Celebrating 95 … from a slight distance
Buford Griffin wondered why he was sitting under a tent in his front yard last Saturday morning.
His wife of 73 years, Ruth, as well as his two daughters and other family huddled around, but Buford remained in the dark as to why he was sitting in that heat.
At least until the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office car, lights flashing, rolled past.
Deputy Vince Everett was leading a line of cars and golf carts driven by friends, even a couple of guys from Tennessee who happened past, and all decorated to celebrate Buford Griffin’s 95th birthday.
The result, a social-distance birthday parade in Griffin’s honor, which put a pretty wide smile on the man’s face.
“I had no idea,” Griffin said. “Y’all surprised me.”
This, in a small town, was a feat unto itself, considering the planning that went into the morning line-up and celebration.
Now, as for what is the secret to working his way to a centennial (Buford once said he wanted to live to 112, but has pared the number to 110), Griffin had a ready answer.
“You have to depend on God for a lot,” Griffin said.
Though he spent some early years working a farm in Washington County following the death of his father and served in World War II, Port St. Joe has been home for Buford.
“I haven’t lived anywhere else in my life,” he said.
With his father’s passing, despite being just 13, Buford was suddenly the man of the house as the oldest of nine.
He worked in Panama City as a dishwasher, delivered Western Union telegrams on his bicycle and worked at that city’s paper mill.
Drafted at 18, he was initially turned away by a draft board that believed he looked too young to go to war.
A year or so later, he was drafted into the U.S. Army; this was after D-Day and the Germans were near surrender.
Memories remain vivid for Buford.
The boat ride to Scotland during which Buford was excruciatingly sea sick for most of the four-day trip.
Using the term “boat” here is stretching it like a rubber band: there were 9,000 men aboard, packed tightly.
Later, serving as guards for former Polish prisoners of the Germans, so grateful to be freed they would perform all sorts of acts of kindness for the Americans.
Riding on a troop train so crowded that sleeping men turned as if tumbling dominoes when just one turned over in his sleep.
The sight of Allied bombers overhead, in formation and in such numbers they eclipsed all else in the sky.
And the boat ride home.
“They wanted me to enlist for three more years,” Buford said. “I just wanted to come home.”
Upon returning to Port St. Joe, Ruth, who will turn 90 later this year, walked into his life.
“We met going to church,” Ruth said of attending Oak Grove Assembly of God. “His brother kind of liked me.
“That night he told his brother he was going to steal his girlfriend.”
The two were married in 1947 and settled into Johnson’s Boarding House on Fourth Street, sharing a bathroom and kitchen with another family.
Buford would also purchase one of the first two Pontiacs to arrive in town (Port St. Joe once sported four dealerships, Ruth noted).
“They were called the one-legged man’s car because there was no clutch,” Ruth said. “It was wonderful.”
Buford went to work at the paper mill, as well as establishing Griffin Septic, and the family eventually settled on Marvin Ave.
As for turning 95, Buford noted pros and cons.
“I feel so-so, it’s hard to explain,” Buford said when asked how he felt to have reached 95.
“The biggest and most important thing is leaving it up to God.”