Mack and Kathryn Towery’s new home stands in sharp contrast to much of their neighborhood.
The section of Old Saltillo Road just north of the Tupelo city limits shows heavy damage from the April 28 tornado. More than a dozen homes have been demolished or appear as though they will be soon. Disheveled piles of former housing materials sit on slabs where homes once stood.
Yet three weeks after the twister tore down their walls and ripped off their roof, the Towerys already have cleared away the house they built in 1981 and installed a frame for their new one. The interior and exterior walls are in place, beams for the carport and porch have been set, and friends worked to raise the rafters. The roof may be in place this week, said Mack Towery, 66, a retired contractor.
“It is beginning to look like a home,” Kathryn Towery said.
The Towery house will be among the first houses in Lee County to be rebuilt after being completely torn down following the tornado. It may be complete by the end of July or the beginning of August, said Mack Towery, who has made a living building houses.
“It makes me feel fortunate to be out here, able to put it back together,” he said. “I hope the rest of the people take hope in building their houses.”
Moving so quickly has not been easy. Mack said he leaves each morning at around 4:30 from the Palmetto home of his sister Linda Guntharp, where they have been staying. He usually stops at Hardee’s for a sausage and biscuit and arrives at his property before 5:30 “rain or shine.” He and Kathryn stay until 4:30 or 5 in the afternoon.
“It is tiring,” Kathryn said recently while digging through the dirt and trying to salvage some tools that had been strewn across their property by the twister.
“You are really tired at the end of the day, but it is worth it to try to get back.”
Each day he when leaves, Mack said, he is thinking about what he needs to do during the next 24 hours.
“I’m anxious to get back and continue working,” he said.
He and his wife both are grateful to Guntharp for hosting them.
“She has been wonderful to us, taking care of us,” Kathryn Towery said. “You’re thankful for someone to stay with, but it is nothing like being at your own place.”
The work has reunited many of Mack Towery’s old crew, guys who used to work with him to build houses and have quickly come to aid their friend.
“The next day, a lot of these guys showed up with chain saws and axes,” Mack Towery said.
James Brown who built houses at the same time and who would often collaborate with Towery and his son, Shane Brown, have led the work. Gerald Shefield has agreed to put on the Sheetrock and paint it, Rodney Lindsey will put on the brick and Sammy Scott will do the plumbing.
“(Rodney) called and said, Let’s go one more round,” Mack Towery said. “It’s pretty much the same old crew we had 10 years ago.”
The new house will be very similar to the last one, where the Towerys took shelter in a hallway as the tornado ripped apart the structure. The new version will have more bracing atop that hallway to reinforce it.
“We did a little to the back porch and back room, but it is basically the same,” said Kathryn Towery. “We’re going back plain and simple.”
It didn’t take Mack very long to develop the plans on a sheet of paper.
“It just came naturally,” he said.
Despite the similarities, however, the new structure won’t be the same as the last. The inside will look different, and the familiar furniture will be gone.
“I liked my old one,” Mack Towery said. “We didn’t want a new house. We liked the one we were in. I don’t know if it will ever feel the same. I doubt it will.”
In fact, despite the progress they’ve made, their mood remains wistful at times. An entire neighborhood they’ve loved for so long sits mostly empty. They wonder when and if it will rebound. Once they move back this summer, it may still be a lonely place.
“If my neighbors build back, that will help,” Mack Towery said. “Some neighbors have been here for 15 years, and they won’t move back.”
Hopefully, Mack Towery said, they can be a symbol of resilience for others. They were fortunate to be able to start before their insurance check came. That said, he and Kathryn both said State Farm has been great to them. They’ve already received a check to cover the construction of the new house and expect another one soon for the contents.
“We will get there,” Kathryn Towery said of their journey back. “It takes a long time, but we will get there. A lot of people are struggling to get things done and cleaned up. A lot of people are going through a rough loss.
“God has been good to us, like he has been to other people. He has taken care of us. We’ll get back in our house, and it will be OK.”
Asked if he felt something special to be among the first to rebuild, Mack Towery thought for a while.
“Yeah,” he said eventually. “I’m anxious to get back in the house, and we’ll be back to normal.”
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