By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
A small, chipped yellow plate with a peacock has a place of honor beside the front door of the Parker family’s new home in Smithville.
“It was my grandmother’s,” said Patti Parker. “She probably bought it at a dime store … it’s not worth anything to anybody but us.”
The little yellow plate was in the part of the Parker’s Highway 25 home that took the brunt of the April 27 tornado. That day, they weren’t worried about the sentimental plate; they were just thankful they made it through the storm alive.
Randy Parker was home at the time of the storm with their teens Johnny and Chloe. At the last minute he pulled them out of the hall and into the bathroom, likely saving them from serious injury. Patti Parker had a harrowing journey just behind the storm, as she raced home from the United Way of Greater Monroe County in Amory, where she serves as executive director.
Once she found her family safe, she went to work on the emergency response. The United Way was a key pivot point between local agencies, state and federal emergency managers and legions of volunteers and donors. Friends and family helped the rest of the Parkers salvage what they could that night. It would be weeks before Patti Parker took a full day off.
A few days after the storm, the family took a little time to shift through the debris to see what they could find. The plate was waiting for them.
“There it was, just chipped up on the side,” Patti Parker said.
It’s just one example of what Patti Parker calls the unfailing grace and mercy of God in her life over the past year. Like the town of Smithville, the Parker family has been surrounded by a host of angels, particularly from their home church of Smithville Baptist and Tupelo’s Harrisburg Baptist Church.
“When I reached the lowest points, he’d send someone across my path, who would help me through the day,” she said. “He did it for my whole family.”
For nearly 10 months, the family – including cat Callie, who disappeared in the immediate aftermath of the storm before crawling back into the ruined house – lived in temporary quarters in Amory.
“For 10 months, she was an indoor cat,” Randy Parker said. “She almost climbed the walls.”
Chloe, now 15, and Johnny, who will be 18 on Saturday, spent most of the school year on the temporary Smithville High School campus.
“It has gone almost perfect,” said Johnny Parker, who completed his academic requirements in December. He and the other Smithville seniors were back on the true Smithville campus last week, fulfilling the tradition of taking a class portrait under the wrought iron sign.
Getting used to the temporary campus wasn’t difficult, Chloe said.
“I don’t care much where we’re at,” Chloe said, as long as she was still together with her classmates.
The tough part, for night owl Chloe, was the extra commute time from Amory. Ironically, it was her brother Johnny who ended up with the tardies.
The Parkers had always planned to build a home next door to Patti Parker’s parents on the southwest side of Smithville. The tornado changed someday to now.
Last spring, they envisioned being in the new house by Christmas; instead it was February. Building the house went relatively smooth, Randy Parker said. But until December, when the United Way was able to close the warehouse operations, Patti Parker wasn’t able to truly refocus her attention on personal recovery.
By December, “the community was in a better spot; people were starting to get back into their homes,” said Parker, noting that the United Way is still working with about 50 recovering families.
But being able to turn the warehouse back over to Townhouse Furniture meant Parker’s professional duties as United Way chief shrank back to a more manageable level.
“That was when I was able to focus on our personal recovery,” said Parker, who considers Room to Room’s Lisa Hawkins one of her personal angels. “When I finally got to where I could decorate, I was a happy camper. But I couldn’t do it for the longest time.”
Things are finally starting to feel normal.
“The first month I kept trying to go to the bathroom, and I would end up in a closet,” Randy Parker laughed.
The family added another cat, French Fry, who wandered up to their rented house in Amory. Yorkie puppy Soda Pop joined the family – much to the cats’ dismay – once they settled in the new house.
This year, the family is looking forward to celebrating Johnny’s 18th birthday on Saturday more peacefully than his 17th. Last year, they had to rescue his birthday present from the tornado debris. Ashley Stubblefield, who works with Patti Parker at the United Way, picked up his cake in Tupelo, one of the many kind things she did for the Parker family in the past year.
Always a tight knit unit, the past year has reinforced their love for each other, said Patti Parker.
“We just make sure we don’t go a day without sitting down together.”