“You know, Vertran, I was just thinking … .”
Jules Dubois was coming up the path through the front yard of the converted red barn that had become the new Dubois Family home in Lofton County, VA when he heard his niece Louisa saying that to her friend Vertran Stepforth.
Louisa and Vertran were both nine years old, and already between them in the three months they had known each other, they had found a historical site on the Underground Railroad, made plans for summer all year since school was out because of the pandemic, and decided to get married.
“Louisa was just thinking,” Uncle Jules said to his parents, Jean-Luc and Ébène-Cerise Dubois, as they sat on the porch enjoying a late spring Sunday afternoon and “chaperoning” Louisa and Vertran as they sat six feet apart and chatted away amid the spring crops Jules had planted.
Maman Dubois put her head in her hands and went back into her native tongue – Black Creole French, although any French speaker anywhere would have perfectly understood her.
“Oh! Mon Dieu! Aider! Aider!”
And as she started laughing with this lighthearted and yet sincere call for divine assistance, her husband turned around with a big grin and projected his big bass voice into the house: “Jean-Paul! Gilbert! Jules is about to tell you a thing – call on your courage and get ready!”
“You know, Vertran, I was just thinking, what if summer all year goes into next year? We gotta have a plan to turn winter holidays into summer holidays.”
“Wow, Louisa – see, this is why I'm marrying you in ten years. You think ahead. I figured the grown folks would have this Covid thing licked by September because some people really don't know how to be with their own children past the summer. You would never believe the stories I hear, but, some parents really don't like their children.”
“I've heard, Vertran. Imagine knowing somebody all their lives, and then finding out, eight or nine years down the line, that you don't like them, and they came from you. These type of grown folks don't like themselves, really.”
“That's a problem, Louisa, but, it tends to not start until the kids are about 13 or so. But that's not everybody's problem, thank God, so we have to deal with the REAL problems that get to everybody – YEAH, nobody yet has thought about all these winter holidays we've got to celebrate in a summer type of way – and unlike Louisiana where you're from, it gets cold up here, so this is going to be really hard.”
“You know,” Louisa said, “I'm surprised Captain Hamilton hasn't put out a guide for that yet. I mean, I know it's June 5, but, you kinda gotta get ready for all that. Summer is two weeks away, and we gotta figure out how we get the best parts of it to winter, so it really is time to start.”
“Well, my dad says no one man can do everything. Maybe God gave you the thought and us the time so we can take care of this for Captain Hamilton. Let's list the summer things and the holidays, and see what we find out.”
Peré Dubois got the news into the house: “Vertran has gotten his notebook out, and Louisa has pushed her glasses up on her nose!”
“Oh, we are all about to go through changes!” said one uncle.
“Incoming – weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeoooooooooo, BOOM!” said another, while the other uncle just laughed.
Louisa and Vertran had fun listing all the summer things they loved, and then, like the thoughtful little child prodigies they were, they went back through the list and crossed some things off.
“It's too cold here for that … oh, it's way too cold here for that … well, depending on which holiday, yeah, we could do that … well, yeah, but, start praying now. February can go either way in Lofton County … .”
A lot depended on what holiday you were talking about – Christmas/New Year they decided to lump together, and then came Martin Luther King Day, Valentine's Day, President's Day and St. Patrick's Day.
“Valentine's and President's Day are in the middle of Black History Month,” Vertran said, “so we just need an early spring-type of day both days. That's in the bag. We can do that. We're Black, and its our month! But MLK Day – that's going to be tough. January 15th is like, winter winter, and then there's things even colder.”
“Cold hearts, Louisa. Cold hearts.”
“Just how cold does it get here, Vertran?”
“You would never believe it, but there are a lot of people in Lofton County who just hate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and hate is cold. I think it may be because they don't know the whole story. It all started when he was our age.”
“Yeah. See, he and his dad were like my grandpa and my dad and my eldest brother – my grandfather is Thomas Stepforth Sr., and my dad is Thomas Stepforth Jr., and my brother is Thomas Stepforth III. But when he was younger than us, Dr. King's name was Michael King Jr., and his dad was Rev. Michael King Sr.”
“Well, you know how Black people name themselves sometimes. Like, my many-great-grandfather was named Thomas Setter, but he added the name Stepforth because the week he carried his grandchildren out of slavery to freedom, he heard God say from Heaven, “Setter, STEP FORTH!”
