Louisa Dubois Chennault would someday be known for her brilliant intellect and technological skill; at nine years old, she was well on her way. But she was also a loving little girl who was deeply attached to her grandparents.
The Dubois family had been interrupted in moving entirely from Louisiana and Texas to Lofton County, VA by the coming of Covid-19, but the Dubois grandparents had brought Louisa with them to get her situated with all the mentorship their old friend, Thomas Stepforth Sr. of Stepforth Technologies, could provide around Louisa.
With all her learning, Louisa still paid attention to her grandparents. She noticed that as the pandemic news began to get more serious in April 2020, her grandfather changed his habits a little bit.
Every day, Jean-Luc Dubois would go out onto the porch for about an hour every evening, and sit, and look, and sigh, and then go back inside.
Louisa was her grandparents' English-speaking assistant, but Grand-père spoke English very well compared to Grand-mère because he had worked outside the home so much more. He was 74, and Hurricane Katrina had destroyed both his restaurant and any hope that he could retire, so he had worked 62 years in all kinds of places in which Black French was simply not going to do the job.
Still, even though Grand-père spoke English well, his granddaughter knew that if she wanted to ask a loving question, love was in French for him. So, one evening, she went out and wrapped her arms around him in his chair, and asked.
“Grand-père, vous inquiétez-vous pour les oncles Èmile, Jules, et Gilbert?”
Grand-père jumped, surprised that his granddaughter had known he was thinking of his “lost sons.”
"Comment le saviez-vous, petite-fille?"
How the knowledge you have, granddaughter – not just how did you know, but how did you get the knowledge – the French meant more than the English there.
“L'histoire du fils prodigue, grand-père.”
The story of the Prodigal Son … Louisa had heard that story in Sunday School … and of the father who went every day to his porch, looking down the road, waiting on his son to come home. Because Louisa knew her grandfather, she knew he was that kind of dad too, even though she understood that her three uncles had been so evil that her grandfather had banished them from the family.
Jean-Luc Dubois spoke English in a choked voice.
“Go inside for a little while, Louisa, and when I call for you to return, I will answer you.”
Louisa squeezed him really hard, and then obeyed him, going into the kitchen where Oncle Jean-Paul and Grand-mère were making homestyle gingerbread … but because Louisa knew to listen, she knew Grand-père was sobbing. But it was not anyone else's business. So, Louisa watched her eldest uncle mixing the dough for Grand-mère and said nothing about what had happened.
“Louisa,” came Grand-père's voice, after a while.
She returned to him, and gave him another good squeeze, and stayed in his embrace as he spoke with her.
“Oui, Louisa, I am worried about your uncles. Although they have done great evil, I pray God they find their way home before it is too late.”
“But you told them they can't come home.”
“There is another Father, Louisa, higher and better than me. That was the point of L'histoire du fils prodigue, petite-fille.”
“Oh, right … le bon Dieu.”
“If they came home to Him, they could come home to us, Louisa … but like the Prodigal Son, they were lured by the things of the world, by things your grandmother and I could never give them, because we were very Black, and poor, and speak a minority language on top of that. They are angry with God because He put them in our family instead of one White and rich and Anglo.”
“But why? There is nothing wrong with us!”
“Louisa, you are nine years old. You live in a time in which this truth is echoed back to you from nearly every corner, and we can protect you better from those voices who say that to be Black, to be French, and to be poor is to be less important and less valuable, from those voices to say that to be unmistakably Black in appearance is to be ugly. Your grandmother and I and even your uncles did not have as much protection, and it is more difficult to be a Black man than to be a Black woman.”
“I see that,” Louisa said. “There are a lot of programs for Black girls like me, but not as many programs for Black boys. Mr. Stepforth and Major Stepforth his son work so hard here in Lofton County on this, but there is just not as much available.”
“It used to be, not so long ago, that a Black man was only seen for his physical labor, never for his mind or his heart. There are still many giving him that message, and if he chooses to believe it, his life will be full of frustration and anger.”
