My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 4, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.
After a long day's drive to Houma, Louisiana, our GPS took us to the corner of Bayou Black Drive and Barrow Street, where we spotted the quaint old building that housed A-Bear's Cafe, where we were meeting my brother-in-law and sister-in-law from Washington state. They were in Houma to attend the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Terrebonne Parish as members of Team Relay Nation. We pulled into the crowded parking lot, and I finally found a place to park behind the old building.
As we walked into the old house converted into a restaurant, we told the hostess that we were here to meet the group from Relay For Life, and they pointed toward the back room of the crowded restaurant. The room was packed, barely leaving room for the waitresses to serve. We were cramped as people made room for us at the long table. The restaurant was alive, with a down-home, country, family vibe.
Live music filled the restaurant with the sounds of oldies. The vocalist began singing Neil Diamond's, Sweet Caroline. "Where it began, I can't begin to knowing. But then I know it's growing strong." It seemed like the conversations at our table stopped as everyone listened to the music. There's something about the way the song's bridge builds to a soaring chorus that seemed to grab everyone's attention. "Hands, touching hands, reaching out, touching me, touching you. Sweet Caroline," Then, as if by magic, the group spontaneously filled the musical fill with, "ba, ba, ba," and the vocalist continued. "Good times never seemed so good." And it did seem like good times. The next time the chorus came around, the entire restaurant chimed in with, "ba, ba, ba."
A-Bear's Cafe has been owned and operated by the Hebert family since 1963. In the 2014 article in the digital magazine Country Roads, Alex V. Cook writes, "Jane Hebert and her husband bought the place that had been the family home of Judge Edward "Jimmy" Gaidry. "I think there were eight or nine kids raised in here," said Hebert. And with a modicum of changes, it remains. A bustling lunch crowd trod the same hardwood floors as have countless hungry Houmans at ABear's for a half a century.
"Fifty-one years, actually," Hebert said. "My husband did all the cooking until about five years back." Hebert is a common enough name in the area that I wondered about the outsider-friendly spelling. "That's what it sounds like," she flatly replied." When Alex asked her how she and her husband got in the business she responded, "My husband was born legally blind, and he was cooking on the quarter boats up in Cameron, around there, and in the early '60s they started enforcing the insurance, and he couldn't pass the regulations. His dad was working at the water plant just around back and saw this for rent, so we took it over. I mean, he could have chosen to settle on disability, but we've always worked."
Albert Hebert cooked in A-Bear's kitchen from the day the cafe opened its doors in 1963 until he was no longer able to in 2010. However, Albert Hebert loved the restaurant so much he continued to visit until 2014 to continue his tradition of sneaking away to talk and joke with the customers.
What is unique about A-Bear's Restaurant is the family-like environment and its relaxed atmosphere. As we were eating, a man in a white shirt walked through the restaurant. He was stopping at tables to visit with people. When he came to our table, I could see that his shirt read, "Mayor of ABears Cafe." As the mayor made his way to our end of the table, he stopped to visit with each person. He asked where I was from, and when I replied, "Mena, Arkansas," he told me of the time he visited Mena and Queen Wilhelmina State Park almost forty years ago.
As the mayor recounted the story of his visit to the Queen Wilhelmina lodge to attend a truck show, he talked about his wife's fear as they drove up the mountain. The Houma, Louisiana area is very flat, you must drive one hundred miles north to reach an elevation of 100 feet, and she had never experienced a road like the Talimena Drive. As he talked, it was easy to see that he loved his hometown and the surrounding area. His historical knowledge of the area is impressive and he always has an anecdote for any situation. He is proud of his son, Travis, a boat captain who charters fishing expeditions. His clients have included Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, and country music singers Chris Young and Jimmy Allen.
Along with probably everyone else at our table, I invited the mayor to attend the Relay For Life the following afternoon. When we were ready to leave, I told him that we were now friends since he had visited Mena and I was visiting Houma. He told me, "No, we are more than friends; we are brothers." The next afternoon the mayor, Nat, messaged me, "we will try to head that way in a little while." Nat is the kind of friendly guy to whom it is easy to talk. He is a true ambassador for South Louisiana. He and his wife stopped by the Team Relay Nation booth, and I had another chance to visit and learn more about the area.
In Ephesians 5:1,2 (AMP), Paul writes: "Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]; and walk continually in love [that is, value one another—practice empathy and compassion, unselfishly seeking the best for others], just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God [slain for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance." It is possible for us to imitate Christ, to represent and communicate His desires and will while we are here on earth. "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ." 2 Corinthians 5:20 (KJV)
Gentle Reader, as a Christian, you are an ambassador for Christ. You represent Christ in your sphere of influence. Your actions speak volumes more to people around you than what you say. We can think that we represent Christ if we often speak of Him to others. But our lives, decisions, what we do, and what we don't do in daily situations speak to others the most. Be an ambassador like Nat, the mayor of A-Bear's Cafe. Be an ambassador for Christ.