Quiet Ebene-Cerise Dubois was probably the last person anyone would think to invite to play Family Feud on television, but, when life offered a chance to play for real, she showed up and showed out.
The trouble had started when the Dubois family had come from Black French Louisiana all the way to Lofton County, VA in search of a better life after Hurricane Katrina – a long search that had taken many years before the family had settled in Virginia and found success. The problem was, they had selected a house to live in on the “wrong side” of Tinyville, VA.
Officially, segregation had been over for decades in Lofton County, but there were still covenants written and unwritten about who sold what to whom and where. Monsieur Jean-Luc Dubois with the help of his billionaire friend Thomas Stepforth Sr. had outwitted the unwritten covenants, and Madame Dubois focused on making sure the outmaneuvered neighbors accepted the outcome!
A constantly active kitchen, an open window, two box fans and lots of to-go containers … like Louis Armstrong and his horn, Madame Dubois did not have arguments about racism often because she didn't need to.
“Come and get some!”
She filled the neighborhood with scents of her irresistible food, and gave out samples to curious neighbors … Madame Dubois was passing out the taste of Mardi Gras every day in the middle of a pandemic, while people were home, scared, and depressed.
“No family is an island,” she said about it to her granddaughter Louisa, “so it is best we turn our enemies here into friends.”
Still, there just had to be one stubborn family … the smells and the food and the dance parties the Duboises would start by turning on their music and just dancing out in the yard with a quiet road in front of them and the big fallow field across from them to spread out on were not able to move everyone.
“Of course not,” Jules Dubois said to his Jean-Paul about it. “When a neighboring family is being led by that big of an old witch with a B on the front –.”
“My blushes!” Jean-Paul cried. “You're right, Jules, but still!”
Karen Kern, the aforementioned family matriarch, had used to sell real estate, and was fully involved in making sure the neighborhood had “the right kind of people” in it. She felt as if she had been personally outwitted when the Duboises had managed to close on their property, and she had gotten even angrier when Madame Dubois had replaced her as the most influential matriarch in the neighborhood.
“That old voodoo queen has almost as big a clan as the Ku Klux!” she growled.
The Kerns were afraid of Madame Dubois – they had noted well how many Black people came up and down the road, all day long, just going over the hill to drive around the Dubois place and make sure Madame Dubois and granddaughter Louisa were all right while the men of that home were out with Dubois on the Road, providing food service for a county in need. The Kerns had also been snooping and seen Madame Dubois in one of her darker-hued Mardi Gras outfits for a photo shoot her granddaughter was doing.
Grandmother and nine-year-old granddaughter were just having fun, yet to the prejudiced eye, Madame Dubois's coiled and brilliantly white hair topping her vibrantly aged face, combined with her small but active old body in what by southern Virginia terms was an outrageous outfit to wear in the middle of the day made her look like some kind of colorful and powerful old witch – and since she was Black French Louisianan, two plus two had come out voodoo.
Still, Karen Kern and half the family did not lack for their kind of courage – they put on their church clothes one Sunday and got their big Bibles and went down the road to in front of the Dubois home to do their own kind of ritual while Madame Dubois was gathering herbs in the yard.
“We bind this spirit of voodoo and the devil in the name of Jesus!”
And as they started speaking in tongues and doing their version of an exorcism, Madame Dubois kept doing what she was doing, but listened until she heard enough to know what she was going to do next. They came every day for a week, and she walked down the road every day for that same week to observe and confirm her plan of action.
“They seem to think they know a lot about voodoo,” she said to Monsieur Dubois, “but they have missed the news about social distancing and masking.”
“Oh, well, why bother to put a voodoo curse on those who are perfectly capable of – never mind, mon cheri.”
Covid-19 found the Kern family the following week, and infected every member of it in Tinyville because they had all carried on as if nothing was wrong, defying all restrictions.
Meanwhile, a new odor came down the street toward the Kern home … a stew rich with vitamin C-heavy peppers and shellfish filled with zinc along with many other good and healthy things … Madame Dubois had taken out the soup base she and her husband had made to help the sick through decades of illnesses, and was finishing a great pot of it.
In the afternoon, Madame Dubois put on her mask, and, in a show of strength that defied her age and petite appearance, carried that huge, hot pot of soup and left it on the Kern family doorstep. One of the Kern daughters saw their new neighbor disappearing into the heat ripples at the top of the road … as Madame Dubois walked over the hill and out of sight.
“Well, she can't be trying to kill us … just smell that … I mean, I can smell that and I can't smell anything!” one of the Kern sons said between coughing fits.
“I'm not putting that poison into my system!” Mrs. Kern said. “Remember what she practices!”
“Yeah, but, do we really know that?” another of the Kern sons said. “We just saw one moment of that woman's whole life – maybe she was going to a costume party or something.”
“She doesn't belong here and she knows we know!” Mrs. Kern said. “We need to throw this whole pot out and bind the spirits on it from hurting us!”
Sam Kern, the eldest son, finally stood up – it had been a long time coming, but the change had at last come.
“No, Mama. We've got something in this house that isn't a spirit that could kill us. I see peppers and shellfish and lemon in that soup – vitamin C and zinc, along with pretty much every other vitamin. Madame Dubois is trying to help. Forget the voodoo and hoodoo. She's trying to help, and I say we dig in – Nellie [a Kern daughter] is really sick, but even she could drink some of this broth. We don't have any better options because none of us know how to cook or went to the store for healthy options before having to quarantine, so, we best dig in.”
Sam Kern saw that the pot was emptied and washed and put back on the porch, and every day it was refilled. That was all the Kern family ate for 14 days... and in 21 days, they all had beaten Covid-19 and were recovering, some more slowly than others, but no one had needed to go to the hospital.
On day 22, Sam felt well enough to go shopping, and so picked up a pound cake and a lemon cake to take back to Madame Dubois with her pot.
“First of all, thank you, Madame Dubois,” he said. “Second of all, I'm sorry about the way my family has treated yours. Third of all, we were wrong about you and your family. Fourth of all, Mom is going to be who Mom is going to be, but as a family at large, we are going to treat you and yours right from now on, and I'll see to that. Fifth of all, thank you.”
And just like that, the family feud in the neighborhood was settled.
“The Good Book says that when a man's ways please the Lord, the Lord will make his enemies be at peace with him,” Madame Dubois said to her granddaughter Louisa about it, “but remember: le bon Dieu – He does not discriminate. A woman can have peace too, the same way, with her family!”