When Jules Dubois was a little boy, he thought that there was thunder and rain every morning in the bayous of Louisiana, and was always happily surprised at how quickly the sky cleared and the sun came out most mornings of the year.
At age 45, come home to his family now living in Virginia, memory and the auditory illusion blurred on this particular morning.
The supposed rain was partially the sound of water, boiling and bubbling … small pots for coffee, big pots for grits, medium pots for leftover rice if that were not to be used another way.
The other half of the supposed rain was the sizzling of food in hot butter. One's nose told of eggs, of coush-coush, a fried cornmeal preparation served with milk and cane syrup, or perhaps pain perdu, or French toast, with its sweet spices tickling the nose, or perhaps calas, sweet rice fritters that may have claimed the leftover rice instead. Bacon was a bit more rare, but occasionally it made an appearance if some variety was wanted with the andouille and other sausages.
It was never hard to get up in any Dubois family household; the stomach wanted to find out what the nose was saying about the “rain,” the blend of the sounds of boiling and frying food.
But the thunder … that was another thing again … close by but from somewhere very high … awesome, exalted… not quite to say scary although in the house with you, but from somewhere very high.
It took many years for Jules to realize: the thunder was his father's bass voice, in prayer … and 40 years later, it still struck him as somehow very new, and from somewhere very high … and … doubled.
Jules opened his eyes at age 45, and looked over … once again, as he had in childhood, he shared a room with his elder brother, Jean-Paul, who, after a combined 30 years in the military and Interpol made his bed with all the expected precision … but he had always been that way, for the career had fit the boy who had become the warrior monk of the Dubois family.
That single-minded devotion to God, and to the service of an ever-expanding circle of people … Jules's elder brother, without being told, had gone to join his father in prayer as soon as he had understood what was happening. When his voice had grown to match his father's in depth, the thunder had doubled up. That is when Jules had finally gone to look and learn what had been going on, all the time.
Of course, a proper thunderstorm is never stationary. Jean-Luc Dubois had always gotten the heat and a small pot of strong cafe noir on for himself and his wife, and done many chores inside and outside long before he took a break to pray on his knees. That is what gave the impression of a moving thunderstorm; he was on the move. Later on, Jean-Paul had joined him, so, at any one time, the thunder was coming, going, and sometimes in stereo surround sound as they worked.
In 2020, of course it was a different place and time – the high ceilings and ridiculous acoustics of living in a converted barn along with the different notes of Virginia's crickets, trees, and birds made it all different. And yet, all things had changed and nothing had changed.
It was time for Jules to find out why … after dealing with his portion of the morning's chores.
Jules had never been interested in all the family's cooking. Yet he had taken to the soil, and everyone had forgiven him, once and now once again, for the work in Virginia was harder than it had been in the bayous. The Virginian soil was much harder and drier, and bore the mark of what had been done on it for a full 246 years. In much of Virginia, the soil had been worked to death as much as the generations of cruelly enslaved Africans that had been worked to death on it.
However, the two Lofton brothers for whom Lofton County, VA was named had realized what was happening, and on their patch of land had arrested the destruction in every way. Nor was theirs a small patch of land. In 1841, General Lofton, the elder brother, bought out a failing 60 square miles, and the younger brother Major Lofton bought another 20 square miles. Neither of them held slaves, and both had made freeing the land and the people on it a cornerstone of their restoration work. Major Lofton, who had inherited all of the land, had lived to 1901, and continued the restoration.
So, Lofton County's soil had been freed to return to good health, and yielded well to free-born Jules Dubois. The onions had grown tall enough so that the leaves were beginning to tip over, and the garlic was trying hard to catch up … they reminded Jules of himself and his elder brother in age, and himself always catching up, while their father, like the stout leeks well ahead of both the onions and the garlic, stood and smiled, as did their mother, slender and essential like the celery also doing well.
The herbs of the spring and summer … the bright and varied greens of parsley, oregano, and mint … were thriving, better suited to the weather of that time of year in Virginia than in Louisiana, where they were more likely to thrive in the fall and winter.
The barn had a great mulberry tree towering next to it, its ripening berries looking like drops of the dawn dancing in and out of the leaves. Maman Dubois and granddaughter Louisa loved their fruit in the morning and making tarts in the afternoon, and they would have plenty with the mulberries all year, for Jules had also planted fruit trees in the back – apple, peach, plum, and pear – and also watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew vines.
The lemon trees were in the front, as were several thriving bell pepper plants and tomato vines, their yellow flowers matching the lemons in the spring just as their summer fruits would rival all the colors of the roses Jules' father kept for his mother.
All this was Jules Dubois's morning world, and it registered with him that he did not miss the world of Wall Street, its dauntingly high skyscrapers walling it off from the sun, its chill winds still not as cold as the business in the streets, the streets filled with cars stuck in a hurry, horns honking helplessly, while at every spot of sidewalk, pools of pedestrians persistently pressed their way to the money. No matter what the other businesses may have been in and around Wall Street, they were merely supporting actors to the drama that had brought them all together: getting to the money.
On Wall Street, food existed as commodities, as companies who were profitable or not, as numbers on stock tickers flowing across the air and around the perimeters of rooms … no sounds, no smells, no taste, no human connection …. even food had been debased to merely another form of money.
In the money pit, Jules had come to his senses after a Covid-19 scare, and had rushed home to where food came as a gift from God through soil, rain, and sun, all the way to grateful hands that harvested and prepared and grateful stomachs that belched to make more room until they were full, while grateful souls thanked God and rejoiced with one another. Why he had ever left, he no longer understood.
At the moment of these thoughts, Jean-Luc Dubois strode out of the bright red barn he had chosen for his family's new home in Virginia. All things had changed – he was an old man, and slower though as of yet un-stooped, with iron-gray hair and a face that wore the hard years since Hurricane Katrina in lines of stress – but nothing had changed, for he smiled, and his smile lit up his face and eyes and gave that New Orleans bounce back to his step.
“Bonjour mon fils!”
Only because Jules knew he was 45 did he not go running to that smile and cheery voice, once lost, now found again. Nonetheless, the two embraced, and how his father did it told Jules that his father remembered him as a little boy whom he had loved picking up and carrying all around.
“I need to ask you a question, Peré.”
“Demande-moi n'importe quoi – ask me anything, my son!”
“As a child, I always thought there was thunder and rain every morning … are you still praying, just like it was back then?”
“Yes, my son, I am.”
Why? It was not asked with disrespect or scoffing, but – finally, to Peré Dubois's joy – in a search for true understanding. He had waited 32 years to give the answer his son was now ready to hear.
“Well, my son, if you knew you could begin your day talking with the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the Redeemer of your soul, why would you start any other way? If the One Who while doing all that is to be done in Heaven and Earth took time to guide your prodigal son home and have him plant the Garden of Eden all around his family, why would you begin your day talking with anyone else?”
Jules had to stop and reconsider his life, how he could have perished many times in the money pit he had been living in, of the two brothers still prodigal and living on borrowed time, and all the deep, priceless blessings that had come to him since coming home to his family.
It also crossed his mind at last: all those blessings had occurred because of the prayers of others for him. What would happen if … ?
“*Peré, when you put it that way … I'll be joining you in the morning. 32 years of willfully missing the best and most powerful conversations in life is enough.”
And this is why Louisa Dubois Chennault, still only nine years old, would think there were triple thunderstorms every morning in Virginia, while to the day before, they were only double!