My immediate family had these shelters. On the road cut leading from Thornton Road to the house at Weavers Creek, my grandparents John and Rebecca Thornton had a storm house dug into the side of the road cut. At my Great-Uncle Bud and Aunt Harriet Thornton's farm next door, a storm house had been dug into the hillside along the very steep road leading down from Thornton Road to their house. (That entire hillside, a couple of acres or more, after several days of heavy rains, slid down onto the road on December 17, 1961 - the same afternoon I was getting married.)
At my parents' house near Thornton's Store at Parham a storm cellar had been dug beneath a screened-in back porch. A trap door and stairs provided access to the small cellar which also contained shelving for canned jars of food, the water pump and water storage tank. Our cellar was a dark, spidery, spooky place.
I'm sure most of the storm houses around Parham were dark and damp and home to resident spiders and other critters. But in the face of oncoming storms, most folks would rather take their chances with such creatures than to risk a tornado.
Probably the reason my childhood was so full of lore and fear of tornadoes was that I was born only three years after the tragic Tupelo, Mississippi, tornado that killed so many people and did so much damage across northeast Mississippi. That April 5, 1936 tornado is still ranked the 4th most deadly tornado ever recorded in the United States. Hundreds were killed - and most of the adults in the Hill Country knew about that killer storm.
In the 1950s there seemed to be a series of annual tornadoes which always hit along Weaver's Creek Bottom. Most of the storms rarely did any damage except to the timber. Fortunately these tornadoes stayed on the ground for only very short distances. But one year, a tornado destroyed Mr. and Mrs. Will Ritter's house on the ridge overlooking Weavers Creek south of Parham. Everyone in Parham rejoiced that neither of the Ritter's were seriously injured.
The American Red Cross rebuilt the Ritter house - the first time the Red Cross had restored a property loss by a storm in Parham.
But it was the Tupelo tornado which everyone talked about and remembered and feared would happen again. Most of us take tornado warnings and alerts for granted - but if you really wish to see mute and sad evidence of what a tornado can do, stop by the cemetery at Priceville (Lee County) and find, atop one of the hills in the center of the cemetery, beneath a mature cedar tree, the grave markers of the thirteen members of one family who were killed in the Tupelo tornado. The Burrough family buried there includes father James 47, mother Jennie Bell 45, daughter Inez 20, son John 17, son Carl 15, son Thomas 14, son George 13, son James 12, daughter Vonceile 11, twin daughters Dorothy and Dorris 7 (buried together in the same coffin), daughter Sarah Joe 3, and son Allen Earl 2.
This grave site makes anyone looking at it realize the danger of tornadoes. These thirteen graves make me understand why everyone in the Hill County in the 1940s and 1950s had storm houses - and used them during bad weather.
Terry Thornton is a retired college administrator and former Amory Middle School principal who resides in Fulton. He can be contacted at his blog Hill Country of Monroe County or at firstname.lastname@example.org.