“Wow, that's amazing!”
“Okay, so, Rev. King Sr. went to Germany and learned all about Martin Luther, the German priest who got tired of watching his people basically being enslaved to a church that wouldn't let them have their own Bibles and learn to walk with God by faith for themselves. I mean, there's details, but you know, I'm sure we'll get to cover all that in fourth grade – anyway, Martin Luther wrote this big paper and nailed it to the church door in his hometown, and that started what we call the Protestant Reformation. You notice that everybody has their own Bible now?”
“Wow. Martin Luther really changed the world. I mean, can you imagine … every time your dad or mom wants to read you a Bible bedtime story, you have to go wake up the pastor and get the Bible out of the church. I mean, that had to be tiring those pastors back then out. I bet they were glad Martin Luther fixed all that up.”
“That's the thing, Louisa. You would think so, but, maybe they'll explain it in fourth grade how it is that people just hate you for solving their problems. Martin Luther was nearly killed a couple of times – but in the end, he won.
“So, anyway – there's details, but, you know, we'll get it down in fourth grade – Rev. King Sr. was so inspired by the story of Martin Luther that he brought the name back to him and his son … and sure enough, little Martin Luther King Jr. with the new name was inspired and grew up and changed the whole world!”
“Yeah!” said Louisa. “Wow – it started when he was our age!”
“He was a little younger – seven, because Dad told me the story when I was seven, last January 15th.”
“But not enough people know the story … makes you wonder what they have been teaching in fourth grade around here, that people don't know and just grow up hating folks that change the world by solving problems.”
“I think things have gotten better since stuff got modern in 2010, but a lot of people must have missed the story, because around here, the big holiday is still Lee-Jackson Day, and although General Jackson and his wife invited Black kids to Sunday School even back in the day, he and General Lee messed up later and ended fighting for slavery along with General Lofton.”
“Yeah, I know. Uncle Jean-Paul was explaining the history of Lofton County to Uncle Gilbert. General Lofton stood for freedom all his life, and then messed up because he couldn't bear to see his son and nephews killed … but, he left his money to his Black grandson, and still left a legacy of freedom even here.”
“General Lofton's birthday is today, and it's a big local holiday although you can't tell this year,” Vertran said, “but see, the problem is, Generals Lee and Jackson have their birthdays later in that same week in January, so a lot of people here ignore Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and just wait until later in the week to have their holiday.”
“It must be because they don't know,” Louisa said, “but this is good. We're here to help. We will bring summer warmth and good information to Martin Luther King Day this year, and we have a secret weapon now – food! I'll ask my grandparents to make their famous summer gumbo!”
“Right – if you don't feel better about your life and everyone around you after eating your grandparents' summer gumbo, and if you can't hear a good story and get an understanding after that, we can't help you!”
“Right, and we just will refuse to serve it on Lee-Jackson Day, so if you want to eat the gumbo, you've got to come on the right day.”
Louisa and Vertran went up on the porch and shared their foolproof plan to have summer holidays in the winter and make sure all Virginians celebrated the right holiday in January.
“And, I'll ask my grandfather to do some barbecue too – that will seal the deal and Lofton County will finally be on the right track!” Vertran said.
Maman Dubois had to go inside, leaving Peré Dubois to stand up to the blast as all his sons had to find pillow to laugh in.
“Well,” Peré Dubois said, “it is actually a good idea to offer an MLK Day Summer Gumbo special … and given how all groups of people have people in them that like gumbo, maybe they will all think about it if we do not offer the gumbo on Lee-Jackson Day.”
“Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay!” Louisa and Vertran said. “We're going to have summer holidays in the winter – and folks will celebrate the right day across the land!”
Peré Dubois had to be careful … they were only nine, and while it was necessary to temper their expectations, he need not spoil their innocence.
“Let's just start with our customer base,” he said, “and, God will work on the rest of the people, in His good time. Some people need longer than others to recognize Dr. King's work, but we will do our part, and God will do His part. After all, just having summer holidays in the winter is going to be more than enough for us to do.”
My birthday is January 15, and my parents told me when I was five that I share that birthday with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I took from that, as I grew and learned about Dr. King's life work, that I also needed to grow up and be someone who stood for freedom and love and service to others ... in my writing, you will always see how I carry out the birthday legacy chosen by God for me!