MARTY RUSSELL: Tornado spared the site of lots of memories



It’s amazing how much we become attached to places.

When word came Monday that Tupelo had taken a direct hit from a tornado I, like most everyone else who heard the news, was concerned and curious about the extent of the damage and whether it had cost anyone their life.

We all feel that empathy for those who have been through some type of disaster but, let’s face it, human nature keeps us a little detached from the event unless we have some direct connection to it.

For example, we can all commiserate with those associated with the recent Malaysian Airlines or South Korean ferry tragedies but unless we’re personally touched by such calamities it’s a detached empathy.

It wasn’t until updates about the areas of Tupelo hit by Monday’s storm began to trickle in that my concern and curiosity about the event began to strike a deeper chord. That’s because one of the area’s hardest hit by the storm was my home for almost 20 years, the Joyner neighborhood, more specifically Clayton Avenue where my wife and I lived before moving to Oxford about 10 years ago.

That house, in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods with streets lined with trees some older than the houses themselves, was where I fought many a losing war with squirrels, survived the two-week blackout of the Great Ice Storm of the ’90s and birthed many of these columns.

So I hitched a ride Tuesday with a colleague and fellow Oxonian who was going to Tupelo to report on the damage for Mississippi Public Radio. I wanted to see for myself whether my old home had survived.

When we arrived and pulled up on Country Club Road and parked at St. Luke’s, I couldn’t believe the devastation. It wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it, it was much worse.

Those huge oaks snapped in half and crushing homes, some of them in complete rubble.

As we eventually made our way down Clayton Avenue over downed power lines and branches, past growing piles of debris and dodging power and roofing company trucks, I tried to brace myself for the worst.

Then I saw it, my old, gray house. While many of the huge trees that surrounded it had given up and fallen, the house itself appeared untouched and the front porch light was on, meaning its new owners even had electricity when most of the neighborhood didn’t.

One of the things I kept hearing from people as we walked through the devastated area Tuesday talking to some of my old neighbors was, “It’s stuff, it’s just stuff,” referring to the loss of material things but not loved ones.

While I wholeheartedly agree with that attitude, I look at some of the houses that will never be the same again and have to say that sometime a house is more than just a house. Sometimes it’s a home. And I’m glad my old one is still there.

Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at

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