The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 16, 2011

Mike Pound: Downsized, but still laughing

By Mike Pound

JOPLIN, Mo. — Mae Smith said there is a reason she survived the May 22 tornado.

“God didn’t have room for me in heaven yet, and the devil was afraid if I went with him, I would try and take over,” Mae said, giggling.

Mae likes to giggle. Sometimes it’s more of a belly laugh.

Mae called me Tuesday to let me know that she is doing fine. She lost her house and most of her possessions, but she said she is fine.

“I’m sitting here in a studio apartment at Spring River Christian Village,” Mae said. “Can you imagine that? A studio apartment.”

Mae said she likes her new digs, and she laughed when I suggested that her apartment likely is a bit smaller than her old house.

“It’s what you call downsizing,” Mae said.

Mae was sitting in her living room when she heard the storm approaching, and she quickly tried to get to a closet.

“The storm took the north wall out, and I saw these two round black things coming down the hall,” she said. “I could see two-by-fours, Sheetrock and insulation in them.”

The “two round black things” would cause Mae some discomfort. She was struck in the head by one of the two-by-fours, and she suffered numerous cuts and bruises. Some young men who lived in Mae’s neighborhood helped dig her out of the debris that once was her house, and she was taken to Freeman Hospital West.

“I went to the ER and they did a brain scan, and they found one or two brains left,” Mae said.

Don’t you just love Mae?

Because of the way I was raised, I’m not going to tell you how old Mae is. Let’s just say she’s north of 80. How far north I’ll let you guess. But here’s a hint. A month or so ago, Mae called to tell me about a neighbor of hers who she figured deserved a mention in my column. Mae said she had known the woman, who is 66, since she was a baby.

“She’s a good kid,” is what Mae said.

The house Mae lost in the storm sat on land that had been in her husband’s family for more than 100 years. For years, Mae worked in the offices of several prominent Joplin physicians. When she wasn’t working in their offices, Mae took care of their kids. So, in addition to her own two children, Mae has a long list of unofficial adopted children who, of course, are now adults.

Many of those “adopted” children have visited Mae at Spring River. So have several of those Joplin physicians. It seems that Mae is somewhat of a special person. It seems that Mae is the kind of person who just makes other people feel better. And, it seems, those people want to make sure that Mae is doing OK.

Well, I’m here to say Mae is doing just fine. She’s still feisty, and she’s still laughing.

“I don’t have anything to complain about,” she said. “That tornado didn’t kill me. It tried, but it didn’t kill me.”

Mae spent some time at her son’s home in Tulsa after the storm before returning to Joplin. She’s already found a Spring River resident with whom she went to school, and she is making new friends quickly. Ironically, Mae said, she is living in the apartment that once belonged to a friend who Mae used to visit.

When I mentioned that life tends to be a circle, Mae quickly said: “Sometimes it’s a vicious circle.”

And then she giggled.