SMITHFIELD — A windstorm that lasted less than five minutes wiped out a lifetime of memories for Doris Parrish.
The storm, which swept through Smithfield on June 13, sent a tree crashing into Parrish’s century-old house on Bridge Street.
Parrish, who lives alone, was unhurt. She was in the back end of the house when the tree came crashing down.
“I felt the house shake … like a canon,” Parrish said. “Suddenly, it got very quiet, and you began to hear things fall.”
The tree came down hard on the roof at the front of the house, demolishing the second floor. The furniture from upstairs landed in a pile of rubble in the living room – or what was left of the living room.
Parrish’s neighbors, Peggy and Allen May, heard it happen from across the street. “There was a horrible noise,” Peggy May said. “We didn’t know if it was the house or the tree or the wind.”
When they looked up, Allen said, they saw the damage – the tree had cut the front of the house in half. “The tree had split the house,” he said. “And in essence, the house ended up in two pieces.”
Earlier this week, Parrish’s son, Joe, said he was still trying to assess the damage. The storm destroyed family records, including his grandmother’s writings on the Civil War. He said he was sure the house he grew up was a total loss.
It was a difficult pill for Parrish, 86, to swallow. The house is where she grew up and where she reared her four sons – Joe, John, Thomas and Frank.
Parrish said she lived away from the house for just two months, during the Great Depression. The county seized the house for back taxes.
“Nobody was paying taxes because they didn’t have no money,” Parrish said. “My father paid something like $15, and we got it back.”
Parrish and her husband, a World War II veteran, took over the house when her father moved to Georgia in 1949. Her husband died in 1962, leaving Parrish to rear her four sons alone.
The house became a magnet for boys around the neighborhood, Parrish said. Her sons had a reputation for being fun and adventurous, which made them popular. Parrish counted 15 to 20 boys coming and going from her house when her sons were growing up.
“The mommas wanted to clean up the house, and they’d say (to their sons), ‘Go to Doris’s – there are plenty of boys to play with there,’” Parrish recalled.
One of those boys, Smith Cameron, was so shocked by the news that he came to Smithfield from his home in Florida to help with the cleanup.
Cameron recalled spending hours playing – and causing mischief – with the Parrish boys. They often swam in the nearby Neuse River, ventured into storm drains and rode their bikes through the tobacco warehouses that were once ubiquitous in downtown Smithfield. Their fun sometimes crossed into unlawful territory – they had a spot near Market Street where they’d hide while catapulting eggs at passing cars.
“That was how you had fun back then,” Cameron said. “We were in the streets and up the river.”
Cameron looks back on those days so fondly that he often writes about them. A Vietnam veteran, he jokingly credits his survival with the “rough and tumble” childhood he had with the Parrishes. Cameron said he had great respect for the family, which struggled to make ends meet.
“They’re one of the iconic families of the community,” he said. “They all stuck together and toughed it out.”
Parrish is leaning on relatives to help her through this rough patch; she’s not sure where she’ll end up. But she says she thanks God for the full life she’s had so far.
“It’s overwhelming, I guess you could say. But, in life, things happen,” Parrish said. “That’s why we have God. ... Nothing escapes him, and he takes care of his own.”