Empty Chair

We got the call last night at 12:30.  My wife’s grandfather is dying.  We are in the midst of the chaos that surrounds death.  Much of it is the stupid logistics of getting us from Virginia to California.  None of that really matters.  What matters is that he is deeply loved and will be greatly missed.  Here are my raw thoughts on the life of Austin Houston Shifflett.


I met Austin at my wife’s great grandmother’s 90th birthday.  My wife and I had just started dating.  Not much passed between the two of us because the party was loud and he is hard of hearing.  But he was very nice.


In the years to come, I would get to know him much better.  With the exception of her grandparents, all of my wife’s relatives have cats.  I am highly allergic, so staying at their house was a must during family visits.


Austin was a soft spoken man.  Something about being in his presence drops my blood pressure and causes me to relax.  He has a sing-song voice that just puts you at ease. 


On occasion, he would share bits of his history with me.  He only completed elementary school.  His family moved to California from Oklahoma during the dust bowl.  When World War II came around the army tested him and quickly realized he was exceptionally bright.  He was one of a handful of soldiers allowed to become a flight engineer with no formal education.  During the war, he was stationed in India where he maintained planes that flew over China to bomb the Japanese. 


After the war, he married and worked at various air force bases around California before settling in his adopted home town of Fairfield.  He worked most of his career at Travis Air Force Base. 


While maintaining a full time job, he also developed a plot of land.  He built a small home for his family and numerous apartments.  To this day those apartments have contributed to his financial prosperity.


Austin also loved technology.  He was a geek before the word was invented.  He always had the latest gadgets (TVs, VCRs, Camcorders, Video Disks ((the old platter size ones)), and various other toys).  He loved big cars…cars of every kind.  Not only did he buy cars for himself, but he gave a brand new car to each of his 6 grandchildren upon their graduation from high school.


He loves McDonalds coffee (pronounced Mac Donalds).  He loves Denny’s grand slam breakfast.  He loves JJ North’s buffet.  He never lets us pay for our own meals.  And usually at some point during our stay he would slip my wife 3-4 hundred dollars.


He has his favorite leather chair in the living room.  Nobody ever dares to sit in his chair.  He has a funny habit of using an emery board on his nails whenever he sits down.

He is a kind and gentle man.  The world needs more Austins.


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