LAFAYETTE, La. – Some youthful friendships last a lifetime.
Others come and go.
Still others lie dormant, waiting to be rekindled years or decades later.
That’s how it was with me and my friend Kermit Duhon. Our friendship was rekindled this month after many decades. In the boy I had known I discovered a man of accomplishment, and in him, his family and his friends a kind of hospitality and generosity of spirit I’d never experienced.
Kermit and I became friends while stationed in Germany as communications technicians in the Navy. We were part of a group of sailors who enjoyed traveling and used the four-day breaks between our watches to travel to the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.
He’s one of only two Navy buddies I’ve been able to find. Most had common names – Jim Thomas, Mike Dwyer, Greg Burt – names shared by too many people to narrow them down to the right one. But how many Kermit Duhons could there be? Thanks to the Internet, we’ve been in touch for several years now.
I remembered him as a happy-go-lucky teenager from Louisiana, a kid who laughed a lot, enjoyed life and didn’t seem to let much of anything get him down. So it was a surprise when he told me during a visit to his hometown of Lafayette, La. this month that he had been terribly homesick in Germany. He recalled sitting on a North Sea dike outside of our base and praying to be delivered from there when he looked up and saw a cruise ship with people smiling and waving at him.
“And if you could fix it so that someday I could be one of those ships,” he told the Almighty, “that would be good, too.”
Fast forward to today. Kermit Duhon, the sailor who prayed to go to sea on something other than a warship, has been on over 100 cruises all over the world. He’s now in the process of retiring from the highly successful travel company he started and turning the business over to some of his employees.
When my wife and some friends of ours decided to go to the BSU game in Lafayette this month, I e-mailed Kermit to ask if he could recommend some good Cajun restaurants there.
“Forget the restaurants,” he e-mailed back. “You’re staying with us. Minimum three-day stay.”
I wrote back to say that there were five of us, possibly seven, and we couldn’t expect him and his wife to put up that many people for three days. We could stay in a hotel and meet them at the game.
That was before we were introduced to Cajun hospitality.
He replied to my e-mail by saying that he and his wife, Margaret, lived on multiple acres with multiple homes for themselves and their grown children. We were staying there, and that was that.
On the day we arrived, they were just home from an extended trip. Their flight had arrived the night before. They had to have been exhausted, but you wouldn’t have known it.
“Come in and we’ll get you settled,” he said. “Then we’ll go over to Hardy’s for the party.”
Hardy is Kermit’s brother. He and his wife, Maudrey, were hosting a party to welcome us to Lafayette. It would have been more than gracious in any case – they’d never laid eyes on any of us before – but given the circumstances it was remarkable.
The Louisiana flood that made news for weeks this summer hit Lafayette hard. Hardy’s and Maudrey’s home had water in two rooms, his workshop was ruined and they were housing their daughter and son-in-law whose home was completely flooded.
And they were giving us a party.
There must have been 30 people there. One had caught and cooked enough sac-a-lait (Cajun for Crappie) to feed everyone. Others had made pork jambalaya, roux, courtbouillon and other Cajun delicacies.
One of the Duhons’ friends put on a brave face and showed up to welcome us despite suffering from a nasty sinus infection from mold caused by the flood. But the bravest face was that of Sid Janise. He’d just lost his wife of 52 years, but he was there for the party and had even planned a tour for us.
Everyone we met made a point of welcoming us to Lafayette. More than a few apologized that the flood had made it impossible to give us a full-blown Cajun welcome – as if the one we got was anything short of phenomenal. We were complete strangers to these people, but for them it was enough that I was Kermit’s friend.
Over the next few days, we were treated to a Cajun tailgate party, a swamp tour and a tour of the quaint brick buildings and beautiful grounds where Tabasco sauce is made. It was all wonderful. But they saved the best part, or at least the most moving, for last.
On the morning that we had to catch our flight home, they surprised us with a going-away party. People had gotten up early to make a gigantic pot of jambalaya and fill tables with side dishes and coolers with beverages.
Maurice and Paulette Premeaux came from nearby Abbeville, La. Maurice had just finished three years of work on the dream home where they planned to retire. He did it himself so everything would be exactly the way they wanted it. They watched in tears as the rising floodwater destroyed it, room by room. They lost everything. But they showed up for the party and put on smiles to welcome us.
Just before we had to leave, Kermit’s daughter Nicole surprised us with the final touch of Cajun hospitality. She’d made a cake and decorated it with the words, “Until We Meet Again.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
At least not among the visiting Idahoans.
We left Louisiana feeling like we had about 30 new friends.
And an old one that it took far too long to find.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at email@example.com.