By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
There’s no way to record all the stories, the terrifying memories, the tears of gratitude.
Every sentence I write betrays an equally moving episode. Every edit constitutes a sin of omission.
Days after the storm I’m standing with Gary Moore on Darden Chapel Road. The sky is high and clear, as if we’re standing amid the flora of Eden. Two hundred yards to the east, a black horse roams untethered, a silent nightmare, moving slowly beyond the splinters of a family home.
Moore says his 4-year-old asked him if the tornado was coming back. He’s sifting through what’s left of his house with arms as thick and strong as logging chains.
Days later I’ll think of Moore as I stand with Bishop Hope Morgan Ward amid the debris in Smithville.
“Part of our challenge is to calm the fears, to help each other live well before our children,” she says, with a mother’s sweet intonation.
Heat shimmers up from Darden Chapel Road as Earnest Thompson passes on his four-wheeler, a cooler of cold drinks strapped to the front grill.
Relief is a sip of water, a comforting word, the piece of land Michele Wardlaw gives her brother to build a new home in Smithville.
At Farr’s Grocery, just outside Okolona, Thomas Guido walks in for a cold drink and a word with the storekeeper.
Less than a mile away all that’s left of his church, Pleasant Grove, is a slab, a graveyard glinting in the bright distance.
There’s gratitude on Guido’s lips, for the kindness of local Presbyterians and United Methodists who’ve not forgotten their brothers.
Churches are ready-made networks of dedicated workers, sprawling subcultures of benevolent souls standing ready to join hands. In the days following the storm, First Baptist Church in Amory opens a shelter, hosts a Baptist cook team, functions as the hub of communication for area churches.
In Monroe County members of the Church of Christ bring in appliances, canned food, all manner of supplies, extending their efforts east into Alabama.
I’m standing with a man I know only as Bulldog, in front of the twisted wreck that used to be Smithville United Methodist Church.
The old ball coach squints into the distance, paws at the ground in that buck-like manner of old Southern men lost in thought.
“The Bible says grab the plough and don’t look back,” he says. “There’s a time to mourn with all these good people, then a time to move on.”
Bulldog clears his throat and pats his thighs, as if he’s about to send the team to the showers after a hard practice.
“We’re gonna put on new clothes and move forward,” he says.