Reconnecting with a long-lost cousin

As 11-year-olds, Georges and his cousin Armand were about as tight as two mischief-making boys could be. They climbed cherry trees on the Belgian farm, drove their uncle’s WWII-remnant Willys Jeep into the pond, built forbidden pyramids of un-baled hay in the barn to slide down.

Then one day, Armand disappeared.

Georges learned later that Armand’s biological mother had reclaimed him (Armand had been adopted as a small boy by the childless sister of Georges’ grandmother) and whisked him off to Canada. The two saw each other once briefly a few years later, but then completely lost touch with one another for more than two decades.

Tragically, Armand’s adoptive mother – G’s great-aunt – was so grief-stricken by the loss of the son she loved that she committed suicide.

The years sped by. G went to the Congo, then opened restaurants in Belgium. He thought of Armand from time to time, wondering where he was, what he was doing.

After emigrating to the U.S. in 1985, G would ask his brother, still in Belgium, for any news about their cousin. But there was never any word.

Then one spring evening in 1990, the phone rang at Le Bistro, G’s award-winning restaurant in Tucson. A former waiter now tending bar at a Bennigan’s in Dallas (!) told G there was somebody who wanted to speak with him.

Armand’s voice came on the line. Hey, how’re you doing, Cousin?

For a minute, time stood still. G’s heart pounded in his ears; he couldn’t breathe. The reconnection was instantaneous – and intense.

On the phone that night, they briefly caught each other up on their lives, planned to get together in person as soon as possible and pledged to stay in touch forever more.

Here’s a picture of them together this month from our visit to Armand and Lynda’s home in Baltimore as part of our yearlong perimeter trip around the country.

And here’s my all-time favorite picture of the two of them as 11-year-olds. They are standing outside the gendarmerie where G’s father worked in Louveigne, Belgium. The creased and torn photo is dated May 12, 1959.

(Shades of Dennis the Menace, eh? Note the high-water pants. Brownie points if you can tell which boy is which.)

As remarkable as their reconnection is the manner in which it came about.

Armand, who is Canadian but has long divided his time between Montreal and Baltimore, was working in 1990 as an engineering  superintendent for Texas Mechanical Construction in Dallas. After one particularly hard day of work, he found himself chatting it up with the barman at a Bennigan’s (since closed) near NorthPark Center.

You have an accent, said the barman. Where are you from?

I’m Canadian, Armand said. I speak French; my accent is Belgian. That’s where I’m from.

I used to work for a guy in Tucson who sounds just like you, the barman said. He was from Belgium, too.

Uh-huh, said Armand.

His name is Georges Badoux, said the barman.

What?!

Armand recalls nearly falling off his stool. Impossible, he thought. But how many Georges Badouxs from Belgium can there be?

Is his father a policeman? Does his mother have two gold teeth?

Yes, yes, said the barman. I worked for him at Le Bistro. If you come back tomorrow, I’ll get you his phone number and you can call him.

Armand went back to Bennigan’s the next night. He called G from that barstool. And two years later, on his way to California from Baltimore for another engineering project, Armand stopped in Tucson to visit his boyhood chum. The two have remained in touch ever since.

There’s been a lot to catch up on. Children, marriages, jobs, deaths in the family. Heartache and joy.

Armand has saved all these years later the letter authorizing him to travel from Brussels to Montreal as a child almost 60 years ago.

In recent years, whenever G and I have had occasion to be in the Washington area for business, we’ve made a point to tack on an extra day or two to scoot up to Baltimore to visit Armand and Lynda. We’ve managed to get together nearly every spring for the last 12-15 years – and we always have fun.

Armand and Lynda live in a narrow, three-story house in Fells Point, near the Inner Harbor. Their home (see red door below) used to be a bank. They are flanked by a hair salon and a Mexican food restaurant in one of the most ethically diverse neighborhoods I’ve been in.

Here’s a picture of the two good buddies together at an Inner Harbor restaurant four years ago this week.

G and Lynda enjoyed cooking together last week.

We enjoyed several dinners together, including this one.

Armand gets his hair cut by the Greek around the corner and buys his meats and cheese at the Polish food market two blocks over. The best fish market is run by Sal from El Salvador and there are two Italian markets just a few paces away.

The post office is a four-block walk and Joe’s Bike Shop – handy for fixing the wheel on your bike that was damaged when you accidentally hit a deer one night on a road in Virginia – is just down the next street. (The deer seemed OK; it got up and ran off. Thank goodness.)

From Armand’s house down the half-dozen blocks to the waterfront there are scads of bars and restaurants. Most of the owners know good-natured Armand by sight.

