living in the rural south. I didn’t think my airplane antics were quite up to those of the local crop duster pilot, but it no longer mattered. I was cool. I had some ice-cold punch and some divine finger food. I talked women talk until I was light-headed from lack of oxygen.

When one of my burly male cousins came by later that afternoon and asked if I could locate a deer stand from the air in an airplane like mine, I told him yes. Then I asked if he needed to check on his. He sheepishly told me he would like to see if he had placed it in the most optimal location. By then, the air had cooled, and it was one of the most enjoyable flights I’ve made. I really treasured flying an old country boy over the land that he so obviously loved.

The trip back home was uneventful. It was still hot, but my fuel stop was air-conditioned, had a clean restroom, and a cold drink machine. There was even a copy of one of my columns on the FBO bulletin board. When no one was looking, I signed it and then quietly left to continue the flight home.

Aunt Pie is now gone. As so many of my relatives have grown old and passed away, I don’t make as many of those flights to my hometown. The C-172C was replaced with a Luscombe 8E, just a tad slower, about the same fuel range, just as hot in the summer. The little local airport sports 5,000 feet of runway, a new larger apron with tie-downs, automated fuel, and very nice restrooms.

Nevertheless, I still carry tie-downs and ropes in the Luscombe, and it’s nice to know that bush, the one that offered the shade and privacy, is still there.

Deb McFarland is the proud owner of Lester, a 1948 Luscombe 8E, and part of the “Front Porch Gang” at Pickens County Airport in Georgia. She can be reached at



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