Remembering Grandpa

As we approach Veterans Day this year, please allow me to add my thanks and appreciation to all our veterans. And I would like to tell you about one veteran in particular who was very special to me: my grandfather, Stanley Garison, Sr. We called him “Grandpa.”

He was born in Orange County, Texas, on September 30, 1899 – one of four boys. He lied about his age and joined the army as a teenager, to go off with General “Blackjack” Pershing and chase the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa back and forth across the border. Later he was part of the AEF in France during World War I, where he was wounded by a piece of German shrapnel from a shell that exploded behind him. Many years later, he liked to work in his yard with his shirt off, and I can still remember seeing the scar on his left shoulder.

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My grandpa, Stanley Garison, Sr. (left), in France, 1918.

The picture shows him in France, wearing his uniform, with an unidentified buddy of his. My brothers and I used to love hearing the stories he told from being in the war. When I was a kid, I enjoyed building airplane models, especially the fighter planes from that period. I loaned him a book about World War I planes I checked out from my school library, and he told me about seeing “dogfights” between planes in the skies above him. Once, he helped capture a German pilot after he had made a crash landing near the American position.

Of course, Veteran’s Day was always very special to Grandpa, because before it became known by that name, it was called “Armistice Day.” As part of the American forces in France during the war, the moment that war ended was very personal for him, and it came at 11:00 o’clock, local time, on November 11, 1918 – the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. It was in the 1930s that Congress got around to changing what had been called “Armistice Day” into a day to celebrate ALL veterans, and it became known as “Veterans Day.

Stanley Garison died on my birthday, October 11, 1980, of complications from a stroke. In his lifetime, he had gone from it taking all day in a buggy to go ten miles into town and back, to the Wright Brothers, to men landing on the moon.

Grandpa loved to hunt and fish. His best hunting story was about the time he killed two deer with one shot. He said he was hunting along a fence there near the home place and saw a deer; he fired off a quick shot, and was pretty sure that he hit it, but the deer jumped the fence and ran off. Grandpa followed behind, mad and cussing about having to chase the “blankety-blank” deer. After following it a long way, he finally found the deer where it was lying in some grass. He jumped on its back and cut its throat, so that it could finish bleeding out.

The deer immediately jumped up and ran off! So now, Grandpa is REALLY mad. He follows that deer again, cussing all the way, until he finally finds it dead. He picks the deer up, puts it across his shoulders, and starts back along the fence line to where he started. Along the way, he discovers another deer, lying dead by the fence. It was the one he had shot in the first place. The second deer had just been asleep in the tall grass when Grandpa jumped on its back.

Anyway, that was his story, and he was sticking to it.

Meet Archie McMillan

Paw Paw and me, about 1957

Let me tell you about a man I used to know. His name was James Archie McMillan. Most people called him Arch or Archie. I called him Paw Paw. He was my mother’s dad.

Arch was born in 1912 in Hardin County, Texas – that’s deep in the Big Thicket country of Southeast Texas, and he was the youngest of five boys born to James Duncan and Mary McMillan. As a matter of fact, Paw Paw was a Leap Day baby, born February 29, 1912. He married my grandmother, Sallie Walker, in 1934, and they had two children – my mom, Tommie Beth, and my uncle, Duncan.

My Paw Paw described himself as a “jack of all trades, and a master of none.” He was the first guy I ever heard use that phrase. During World War II, he was a machinist and worked at a shipbuilding plant in Beaumont. I still have the Vice-Grip pliers that he carried in the factory with his initials engraved in them. Later, he worked in the oil field as a driller; if you’re not familiar with oil field hierarchy, the driller is sort of like a shift supervisor, in charge of a crew of men working on the rig.

His ethnic heritage was Scots-Irish, except he always called it “Scotch-Irish.” Not a big surprise with family names like Duncan, Archie and McMillan. He was a big baseball fan and loved the Detroit Tigers because their farm club was in Beaumont. And he smoked two packs a day of unfiltered Camel cigarettes.

Paw Paw loved to tease and pick, and I loved to tag along with him. I used to go and spend a week with him and my grandmother during the summer, and I would ride with him to go places when he was home from the oil rig.

He died in January, 1969. He was 56. I was 12 and remember it like it was yesterday.

He had suffered a heart attack about three weeks earlier and was in Baptist Hospital in Beaumont. These days, they would put in a stent or two, maybe do bypass surgery, and he’d be home in a week and back to work in a month. But in those days, they couldn’t do much for him.

I remember going up to his room to see him on a Sunday afternoon. He couldn’t talk – I guess he had on an oxygen mask or something, and he was very weak – but I remember him squeezing my hand and looking deep into my eyes. I can still see those eyes. The next day, he had another heart attack and died. Later, I would learn that his own father – James Duncan McMillan – had also died in his mid-50s, when Paw Paw was only 4 years old.

I bring this up, because I had a birthday a few days ago. Now, I’m not superstitious, nor am I especially morbid about these things, but thinking about this brings up some questions. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. If I knew this was going to be MY last year to live, what would I change about my life? Ask yourself: if you knew you were going to die within the next 12 months, how would YOU live? What would you do? Where would you go? With whom would you spend some of that precious time?

There’s a hard truth in this. Unless Jesus comes first, one of these days each of us will die. It may be when we are 56, or 66, or even 106, but it will come. So cherish the moments. Love deeply. Laugh often. Treasure each day.

Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” In other words, we need to live with eternity in mind. That seems like good advice, no matter how many birthdays you’ve had.

Thanks, Paw Paw.