A life ‘so wonderful’

Staff Writer
Stephenville Empire-Tribune
Buddy Grantham, who graduated from Lingleville High School at age 16 and served in World War II, is pictured in his apartment.

Carl Franklin “Buddy” Grantham has had a remarkably interesting life — and the Lingleville High School graduate experienced both triumphs and difficult times along the way.

The World War II veteran and former Tarleton University student turns 95 years old today, Aug. 6.

Grantham had great success in business and was friends with one of golf’s all-time great hall of famers. But most notably Buddy had a 74-year storybook marriage to the late Louise Ferguson, who was salutatorian of her Stephenville High School graduating class.

Grantham and Louise first met when she was 14, and they both lived in the Lingleville area. He was living on the 500-plus acres of land his grandparents owned. As they got older, their budding puppy love escalated via romantic letters they wrote to each other after he was drafted into the Army when he turned 18.

“I was ready to go,” Grantham said of the war. “Everybody I knew was ready to fight for our lives. We knew we had to. We had been bombed (at Pearl Harbor).”

Like many young Americans faced with the economic hard times and life-and-death reality of the World War II era, Grantham grew up quickly after graduating from high school when he was only 16.

He was a part of that cultural U.S. backbone now commonly known as The Greatest Generation. It was a resilient, hard-working, self-sufficient group of patriots who proudly served their country — and didn’t become whiners when faced with challenges.

Grantham’s knack for making good business choices in his post-military career as a building contractor and business owner had a temporary slump. But by far the worst time for Buddy and Louise as a couple was the unexpected death of their 15-year-old son.

Grantham remains mentally sharp, now living alone in a well-kept apartment in Granbury. A friend who first met Grantham in 1978 at the DeCordova Bend Country Club golf course in Hood County, said that Grantham has “made a big difference in my life,” — never complaining, and inspiring him “in the way he conducts himself and the way he talks to me. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life.”

TURNING POINT

Grantham said that the loss of their only son was a turning point that brought a change in him and stuck with him in profound ways ever since.

“I’m a born-again, Bible-believing Christian,” Grantham said. “I sold out to the Lord as much as I could. It all happened when we lost our son (Carl Franklin ‘Buddy’ Grantham). He was 15 years old.”

He could have been angry at God. But Grantham said he instead asked God to make himself real.

“I knew (then) I was wrong in the kind of life I was living,” Grantham said. “I thought I was a Christian the day that boy died. I said, ‘Lord, I want to talk to you.’ I said, if you make yourself real to me, I’ll go one route or another.

“He made himself real to me, and he answered me. I was mad at the world, but yet I was afraid of the world. He let me know inside my heart, and I knew then (he was real).

“Life has been so wonderful ever since. I’ve got something to look forward to. I know there’s a little boy up there (in Heaven), and my wife’s up there, and my family. Because I believe with all my heart that there is such a thing. Life takes a complete different meaning.”

For the last several years, Grantham has been having a Bible study group meet in his home.

SPORTING LIFE

As a high school student — with the Lingleville Cardinals — Grantham excelled in basketball, football and track. His basketball Cardinals won plenty of games — but not against their big Erath County rival.

“We could beat everybody in the country but Huckabay,” he said. “We won two tournaments. Later, Lingleville got to where they could beat them.”

Grantham’s interest in golf came later when he was about age 20. He was mostly self-taught, with some help from his cousins.

“I could hit the ball a mile,” Grantham said. “I played in lots of tournaments. Lots of people told me I should be a pro. I was good at everything but putting.”

Grantham played a lot of golf with a talented pro golfer named Doug Higgins — who couldn’t quite get over the hump to win any big tournaments.

One of Grantham’s other golfing friends, Byron Nelson, didn’t have that problem. Nelson won 52 pro tournaments and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974. His score of 66 in winning the 1937 Masters stood as the all-time best score in that event until 1976.

“I knew Byron real well,” Grantham said of the legend, who was honored posthumously in 2009 when Byron Nelson High School was built in Denton County near his former Roanoke residence. “I played as an amateur with some pros. Doug and I were very good friends. I played with a lot of pros, but I didn’t really take any lessons.”

Grantham played golf regularly for about 30 years before deciding to put his clubs away.

WORLD WAR II

During his 2-1/2-year stint in the Army, Grantham became a member of a railroad battalion, and eventually earned a ranking of corporal.

He began his military life as a train fireman, then later became an engineer.

