Francis De Vleeschouwer fetches a tarnished trophy from 1931 and brings it to the dinner table where the effusive vase of roses and Old World art remind me that we are in a home in the Belgian city of Aalter.
That's when his parents took him and his sister and pulled out of Mishawaka, boarding a steamship back home to Belgium.
Never mind that his dad had helped to build the sidewalk along the brand-new BK Club, which would become an influential hub of Mishawaka's Belgian heritage. Or that he'd raced pigeons with fellow Belgian immigrants in town.
Home calls the heart.
De Vlee-schouwer tells me how his parents went on to open the Cafe Mishawaka, a place to have coffee, tea, beer and a bite to eat, here in Aalter from 1936 until they retired in 1954.
We are at the table with him and his wife, Laura. It is late May 2013. What if? Could he imagine how his life would be different?
He shrugs, gazing at photos and old letters from Mishawaka relatives on Seventh, Eighth and 10th streets.
One distinction stands out for the Mishawaka-born man, now in his 80s, who retired from railroad ticketing and now lives in a comfortable brick house. Language. We need Ernest
Rijckaert, a Belgian from a nearby town, to translate, bridging the gap between my mix of English and limited Dutch and their Flemish, which is mostly Dutch.
Several Belgian roots reach from Mishawaka and South Bend back to Aalter, a quiet stop on the railroad with about 20,000 people, a clean strip of shops and cafés in downtown and a yellow-painted brick pub where locals swap the day's stories over drinks and Flemish eats.
But it is on the day before, my first day in Belgium, that Rijckaert me to the even smaller town of about 2,000 residents that played perhaps the biggest role in birthing Mishawaka's Belgian descendants: Hansbeke.
We can stroll across Hansbeke in 20 minutes. And, unless you catch the one that stops in Hansbeke, the passenger train between Ghent and Bruges flies by in less than one minute, blurring your view of comfortable but modest brick homes and, set in a brick monument at one street corner, the bronze plaque of Hansbeke native Julius A. Nieuwland, who emigrated with his parents at age 2 and became a priest and scientist at the University of Notre Dame who invented synthetic rubber.
Hansbeke people made the earliest Belgian migrations to the St. Joseph River Valley. A Catholic priest who was born in the town of Sleydinge near Ghent but had served in Hansbeke's church, the Rev. Louis de Seille, made the first trip in the 1830s, serving as a missionary to the American Indians in the region and starting a settlement where Notre Dame would appear.
De Seille persuaded a couple of his former altar boys from Hansbeke to come at about the same time, according to historical accounts.
Hundreds of immigrants from Hansbeke would come over the years to settle, as immigrant families still do, where they knew someone.
Farmers with land stayed put in Hansbeke. They had a way to earn a living. The ones who left couldn't find a way to sell their trades or skills back home in their weak economy.
He and another Hansbeke man wrote a self-published book that documents the flow into Mishawaka and South Bend -- including the stories of the De Vleeschouwers and several other families -- "Emigration from Hansbeke to America: 1830-1930."
I am in Hansbeke through the living relationships that linger between Mishawaka and Belgium. With age, they are dwindling fast.
I was coming to Europe for a reunion of cousins in the Netherlands, from which my parents had emigrated, hoping to meet some of them for the first time. I thought: Why not traipse across the Netherlands' southern border into Belgium?
So, after a Mishawaka city council meeting that I covered this spring, I asked Mayor Dave Wood about finding the city's roots. His great-great-grandparents had immigrated from Belgium. An old black-and-white photo of the Vervaets and their kids, pictured in front of their Mishawaka home, hangs in his office.
But the notion of tracking down distant relatives and visiting the old country is but a dream as Wood and his wife are busy raising their own kids. He suggested I talk with Odette Fobe, a Belgian-born woman who works at Mishawaka's popular West End Bakery, less than a block from the only St. Bavo Church in North America, which the immigrants had built in honor of a Belgian saint.
Fobe loaned me Van Ooteghem's book and hooked me up with Rijckaert, an old buddy who e-mails and Skypes with her regularly and who'd visited Mishawaka and its local Belgians in 1978 and 1993.
The Hansbeke tour doesn't take more than an hour or two of wandering. Van Ooteghem leads us to a small white-painted brick house with gray shutters and a tile roof that's still occupied. The DeMaegd family lived here, then emigrated to Mishawaka, where their descendants remain.
We enter the St. Peter and Paul Church at the town center, first built in 1145, then rebuilt many times. The church tower fell to the Germans' dynamite in the last three weeks of World War I, sparking the last rebuild in 1919, Van Ooteghem explains.
"Many, many homes had to be rebuilt because the Germans used artillery," he says.
We pause by a pre-1800 building that used to be a home for priests and is now used by the police. It is no longer needed by the church since priests now serve three to four small-town parishes at a time.
We pass by the "Tree of Freedom," where a tree has been planted in the middle of a quiet street since 1831.
Little activity is stirring on the streets on a Tuesday afternoon. No, Van Ooteghem says, you generally won't find people here with active ties to Mishawaka.
In writing the book, he says he discovered "many of these people (in Hansbeke) didn't realize they had family in the U.S."
True enough. On a later day, I come back to Aalter and stop off at the yellow bar, a butcher shop, another bar, garage and train station to quiz random people about their last names. And when I explain my quest, the words South Bend and Mishawaka don't register in their minds.
Van Ooteghem and his co-author, Willy Quintyn, crafted their book without ever stepping foot in Mishawaka, let alone the United States. They relied on Internet research, interviews and archive digging in Belgium and, to a large degree, the help of people in Mishawaka and elsewhere in the U.S. who e-mailed them family details and photos. They published it in 2009 as part of the annual exhibition of Hansbeke's small historical society.
"Not bad for a guy who's never been there," Van Ooteghem quips.
Van Ooteghem says his own grandfather had emigrated to the U.S., but, when he sailed back to pick up his fiancée and future wife, she refused to move.
Still, two of his grandfather's brothers and a sister did stay in the U.S. The brothers were masons who helped to build the BK Club. One brother remained in Mishawaka as the other moved to Detroit -- and Van Ooteghem's parents would write to those relatives a few times each year.
That may sound like a lot of back-and-forth, but it wasn't so rare.
De Vleeschouwer's father, Jozef, arrived in Moline, Ill., in 1907 as a single, 20-year-old man. Among nine siblings in his family, seven had journeyed to the U.S.
His dad moved to Mishawaka in 1912 and worked for the Ball Band shoe factory. He returned to Belgium in 1920, married his wife, Lena, in Aalter, and then moved again to Mishawaka, where they had their two children.
By 1932, they shipped back to Aalter for good, leaving behind a house that they'd bought on Mishawaka's Seventh Street but couldn't sell in the midst of the Depression, a house that an aunt bought years later.
As for Van Ooteghem, his now-deceased father had traveled twice to Mishawaka. But Van Ooteghem, a 68-year-old retiree of the phone company with a heart condition, doesn't see himself ever making the cross-Atlantic flight to visit.
He stays in touch with his American relatives. No ship. No need to sell his possessions. He flips open his laptop and travels by Internet.