“Okay, so, I need your help to think about this, Vertran, and because you are going to be my husband I count on you to let me know if I'm totally off in left field on this.”
“Louisa, you know you can count on me.”
Vertran Stepforth had popped the question to his best friend Louisa Dubois Chennault some months earlier. She had accepted and settled in with him into a nine-year engagement, which of course is to be expected when both parties are exceptionally gifted nine year olds.
“I just don't know what I should think in this whole situation, Vertran – I'm kinda stuck between 'Where dey do dat at?' and 'Bless their hearts.' The thing is, when you give somebody a food gift, it's just a crime to not know what you are doing, but then, nobody has to give you anything, so, I just don't know what to think!”
“Well, okay, so, you know my family has been making gumbo since gumbo was invented, right? My grandpa says that when we were just straight African Black, before French Louisiana or even Haiti were in the picture, his ancestors brought okra seeds and melon seeds with them in an act of defiance of enslavers – my people were cooking when they came here.”
“Wow,” Vertran said. “My people were chefs too, way back, and Thomas Setter Stepforth literally cooked his way out of slavery, so, I kinda get it.”
“Right, so you would never bring gumbo to my house for a gift like I would never bring Smithfield Ham to your house. My lane is Black French Louisiana, and your lane is Virginia. I mean, we will someday teach each other, but we're not at that stage yet, right?”
“Right, Louisa. That'll have to wait until we are at least big enough to put big things on the top of the stove.”
“Okay, so, tell me why the Goodmans from down the street would bring my family a big pot of what they think is gumbo?”
“Bless their hearts, but then again, 'where dey do dat at?' ”
“You see why I'm confused, Vertran? It gets worse!
“The Goodman family is one of the families that has been getting food from the nonprofits Dubois on the Road has been working with – the families eat for free while the nonprofits pay us, so folks think we are just giving food away to save their lives.”
“Anyway, Mr. Goodman and Mrs. Goodman were so grateful for us feeding them and their kids all this time that they wanted to do something that we could enjoy, and the only thing they could think of was making us some gumbo.
“Okay, so then, Mrs. Goodman was standing in the yard, and she said 'Mama Dubois, this is probably going to be a little different than what you're used to, because I forgot the chicken until almost the end, but then I thought that if I was missing any herbs and spices, I could get the chicken in with at least 11 of the herbs and spices you would use, so I went around the corner and got a bucket of Kentucky Fried and put that in there!' ”
Silence for a long time … and then … .
“Oh, no,” Vertran said.
“You see? I mean, I know that Americans are bad at geography, but come on! Kentucky is like right over here and Louisiana is way over here and down to the left!”
“Yeah, but, see, if you don't know, Louisa, you just don't know.”
“This is where it really got confusing, because … well, it almost worked. When you make gumbo, you make a roux of browned flour in butter … but basically when you bread chicken in flour and fry it, you've done the same thing, so that almost worked. Mrs. Goodman did have andouille and chorizo sausages in it, and a whole lot of shrimp, crawdads, and some crabs, and onions, celery, and bell peppers. It wasn't too bad after all. We all sat in the yard and ate the whole pot, and my stomach seems to be okay with it.
“At the end, Grandma said to Mrs. Goodman that we didn't want her getting in trouble with the colonel of chicken, so she sent the Goodmans home with the Dubois Spice Cabinet twelve-pack of 11 herbs and spices plus one – a dozen – that we actually use to cook with.”
“So, what's the confusion, Louisa?”
“I kinda agree with how my grandparents handled the situation, but I don't know if I should, because there must be some kind of law against having Colonel Sanders make gumbo in Virginia as a gift.”
Vertran thought about this for a long time.
“You're right,” he said, “but Louisa, I think your grandparents were right too. I mean, fried chicken gumbo has gotta be stopped and all, but, it's like God has a law, but He also has grace and tells us, 'Go and sin no more,' which is what your grandma was doing when she gave Mrs. Goodman the right herbs and spices.”
“Okay, so, we don't have to have her arrested?”
“Not this time, Louisa. First offenses and such. Now if she becomes a hardened fried chicken gumbo criminal, that's a different thing, because even God is not going to let you keep sinning.”
“Thanks, Vertran. It all makes sense now.”
“Of course, Louisa. I'm here for you.”