“That's so sad, Grand-père.”
“It is, because it is not true. God made all men out of one family, that of Adam and Eve, and has made His family open to all men through our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the truth. We are thus inferior to no one by birth, and we who know Christ can walk confidently as children of God. But, the children of God are not allowed to love and chase after the riches of this world, the very things our people of this country have been denied … so, sometimes, men who feel the need to prove they as just as good as others feel doubly denied by God and man.”
“That's so sad, Grand-père.”
“That is reality, Louisa. It makes no sense to you or me, but it is reality for your uncles, and many others.”
“This is terrible, Grand-père. What can we do?”
“Every man and every woman, and every boy and girl old enough to understand, has to work these things out with God for themselves, Louisa. So, I come out here to do what only I can do. I am still the father of your uncles, and as their father, I can pray and plead to God the Father out of my father's heart, knowing He understands what I have had to do, how it broke my heart to do it, and how I want my sons to find their way home to Him, and then to me, before it is too late.”
Louisa thought about this, and then gripped her Grand-père tightly from fear.
“La maladie!” she cried.
“Yes, mon cheri, this thing called Covid-19 seems to be serious, and if you are a person who loves the crowd because it drowns the voice of a guilty conscience, la maladie is lurking to silence all things of this earth forever.
“But beyond that is a more serious matter, Louisa. The patience of Grand-père is short even though his love is long … I am an old man, and le mort does not need la maladie to soon enough visit me. I only have so much time to watch, and pray, and wait.”
“Well, I'll keep it up for you, but please don't die right now!”
“That is too heavy a burden for you to carry for now,” he said gently, “so I'm staying around as long as I can. Le bon Dieu is a Father forever, and His patience is long, but, even He has set a time for men who know of Him, Who know all about who He is and have professed Christ but by their lives deny Him, to come home.”
Louisa considered this and then said, “He has forever, but we don't.”
“Right. And, it is possible to still be alive when time runs out.”
“I don't understand.”
Jean-Luc Dubois stood up, stretched his still-strong body a little to account for his age, picked up his granddaughter – “Whoooooooooa!” she cried, surprised because she knew she was getting a little too big to be picked up – and went inside, locking the door behind him.
“When Noah went into the ark,” he said, “and God locked the door behind him, was anyone else getting in?”
“From that point it mattered not how long it took. It was forever too late.”
“And le bon Dieu cried for 40 days and 40 nights,” Louisa said, “like you cry, every day.”
“The Bible does not say that, Louisa,” Grand-père corrected gently, “but we do know from the Bible that it does not make God happy to give anyone He has made up. Yet He, worthy of much more respect than me, only will give so much time for a man to call Him a liar, to say that His choice of making and redeeming means nothing, that sin is good, that Christ is worthless. When that time is up, it is too late. Men and even nations can be given up.
“Le bon Dieu is not weak. He is not like gingerbread soaked in milk. He is strong enough to let anyone have the consequences of what they want and leave them in it, and go right on … although we do know that God does sometimes weep, knowing what that means.”
Louisa squeezed her grandfather tightly.
“This is terrible,Grand-père. Absolutely terrible. My prodigal uncles are in so much danger! I know you are praying and Grand-mère is praying and Oncle Jean-Paul is praying – it's time for me to start praying with you. We have to do everything possible to make sure that if they don't get home, it's not because we weren't wanting them, like le bon Dieu does not want anyone to perish. We have to make sure to agree with Him. We do not want them to perish!”
“No, mon cheri, we do not. We do not!”
Grand-père's voice broke then, and Grand-mère and Oncle Jean-Paul came to see. They knew what it was all about, so the whole family got down on their knees and prayed together for Èmile, Jules, and Gilbert to find the way home.
Every day afterward, Grand-père always smiled through his tears in the evening when his granddaughter remembered before his hour of watching and waiting and praying was over to bounce out of the house, wrap her arms around him, and pray with him for his sons, her uncles, to find their way home.