By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
MANTACHIE – That Sunday night, 7-year-old Fay
Turner went to sleep in an Itawamba County bed she would never see again.
When she awoke, she was in the yard, delivered there by the tornado that minutes before had devastated Tupelo.
“My sister held onto me,” the woman, now Fay Thompson, said. “She said I was asleep until I hit the ground. I thought we were in a car wreck.
“The tornado came across and went plumb into Alabama,” she recalled 70 years later. “It tore our house all to pieces. I remember going back the next day and looking, and I wondered, ‘How could we have lived through that?’ But all we got were scratches.”
Hundreds of others weren’t so lucky, suffering either death or injury. Among them were the widow next door to the Turners and her two daughters. The badly injured girls were taken to Memphis for treatment because the Tupelo hospital was damaged – and overflowing. Their mother, having declined an offer to stay with the Turners that night, died in the twister.
Thompson’s father took the battered body to the home of another neighbor woman, who dressed it for burial.
‘I’ve got my family’
Thompson said she and her siblings stumbled through the dark to their grandparents’ house just down the hill, where the roof was damaged, but the log structure was intact.
“They bored holes in the floor in that house – to keep the water out of the floor,” she said.
Beyond the practicalities of quieting their own scared grandchildren, Mark and Una Turner intervened spiritually for the injured girls next door.
“You’ve never heard such praying as there was that night,” she said. “I knew those girls were hurt bad. Their father was already dead, and now they had lost their mother.”
Meanwhile, Thompson’s mother was making her way back home from where she had been sitting with a gravely ill friend.
Once reunited with her husband and children, she learned they’d lost not only their home and its furnishings but the farm equipment and livestock that provided their livelihood.
“Some of the neighbors said to her, ‘You haven’t got anything,’ and she said, ‘Oh, yes, I do; I’ve got my family,’” Thompson recalled. “I’m 77 years old, and I will never forget that as long as I live.”
Thompson said recovery from the trauma was long in coming for some of her family.
“It got on my sisters’ nerves,” she said. “Every time it would come up a little cloud, they’d just go crazy.”
Thompson, after years of living away as a married woman, is back in Itawamba County. Feeling the deep pull of family roots, she and her husband returned from Memphis to the home place to raise their sons.
“The Turners have lived here for I guess over 150 years on this same spot,” she said. “There’s a lot of memories here for me. You can’t run from memories.”