My grandfather was 66 years-old when I was born. I was at his bedside when he died 30 years later. The years between my birth and his death were magical years for me. His influence in my life was significant, to be sure.
My grandfather and I spent a lot of time together. And he told me stories, lots of them. He loved to read and he understood how to use stories to whip up bowls full of childhood curiosity. I couldn’t get enough.
As I got older he gave me books, lots of them. Books bulging with stories that begged to be read at a time when television was beginning to bewitch children. Books that introduced me to wonderful characters like Androcles and the Lion, Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver, and others who lived in times and worlds beyond my own.
Perhaps best of all were the stories he shared from his own childhood. By the time I came along he had already lived an amazing life.
Felipe Garcia was born in 1893 on a ranch in Duval County. He worked as a cowhand on the George West Ranch, attended business college in San Antonio, and became a real estate developer.
He sold a car to Pancho Villa, played a key role in recruiting Hispanics to serve in the First World War, and started the first Hispanic Boy Scout Troop in Duval and Hidalgo counties. He served on the Mission city council and in his later years was recognized as the longest and oldest serving city commissioner in Texas.
There is so much more to tell, but I will do that a bit at a time as I begin a journey to blog about his story.
I recently started reading through his personal journal, two notebooks bulging with single-spaced lines hammered on to the pages in uneven Courier font using two index fingers on the lettered stems of his Royal typewriter.
I was delighted to read one of the stories he had shared with me more than once when I was a kid — the 1910 appearance of Halley’s Comet. This is the story in his own words:
Ranch after ranch, men, women and children were very much upset about Halley’s Comet being so clearly visible for several nights in a row. The fantastic stories about what was going to happen when its tail would hit the earth. All these scenes took place, and one could observe how many of these simple folk would re-act. To think about the earth being destroyed was no fun at all.
I remember that the night the comet was supposed to strike the earth several of us boys made our beds in a wagon that we may be able to see what was going to happen. That early morning was supposed to be the time that the comet would hit the ground. We were a disappointed group, we did see its tail probably bigger than before but this lasted only a short time, as the sky began to darken with gulf clouds which obliterated the scene. So this year of 1910 was not the end of the world.
It was also the general conversation among old pioneer residents that there would be a time that the earth would be destroyed because people were beginning to fly contrary to the wishes of Almighty God.
Whatever the anguish, anxiety and suspense Halley’s Comet bought to this area’s inhabitants, the news of its failure to destroy the earth was accepted calmly and reverently. I was glad that the suspense had ended to our favor.
Halley’s Comet makes its rounds about every 75 years or so. When my grandfather was a teenager, the comet streaked across the night skies in April 1910. This was also the first time in human history that the comet was photographed.
Interestingly, a French astronomer named Camille Flammarion claimed that gas from the tail of the comet “would impregnate the atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet.” That claim went viral and so, even in rural Duval County, folks believed that the appearance of the comet spelled the end of the world.
Like my grandfather and his friends, I am glad that the world is still here. And like the pioneer residents of Duval County, it would be wise to not behave in ways contrary to the wishes of God.
More stories from my grandfather’s journal to come. Stay tuned.