The first time I ever saw Buford was in my new apartment office. He was in the midst of the application process with the manager. While I didn’t even speak with him, he struck me as being a sad man. His application efforts were successful and he was approved for an apartment. He moved in and I would see him around from time to time. After folks got moved in and we got things at the new property settled down, some of the ladies asked me to teach a Bible study in the community room. I agreed and we held Bible study each Monday at 6:00 p. m. and the ladies also made it a covered-dish event. I agreed to lead the Bible study because there were many of the residents who simply could no longer attend Church services and needed something. With the ladies doing the covered dish dinner, it became a feast, too. We all had the best time on Monday evenings. It was really good and helped folks on a number of levels.
Some of the ladies mentioned that Buford was lonely and needed to come, but when they invited him he just snapped at them. They appointed me to recruit Buford. A couple of mornings each week, Buford would stop by the community room and have a cup of coffee, so I watched out for him. Our first discussion was not what I had hoped for . . . Buford was negative about God . . . believing that God had been unfair with him in the events in his life.
A couple of years later, Buford came into the office early on Monday morning, as soon as I arrived. I remember it was the day after the annual Shrimporee celebration held in our coastal community. As we sat at the table with our coffee cups, Buford began to sob and I saw his tears fall on the table. The man was deeply hurt. As he was able to regain his composure, he began to speak and told me that his son had been in town for the weekend to see a woman . . . and had not even made an effort to see him. He said it had been 15 years since he had seen his son . . . spoken to his son . . . and that had been at his wife’s’ funeral. As we talked, he told me how rotten he thought it was that his only child could treat him so badly . . . totally ignoring him for years . . . he just felt it was inexcusable behavior. I told Buford that I suspected his son had learned that behavior from watching him. That blew him away . . .and he gasped for air. I reminded him how he had been treating the Lord for years. After a while he saw the connection and after some difficult conversation and tears, he made his peace with God.
Several years later (after considerable spiritual growth) he chose to tell me his life story . . . and what a story it was. He had come to Aransas Pass with a hefty nest-egg to go into business. He bought a shrimp boat and did well. Over time, he ended up with a fleet of two dozen boats and an assortment of support business all located in Conn Brown Harbor . . . he owned a net-shop to make and repair nets, an ice house (shrimp boats use lots of ice), a fuel dock, a mechanic shop, a restaurant, a bar, a retail shop where folks could buy fresh shrimp, a processing plant where shrimp were cleaned, de-headed, and prepared for distribution to the market place, and a few other support businesses. It was at the time when Aransas Pass was billed at the “Shrimp Capital of the World” and it was said that some 80% of the shrimp consumed in the world came through port here. My friend, Buford, told me that there was not a shrimp that came into port here that he didn’t make a profit on in some way. That was the era when shrimp boats were lined up along the 12-mike channel between Port Aransas and Aransas Pass each summer waiting their turn to get to the dock to sell their catch, re-fuel, and re-provision their vessels. Buford told me that it was a gold mine and he became a very wealthy man. His overhead was light . . . his adult son oversaw the fleet of boats, he personally remained at dock and oversaw shore operations, and his daughter-in-law ran the business office.
Life was sweet . . . business was good . . . and then Hurricane Cecilia hit Aransas Pass and Conn Brown Harbor (1970). The damage was extreme . . . his boats were destroyed, his buildings were gone, his business was wrecked, and the loss was devastating. Finally, those with interests were slowly permitted back into the area. Buford said he knew it would take the rest of his life to recover from the damage.
Over the next hour he would tell me of the stalls, delays, and the end-arounds his daughter-in-law and his local insurance agent would employ as he sought to get an insurance adjuster on site to reach a settlement on his loss. Buford said after several weeks the pair finally confessed to him that he did not have a penny in insurance protection. The two had been involved in an illicit love affair for a number of years and had created a scheme whereby they . . . on paper . . . had insurance coverage, but it was all smoke-and-mirrors. The Agent would issue insurance binders, but never actually purchase coverage from an insurance carrier. Buford . . . via his daughter-in-law, cut checks for non-existing insurance coverage . . . the premium money went into their “Fun Account” . . . meaning that Buford, unbeknown to him, was financing the affair!
Buford said that he told his son about the mess (some things simply have to be handled by blood kin). He advised his son that an attorney told him that the agent would have an errors and omission policy that they could attack, but it would require reporting the crime to the Sheriff. He said his son wept and said, “I cannot send the mother of my kids to prison.” Buford said, “Well, it is your inheritance . . . I can retire.” Little did he know that it would take most of what he had saved just to clean up the mess (he had a huge liability). As his story sunk in, I came to better understand what it was about Buford that had always struck me as his being such a sad old guy. Life had been pretty rough with him.
As we sat at that table and I reflected on his tragic story, he began to softly weep, but over a few minutes it became a very deep sobbing, involving great sorrow. I knew more was to follow, but I had no notion of what it might be. Finally, he asked me, “Do you believe the Bible teaches that ill begotten wealth cannot last for more than a couple of generations before the Lord corrects accounts?” I admitted that I had heard that said, but never had much cause to study the subject. He said he fully believed that. He then told me his real story.
He had been a master sausage maker in San Antonio for a national meat-packer . . . just as had been his Dad and Granddad. He said he had serious authority in procurement. He told me that when he ordered casings, sage, and spices for the sausage-making he ordered those supplies in boxcar loads, and that he had spent a number of years thriving on kickbacks from large suppliers. He had finally gathered up enough ill-begotten wealth to relocate to the Coast and start his new business.
As an old man . . . who had finally made peace with God . . . he came to a peaceful mindset . . . that all things do, indeed, work together for good! He lived a few more years, and he seemed to grow more peaceful and content. He was a man that I knew was always happy to hang out with me. He grew to pretty much always have a smile and a soft word or two.
And then one day, he passed away. He had left a note asking that I officiate at his memorial service. I did . . . and I was kind. I simply told the mourners that Buford had been fortunate . . . he lived a long life and was able to live pretty well, and had been blessed to have been able to come full circle . . . and that he had learned first-hand what Jesus meant when He said, “I leave you my peace.” Peace …… that most sought after, yet also most elusive of all virtues. Buford was not a man who ever expected to find such peace . . . or the grace to forgive those who wronged him . . . or the grace to receive forgiveness for his own sins. But then, that is exactly what Jesus does . . . He sets the captive free. It was pretty special watching that miracle happen in Buford’s final years.
The poor old fellow had a sad story, but it all turned out pretty well. It was a pretty good memorial service!