COOK OF THE WEEK: Smithville woman recalls tornado that shattered town

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

SMITHVILLE – On April 27, Sue Collums of Smithville could hardly get any work done at ITT in Amory, where she is a buyer for the valve manufacturer. Every time she turned around, a tornado siren would go off and she and her co-workers would be sent to safe areas.
So Collums decided to stay late at work that day to catch up on all the work she had missed.
That decision probably saved her life.
“Ordinarily, I would have hit the city limits of Smithville at the same time the tornado hit,” said Collums, 58.
She took the back way from Amory to Smithville, avoiding Highway 25 altogether, and headed to her home to check on her parents, who live with her and her husband, Terry.
Once she was assured they were safe, she made her way back to town, walking the last mile because of debris, to deliver a cell phone charger to Terry, who is the manager at Smithville Telephone.
“I’ve never seen a war zone, but that’s the only way to describe what I saw,” she said. “It was unreal.”
Terry was safe in one of the few buildings that remained standing after the EF-5 tornado ripped through town.
“The roof blew off, but the walls were still there,” she said.
It would be the next day before Collums would venture back into town and take a good look at Highway 25 in the light of day.
“I had no idea where I was because there was nothing left to guide me,” she said. “I was lost. And I’ve been traveling that road for 37 years.”
The Collumses were fortunate. They were without power for about 24 hours, but their house was untouched by the storm. Others were not so lucky.
“The outpouring of support for Smithville has been unreal,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be able to thank everyone properly who came to our rescue. And they’re still coming. But it’s gonna be OK. We’re gonna be OK. I don’t think we’ll ever be back, but as our mayor says, ‘We’re going to be better.’”
Cooking helps bring some normalcy back to the Collums family. She’s a recipe follower, specializing in casseroles. He’s more experimental, adding a pinch of this and a dab of that.
“My grandmother taught me how to make cornbread when I was a little girl, and I’d get dinner started for my mother after school – she’d leave me notes telling me when to put something on,” Collums said. “But I didn’t really learn how to cook-cook until I got married, and that was out of necessity.”
Collums, a mother of two and grandmother of three, used an old cookbook from the Amory Junior Auxiliary and her mother gave her a little tin box filled with basic recipes to follow.
“It helped that the first place I worked was at Amory Garment. We’d have potlucks on people’s birthdays, so I got a lot of recipes there, recipes I still use,” she said.
For a while, a staple on the Collums table was meatloaf.
“But I wore Terry out on that when we first married, so I don’t make it much anymore,” she said. “I do sneak it in once in a while now that Mother and Daddy are here with us. More of it gets eaten.”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to

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