(Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)
When families were celebrating our nation's independence on Wednesday and while soldiers from the National Guard's 875th Battalion were in Iraq fighting for freedom, a soldier's wife in Caraway watched helplessly as her home went up in flames.
Steven Woodall, 23, of Caraway, came home from Iraq in March of this year after being away nine months from his wife Tori Allen Woodall, daughter Carlie, 2, and son Landon, soon to be 1. Landon was only 4 days old when his father left the first time. Tori busied herself with a full-time job at Syngenta, in Bay, and making a home for their two small children in Caraway.
"Having Steven so far away has been hard on all of us," Tori Woodall said. "We yearned for him to come home to be with us again. I had plenty of things to keep me busy, but still there is that loneliness and concern about him being gone. I took care of all the things I could every day, the best I could, and tried not to worry about Steven being in Iraq. I just counted the months and days until he would be home with us again, walking through that front door."
That front door has changed now, with the house fire that was discovered about 6 p.m. in Caraway last Wednesday. The Woodall's mobile home, on St. Louis Street, sustained an electrical fire that started in the south bedroom/bathroom area. Tori and the children had left for the afternoon, with plans to visit their grandmother, Vickie Kent, from Henning, Tenn., that night.
"Our neighbors saw smoke coming out of our mobile home and called the fire department," Mrs. Woodall said. "We were still in town, and I rushed over there as quick as I could. The home was engulfed in flames. The fire department finally got the flames out, but the things inside were smoked, burned, charred or water soaked. The firemen responded immediately, even though they had been helping with the 4th of July celebration at the park. They worked until they got it out, and helped us salvage everything they could.
"Neighbors, relatives and friends all came over to see what they could do for us. All I could think of was that all of things were gone, and Steven would be so worried about us. The Red Cross helped me find Steven, and he called me about 10 p.m. that night. I kept assuring him we were all O.K. but I knew he was taking it hard, not being here in our time of family need. He wanted to come home on emergency leave for two or three days, but I begged him not too. Steven is to be home in two months, and I just couldn't bear having him here for a few days and then have to leave again. Finally we convinced him to stay and that we had people to take care of us here, and that we were really O.K."
Looking through the rubble on Wednesday night was hard for Tori. There were keepsakes and valuables to be concerned about. She found smoke damaged wedding photos, baby shoes, baby pictures, and even her grandmother's wedding ring. She found her own baby shoes, with the date on the bottom of them. Even the slightest salvageable things became precious to her as she sifted through the remains of her once comfortable dwelling. She was quick to give thanks for that suitcase she had packed earlier that day containing a few changes of clothes for her and the children.
"This has been our home for two years, and we had every thing we own in here," she said. "We had dreams of getting a house of our own someday, but wanted the choice to be in our own time, not an overnight decision.
"We are very fortunate that Steven's parents and relatives live close by. The first night we stayed with my brother, Doug Borrer. My mother met us at Trumann Thursday night and we stayed with her. Tonight we plan to go to Steven's parents' house (Ricky and Susan Woodall), here in Caraway. Everyone has been so kind to us, we cannot complain. All our needs have been met. The distance is the hardest thing, with Steven being gone. In a time like this you can't help but want to draw close to those who you love so much."
"We are going to keep our heads up and do our best through this, and I know Steven will do the same," Mrs. Woodall said. "I plan to go back to work on Monday. The children will go back to their babysitter Cheryl Adcock. We have welcoming places to stay. We are safe. Most of all we have each other. We can not complain."