At least Mary Vick has her teeth back. That’s one thing.
For a while there, she’d thought she’d lost them. When the April 28 tornado tore its way through the northwest corner of Itawamba County, Vick was at home. Her dentures were by her bedside when the tornado sent her mobile home rolling.
“My husband kept telling me that somebody in Alabama was wearing them,” she says, loosing a dry laugh.
Turns out, he was wrong; the teeth were discovered among the scattered wreckage of her home, now spread across 2.5 acres of land in the Ozark community. After a quick brush, they were back in her mouth where they belonged.
“That’s $1,200 saved right there,” she says with a nod.
Perched atop the hill where her house had been standing less than three weeks ago, Vick motions to the spread of debris.
“Some of my stuff’s over there, and some of my stuff’s over there,” she says, pointing one direction, then the other. “My stuff’s spread all over.”
Nearby, what’s left of her home is curled into a fist of metal and wood, a crumpled ball of trees, architecture and furniture. She approached it, and pointed to a small cavity under the structure. That’s where her neighbor found her, buried in rubble.
“I was in good spirits when they drug me out of there,” she says. “Come over to the kitchen so we can sit and talk.”
Her ‘kitchen’ consists of a round mosaic table and some benches positioned in the shade beneath the broken branches of a tree. They hang from the trunk in an upside-down V, forming a sort of lean-to shelter. One of two beagles, both survivors themselves, sleeps in the dirt at her feet.
Vick lights a cigarette and lets it smoke itself as she talks. She’s very animated, smoke trailing from her hand as she describes her experience in the storm … at least, what she can fully remember.
“I was watching the storm on the news when the power went out,” she says.
Vick says she stood and went to the front door of her home, trying to decide where to go to keep safe, when the storm hit full force. The next thing she knew, she was rolling.
“I went over and over and over, then crashed,” she says, flipping her cigarette lighter across the tabletop to simulate the careening mobile home. “Next thing I knew, I was laying in the floor of my husband’s shed, 30 feet back from where I started.”
Vick laughs, then adds, “I was standing on the floor, but apparently decided I wanted to be like Spider-Man and walk on walls, because that’s where I ended up.”
When her trailer landed, it was face-down on its front. Vick was pinned in the crumpled remains. There was a two or three foot gap between her and a ceiling of rubble. A small hole above her face let her see the sky. It was enough room to move, if she didn’t panic.
Then the tree fell.
“I heard a crack, and everything got smaller,” she said, holding one palm above the other, then pressing them together.
Now, she really was trapped. Air conditioner, fridge door, pieces of tin, fiberglass, sheet rock and plywood were stacked on top of her. Everything but the kitchen sink … though, that might have been there, too, come to think of it.
Disoriented and, she later discovered, injured, panic started to set in.
That’s when she heard her dead grandmother talking to her, telling her to stay calm.
“She told me to quit flipping and that I would be OK,” Vick says, pointing her finger in a lecturing sort of way.
Hearing her grandmother’s voice relaxed her, she said.
“I had air; I could breathe. I wasn’t really squished. I just kind of exhaled and laid there.”
Vick says she isn’t sure how long she was trapped there when she heard her neighbor’s voice calling for her. It couldn’t have been long … maybe 10 minutes at the most. It felt like eternity twice over.
There was a hole, no bigger than a small picture frame, through which she could slip her fingers. She used this to signal her rescuers. After digging for a few moments, they were able to pull Vick from the wreckage, punctured and bleeding. Vick received 27 stitches for 10 puncture wounds, mostly on her hands and arms.
Not that her injuries affected her too much. Emergency personnel had to catch her to patch her up. She was bouncing around like a pinball from one thing to the next.
“I looked down and saw bone and muscle and veins,” she says. She holds up her right hand, revealing a stitched gash across her knuckles.
“I didn’t even realize I had this,” she says.
Vick stands and begins to walk through the wreckage of her home. As she goes, she points out a variety of items mixed into the debris, often laughing as she does.
“What’s my shower curtain doing in my husband’s shed?” she says, pulling a swatch of plastic from a mound of rubble.
For the time being, Vick’s life is kind of at a standstill. As of late last week, she was still waiting on FEMA to process her claim. Home is a small camper on loan from a friend. It sits overlooking the scattered remains of her house.
“You remember that movie ‘The Hobbit?” she asks suddenly. “Well, we’re going to live underground like Mr. Baggins.”
When asked if any of her belongings survived the storm, Vick says very few.
“About the only thing I’ve been able to salvage are my whatnots … things I can’t really use in everyday life,” she says.
All things considered, though, she’s in surprisingly good spirits.
“It’s just stuff,” she says. “You can replace stuff. As long as nobody died, I’m happy. I just kind of crack jokes and laugh things off … make a bad situation into a happy situation.”
Vick takes a contemplative pull at her cigarette, then continues:
“Say you’re on vacation with your mother-in-law and she turns out to be a real Attila the Hun type. But you just try to enjoy yourself anyway, you know. Have a good time. Turn a bad vacation into a good vacation. That’s what I’m doing.”
She smiles, showing off two rows of perfectly intact dentures.