Jean-Luc Dubois knew from the beginning that moving to Lofton County, VA, one of the most “traditional” portions of the rural South, was going to pose certain challenges once enough family and extended family members had completed the move.
“We are too Black, too French, too many, and making too much money – there will be trouble, should we let there be,” he said one day to his eldest son Jean-Paul, who smiled with quiet understanding.
Younger brothers Jules and Gilbert, both once prodigal and now back at home, marveled at their father and elder brother's confidence. Gilbert would be further astonished with how his father handled trouble when it came to call one Sunday: a neighbor came over while the Dubois patriarch was caring for his wife's roses, a neighbor with his three big sons in the pickup truck across the road, fully armed and looking for a reason.
“Y'all got a lot of people living up in that barn,” he growled, and then was dazzled by Monsieur Dubois's brilliant smile.
“Oh, to you that is a barn, but to my family, it is the Ark painted red and well-landed! We came here out of Hurricane Katrina, and have found here the world's most concerned and expressive neighbors!”
This threw the neighbor -- who thought he had been complimented -- off.
“That wasn't quite what I was saying, Mr. Doo-Boyce … .”
“Dubois. It is easy to say if you think about the music.”
And Jean-Luc Dubois broke out into “It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got that Swing,” substituting the correct pronunciation of Dubois for “doo-wop” in the song. Madame Ébène-Cerise Dubois turned on some music and let Louis Armstrong play and sing along with her husband … and a dance party broke out in the neighborhood instead of violence.
Jean-Paul had casually passed his brothers two rifles, and just as casually took them back. Nine-year-old niece Louisa went out and danced with her grandfather and never knew there was a problem – because there wasn't.
“See, that's what I've always wanted!” Gilbert cried when his father said goodbye to their neighbors and came back into the house. “That power and respect as a man in the world – how, Peré?”
Jean-Luc Dubois answered the question with a question.
“Have you ever wondered why our distant Egyptian ancestors began the worship of les chats?”
Gilbert's face expressed his complete confusion while Jean-Paul, who had listened better in his teen years, smiled quietly.
“Apportez-moi votre chat, Gilbert.”
Gilbert brought his father the only thing he had brought out of his ruination in Miami: his ginger tom cat, Achille. The cat had been half-asleep in the sun, but was not ill-tempered in his master's careful embrace, and accepted the equally careful embrace of Gilbert's father, who lowered his voice to a deep bass purr as the cat went back to sleep on his lap.
“Tell me this: whose life would have been ruined had you left Achille in Miami?”
“He does not need you?”
“Oh, no – he can fend for himself, and often did, as little as I was home.”
“But he loves you anyway.”
“If he thought you meant to harm him, what would happen?”
“That would be a short fight and I would lose it.”
“And yet he is gentle to all of us, especially our little Louisa.”
“Hear me, mon fils: who else does not need us, is often neglected and disrespected by us, could destroy us at any time, and yet, if he has chosen us, dwells with us like a caring father?”
Gilbert jumped, startled.
“Le bon Dieu!”
“Now then: a man may learn to move through the world confident that his Creator has gifted him for every situation that may arise. He may learn to be prudent and nimble in all his dealings, yet confident that he need not depend on nor fear any man. Other men will feel the power and independence of this man, and will know and be dazzled that he chooses to share kindness and joy with them even though he need not do so. Who then will they mistake him for?”
Gilbert was speechless, and his father smiled as he continued to pet sleeping Achille.
“Not for nothing have strong Black men called themselves the Black Panthers, and not for nothing has our Savior Himself made Himself known as the Lion of Judah. Remember this, my son, as you rebuild your life.”