COTEAU — For the 46th time, it was apparent Gordie White and his son, Eric White, enjoy cooking duck gumbo for the Duck Wake as much or more than eating it inside the Francis Romero Memorial Building.
Well, the elder White, 82, one of the most ardent waterfowlers around, doesn’t even eat duck. Still, the hub of the latest Duck Wake in the storied history of the event commemorating, or commiserating, the end of each duck hunting season was around the three big pots outside the recreation center in Coteau.
The Whites have the routine down pat. That’s obvious as they cooked 120 big ducks, 60 teal and 42 pounds of oysters in intermittent rain on a cold Friday night Feb. 5 with the help of Gordie’s son-in-law, Matt Delcambre, and Keith Sellers.
Inside, Bobby Horn, with an assist from Steve LeBlanc, was putting finishing touches on potato salad. The New Iberians had 40 dozen potatoes, which started cooking at 1 p.m. (the same time as 25 dozen eggs), diced and in three large bowls before 5 p.m.
Horn, a duck hunter, nature photographer and U.S. Army combat veteran who served in Vietnam, said they had enough sweet relish (four jars), olives (three jars) and mustard (two bottles) but was concerned about the amount of mayo. He fretted and made do.
That there was even a 46th Duck Wake was duly noted with mutual appreciation between organizers and attendees Friday.
“After 46 years, it’s amazing we can keep this going with so many friends,” Gordie White said.
“We’re really going to feel the COVID and the weather. But, you know what? We had 60 RSVPs.”
Sometimes, he said, 85 or so RSVPs precede a turnout approaching 180 outdoorsmen. It was apparent in the hours leading up to meal time the number was going to be much lower.
“You know, I’m pleased. We had 60 RSVPs. Fifty-six are here,” Eric White said around 7 p.m., letting that sink in in the midst of a pandemic on a chilly, wet February evening. His spirits were buoyed by those who did attend. “Under the circumstances, it’s easier not to do things.”
Dr. Mike Tarantino of New Iberia — a semi-retired surgeon who took the shingle down at his office in 2007, then traveled across the country for several years filling in for doctors — truly appreciated the effort by the Whites, et al.
“These guys are what it’s all about right here,” the all-around outdoorsman said about the Whites and helpers.
Tarantino said he hunted ducks a lot when he was younger. Now he spends much of his time at a camp and goes deer hunting.
“I have a little place up in Vernon Parish. I deer hunt more,” he said, adding he goes with family, especially grandchildren.
“Of course, I do some duck hunting with Gordie,” he said before taking containers of duck gumbo, potato salad, etc., home.
Mike Guthrie of Lafayette showed up for the event with his two young sons, Mark, 10, and Thomas, 8.
“I’ve been coming for years. It’s awesome,” Guthrie said after watching his youngest fill a bowl with duck gumbo.
The Whites had one of many stories that made the rounds. They hunted ducks this past season, as always, on their lease near Boston in Vermilion Parish.
However, the father and son were fresh from a sandhill crane hunt the week before in the Lubbock, Texas, area with Blackfoot Outdoors. It was another holiday gift from Eric White, 62, who owns Acadiana Health Spa, to his father, a retired lawyer. A reunion of sorts made it more significant as Eric’s uncle, Billy White of Las Vegas, and his cousin, Brian White, were guests.
“I hadn’t seen Billy in a year,” Gordie White said about his brother.
They snapped photos of the large, prehistoric-looking birds the foursome shot but the focus was on an old Winchester Model 12 that belonged to Gordie White’s father, Woodrow White.
“There are lots and lots of memories surrounding that gun,” Gordie White said, noting his dad shot it each season leading up to his 92nd birthday.
“He (Woodrow White) wore it out. I wore it out. My older brother wore it out before me. Eric wore it out,” he said about the shotgun made in 1938.
Eric said, “PaPa claims to have killed seven ring-necked geese in seven shots with this gun. I pulled it out (while hunting sandhill cranes) and said, ‘Look, I’m going to kill seven in seven shots.’ ”
It didn’t turn out that way.
“Eric shot it once and it jammed. But he scared the hell out of it (the sandhill crane),” Gordie White said with a chuckle.
The four Whites took a photo with that Winchester Model 12 in Texas.
When the two Whites returned to New Iberia after the hunt they refocused on the 46th Duck Wake. They followed up a Nov. 7 email about it with a reminder Jan. 22, including the addition of a to-go system for those who wanted to avoid crowds during the coronavirus pandemic.
Matt Delcambre and his son, Ben, made sure the to-go containers kept pace with the car delivery line.