“I had worked (as a civilian) as a boiler operator on a (coal-fired) train. They said ‘We’re going to make you a railroader.”

The Army sent him and other members of his support group to London in 1943. In June of the following year, Grantham found himself on a ship to France — the day after the momentous D-Day invasion of Normandy, France.

“We were on trains hauling material to the front lines,” Grantham said. “When we got to Cherbourg (France), the shooting was all over. Three days later we went into Paris.”

On the way to Paris by night, in blackout conditions, a fatal train crash claimed the life of a friend and fellow soldier. The crash could easily have killed him instead.

“The train in front of us had a wreck that killed that engineer,” Grantham said. “It caught on fire. We were there two days until we got going again.”

GUARDING PRISONERS

Despite the fact he was on the railroad battalion, Grantham once was put in the temporary position as guard over a few German prisoners — and committed a mistake of his own that could have cost him his life. He was given a rifle while guarding the prisoners, but was distracted and startled by a loud noise.

His reaction was to run toward the direction of the noise to see what caused it — before realizing he left his rifle behind, near the German prisoners.

“Just as I got almost there, I realized I didn’t have my rifle,” Grantham admitted. “It scared me, because they could have got me. I’m thinking, ‘You stupid rascal, you knew better than that’.”

Fortunately, none of the prisoners made a move to grab his rifle before he returned to his guard position.

“Those Germans were just looking at me,” he said in wonder.

SWEETHEARTS REUNITE

Through all of the stress and worries of the war, Grantham kept thinking about his Lingleville lassie and sweetheart waiting for him in Texas.

“I wanted to get home so bad,” Grantham said, noting that they found a Baptist preacher in Stephenville who married them just three days after his return in 1945. It was two days after Louise turned 18. Buddy was 20.

In addition to their son, Buddy, they also had a daughter, Mary Lou. She eventually graduated as a high school valedictorian when they lived in Fort Worth.

Buddy and Louise later lived in DeCordova near Granbury for more than 20 years.

They had both worked for Montgomery Wards in Fort Worth for a time during their early years as a couple. He recalls being paid every bit of 37 center an hour.

Buddy later had a breakout job offer with Phillips Petroleum at a refinery — a job that offered a whopping $3 an hour — plus a home to live in, in the Seminole area. Louise eventually had a substantial career of her own, working for Chevron/Texaco, including a stint working in Houston.

Although Buddy had been playing golf at a high level — a “scratch” golfer, according to Bradley — when Louise quit her job Buddy started teaching her how to play on the high quality course at DeCordova.

“She was such a sweet woman,” Grantham said. “She worked in Houston six or seven months. We traveled back and forth, and she took early retirement. Then she started playing golf with me.”

Louise had an extended hospital stay that ended with her death Dec. 17, 2019.

Their daughter, Mary Lou Grantham Burr, recently moved back to Fort Worth from South Carolina where she had lived for about 20 years.

BUSINESS SKILLS

Grantham said he was basically self-taught in carpentry, and built a thriving business as a contractor. Some of the first structures he built were cabins in Stephenville that were used to house Tarleton students. He expanded his contracting work to West Texas and even New Mexico, with two depedable, hard-working crews.

That led to his idea of opening a store in Fort Worth that he named Quality Decorating Center. It offered materials used in upgrading and decorating homes, including hardware, linoleum, tile, carpeting and plumbing supplies.

“I started the first business that was like Home Depot, in Fort Worth,” Grantham said of that venture, which was in its heyday about 35 years ago.

Like his contracting and remodeling businesses, his store business started off great.

“Everything I touched would just turn into money,” he said. “I don’t know why.”

In order to devote more attention to his successful contracting and construction work, he hired a manager — the wrong manager — to “call the shots” for Quality Decorating Center.

Eventually Grantham got an upsetting phone call from his accountant.

“The business was in trouble,” Grantham said of learning that things were being “mishandled” — and suddenly “I owed everybody.”

After letting that manager go, Grantham turned his attention back to the store. He sold it and paid off the debts that had accumulated.

“It took me seven years,” Grantham said of that process.

He noted that he “retired about three times,” then slowed down to building about two homes per year. One of the last ones was the large home he built for himself and his wife, in DeCordova.

It was then, he recalled, “I decided I didn’t want to build anymore.”

His work was done, but a full lifetime of memories remain.

Buddy Grantham and his wife, Louise.