Recipe Column: Friendships that stand the test of time
I attended a veteran’s fundraiser last weekend with my good friend Kenny McGill. This bewhiskered buddy and I have been close pals for more than 30 years and since Kenny is a Vietnam vet, he wanted to check out what this was all about.
Kenny and I met when I came to the Northwoods as a tourist more than 35 years ago. He was living here then and the very first time we met we clicked. Raised in Muscatine, Iowa, he was a “river rat” as a child, and lived a life on the Mississippi that would have made Huck Finn proud. After graduating high school he was working in a factory making tubes for medicinal creams when Uncle Sam came calling.
It wasn’t long before Kenny found himself in the deep jungles of Bien Hoa, Vietnam, serving his country as an infantry soldier. His job was to find downed or captured American soldiers in the deepest parts of this tropical land.
He was known as the “Candyman” because a friend from Muscatine would send him big boxes of treats every month. He shared these goodies with his fellow soldiers and even children he came across while out in remote villages. On Kenny’s first day in Vietnam he was given a spider monkey by a fellow soldier whose tour of duty was over. “Monkey” was an excellent alert sentinel who rode on Kenny’s shoulder or climbed through the tops of trees alerting the troops that danger was ahead. Any movement caused Monkey to screech loudly but he didn’t distinguish between friend or foe. Sometimes Monkey would sound off if he saw an elephant or even another monkey, but many times he saved the lives of Kenny and his fellow infantrymen from enemy attack.
When he moved to the Northwoods Kenny became a cook at a local restaurant but we first connected at a resort over a couple of cold beers. After that, whenever I would visit, we would get together for some shenanigans, whether that was fishing, talking the night away around a campfire or just hanging out.
Once I moved here we did everything together, even going to the local Laundromat every week. He’s the type of guy that’s very unassuming and he can find the humor in just about every situation. He’s loves animals, his family and the simple things in life so we have a lot in common.
Kenny has made some very interesting career choices over the years. He’s a talented auctioneer and he also worked as an accomplished chef in high end country clubs in the area. He’s an astute businessman, able to purchase an item at a garage sale and turn it around for a profit.
One of his more colorful talents is being an Abe Lincoln impersonator. About 15 years ago Kenny moved to Decatur, Ill., to be near family and while visiting the state fair there one year someone suggested he dress up as Abe, mainly because of his beard. He embraced the concept even purchasing a tall hat, a suit and shiny black shoes. He has walked in many parades and been honored at civil war reenactments throughout Illinois. Today he is semi-retired but continues to work building grain silos near Decatur.
At the veteran’s benefit, which was held at Indian Shores Campground near Lake Tomahawk, we went on a pontoon boat ride and as I sat watching the breeze ruffle Kenny’s beard I got to thinking about how friendships this long and this strong are really a wonder in this day and age.
We’ve been through plenty of good times together but also horrific life changes such as parents dying, beloved pets passing away, and medical emergencies. Last year Kenny had open heart surgery and that brought home to me just how fragile life really is. We are no longer carefree and frivolous 20-somethings. Life has crept up on us and we both find ourselves saying “remember when” more than we want to admit.
Just last week Kenny headed back to his home. I hated watching his taillights dim as he pulled out of my driveway and unbidden, a lump rose in my throat. Our precious time together was over for this summer and I will miss Kenny’s company and laughter in the cold and long winter days ahead.
Sometimes it takes a good comrade to make you realize just how precious and fragile life is; to make you treasure the moments you have right now, without worrying about the past or what the future holds. That’s the true gift of long and enduring friends. And it’s a cherished one at that.
Chef Kenny’s Crock Pot Beef and Noodles
1 lb. stew meat, cubed
1 can French onion soup
1 can cream of celery soup
3 cups cooked noodles or mashed potatoes.
Combine meat and soups in crock pot, mixing well. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Serve over noodles or mashed potatoes.