My name is Jerry Lemenu and I am proud to call myself a buffalo. Anyone of Belgian ancestry from the Detroit area shares this distinction. Why a buffalo?  Well there are a few possible explanations.  Valere  Spetebroot said it was when Belgians fought they led with their heads like buffalos. Henry Verlinden says its because when the Belgians migrated to the U.S. last century they squeezed the nickel so hard that the buffalo came off. Yes, like a few other nationalities we are known for being thrifty, but there is more to it than that.

I never thought much about being anything but American until my mother decided to fulfill a life long dream and travel to Belgium, the home of her parents birth.  She died there.  Her wake was at Detroit’s Cadieux Cafe an east side hang out of the Belgian community.  It’s a place where one can eat mussels and lukken and feel the presence of ghosts.  My grandparents hung out here to feel the warmth of an extended family.  Now I do too.

I met my guides the day of my mother’s wake. While my family was busy toasting my mother, I glanced into the attached room and discovered agile older men playing the game I came to know as feather bowling.  These Belgian patriarchs became my friends.  They opened their arms wide, embraced me and told me their stories.

I guess we all want to belong to something.  I’ve been a member of the feather bowling club for 28 years. I’m slipping gradually into the role of elder myself even as the club has changed. Its not just about being Belgian anymore, its about wonderful, ritualized friendship.

A buffalo is a strong, stubborn animal that will follow its pals over a cliff if necessary.  Maybe thats where the name comes from.

Me