Remember the Cheers television show from the 1980s? Armand has way more on the ball than Norm Peterson – and his accent is more French than Boston – but the neighborhood’s warmth and its characters remind me of the Cheers family.

Today, the thing Armand remembers most about that visit to G’s restaurant in Tucson after all those years apart is that G was wearing the same huge Casio wristwatch that Armand was wearing at the time.

And they were wearing the same tan cowboy boots.

They both swear this is true. Armand even produced for me the ancient Casio watch that he’s kept all these years.

It’s enough to make Lynda wonder, only half-jokingly, if the two weren’t really brothers separated at birth.

21 thoughts on “Reconnecting with a long-lost cousin

  1. Hi Keven, I had fallen behind on reading your “postcards” and was delighted to have opened this one about Armand and Georges reconnecting as my first “catch up”. Lynda had posted your experience with the Canadian border patrol on facebook and that is how I started following these. We met you at Lynda and Armand’s several years ago, I believe you were passing through before doing the Pulitzer judging. Georges had cooked and the meal was delightful. You both made a wonderful impression. I was not aware of some of the details you outlined in this piece and appreciate getting the opportunity to know more about our friend’s early life. My husband, David, and I moved to the eastern shore of Virginia about three years ago. We miss our friends, but enjoy rural life. You and Georges would be welcome to be in touch if you should happen through this part of the world. In the meantime, I do hope to continue reading about your wonderful explorations. Thanks again for bringing our friends closer.

    Sarah Hansel and David Perry 23429 Cedar Street Onancock, VA 23417 443-791-4294

    On Sun, Jun 3, 2018 at 10:49 AM, Postcards from the Perimeter wrote:

    > Keven & Georges posted: “As 11-year-olds, Georges and his cousin Armand > were about as tight as two mischief-making boys could be. They climbed > cherry trees on the Belgian farm, drove their uncle’s WWII-remnant Willys > Jeep into the pond, built forbidden pyramids of un-baled hay in” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Sarah, how wonderful to hear from you. I’m so glad you are enjoying the postcards posts. I so enjoy writing them. We too have wonderful memories of our brief time together and would welcome an opportunity to get together again soon sometime. Tonight we are overnighting in Marquette in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with a beautiful view of Lake Superior. Life could hardly be better.

      Like

  2. Carolyn Baldwin June 7, 2018 — 9:07 pm

    Carolyn

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  3. Hi Keven and Georges,
    I’m in Brooklyn right now, but leave on Friday. Are you here?
    Margie (From North Palm; Pam and Gerry’s friend)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Margie, so great to hear from you! Thanks for writing. We spent yesterday in Philly helping a friend celebrate the launch of his new book (Homelands by Alfredo Corchado) and are now heading back to the Jersey Shore to continue our crawl northward. We expect to be in New York by the weekend, but it looks like we’ll just miss you if you’re leaving on Friday. So sorry…. Raincheck!

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  4. So wonderful that they reconnected!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes indeed, Tegwin. Bless that bartender!

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  5. What a remarkable coincidence that reunited these two cousins. Having just lost my only male cousin I envy their relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Bill. I’m sorry to learn of your loss. And yes, God bless that Le Bistro-waiter-turned-Bennigans barman!

      Like

  6. Lottye brodsky-Lyle June 3, 2018 — 4:01 pm

    Your stories are like chapters in a book I can’t put down. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Lottie. So glad you’re along for the ride…!

      Like

  7. Lucy Billingsley June 3, 2018 — 2:47 pm

    Just a lovely story. Makes one filled with smiles.

    Lucy Billingsley Partner Billingsley Company | Direct 214-270-2222 http://www.billingsleyco.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Lucy. Loving that you’re along for the ride…!

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  8. David Lankford June 3, 2018 — 12:45 pm

    Kevin n George
    This is the best post yet friends of a lifetime. Keven your writings skills for all your posts and the photographs are for me like a publisher waiting for the next chapter from the author. Keep going…looking forward to the next chapter.
    Dave n Mary

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow. A great story, and so moving!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jane. Love that Bennigans barman!

      Like

  10. You have both added such rich dimensions to your already spectacular journey, seamlessly weaving together memories past and present. Formidable!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Madeleine! Glad you’re reading along. I consult your states-shape gift almost daily! When do you and Frank head out again?

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      1. We arrived yesterday in Dubrovnik. Don’t think we will cross paths along this perimeter!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, saw you on Facebook. So exciting! Would love to see Croatia sometime. Remember all the good places for us…!

        Like

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