My father died a little more than a year ago and it is just now that I’ve found it in me to parse through his belongings. There were accolades of accomplishment, photos of him at a microphone doing play-by-play radio announcing for the Oklahoma Sooners football team, awards and gold watches, a few solo cuff links—not an uncommon brew, as end-of-life collections go. But there was one thing that stopped me in my tracks. Obviously at some time or another, my mother (looking down at the image hovering on a Brownie camera viewfinder) had snapped a picture of my dad’s pride ‘n joy: a red and white Piper Clipper.
Sadly, the photograph had long since begun to fade. There was no doubt it was our airplane, but no matter what kind of tricky applied technology I shoved at the image, the N-number remained elusive, unreadable, too faint to make sense out of. Is that a “3” or an “8”? A “1” or a “7”? There wasn’t enough there for me to go looking for the airplane now.
At Oshkosh this summer I looked up to see a perfectly restored Clipper sitting alone in a field. The first two numbers on the registration were the same as the ones I could read in the picture of the old family airplane. And here were the last two numbers that I couldn’t read from the photo… could this be???