“Dad, will you spray some of Mamaw on me?”
Mamaw is Linda Lipscomb, Chad’s mother. A woman who loved scented candles and potpourri; whose house always smelled warm and woodsy -– just like her favorite spray bottle.
Anyone who spent any amount of time in the Williams home where Linda lived with her husband, Bill, came away smelling like that, family members say.
But that house is gone, now. Linda and Bill are, too. All perished in last year’s tornado. After hours, painful days of culling through the wreckage that used to be the Lipscombs’ home, Chad and his brothers were able to salvage an assortment of items. A blanket, some soggy pictures. Bill’s tools. And Linda’s favorite perfume bottle –- the way Chad’s daughter keeps the memory of her Mamaw close at night.
“But you can’t get Bill and Linda back,” said Betty McGowan, Bill’s sister. “I still dream about them all the time.”
They did everything together Bill and Linda Lipscomb were a perfect couple -– the kind of lovebirds who kissed in front of the kids, held hands whenever they could and never raised their voices at each other.
Their sons say the Lipscombs did nearly everything together throughout their 45 years of marriage –- raised three boys, went to church, worked in the yard, hosted slumber parties, recited lines from their favorite Western movies, played hide-n-seek with the grandkids, vacationed every year at Lake Guntersville, enjoyed cool evenings on the front porch of their country home.
The list goes on as the Lipscombs’ sons -– Craig, Chad and Chris –- recently sat around Chris’ Southside living room. Each of them reflected on the lives of Bill, 67 when he died, and Linda, 63.
Bill worshipped Linda, the brothers said, from that first summer night in 1965, when their parents met at a Gadsden burger joint right up to the day they died.
“They were so lovey-dovey,” Chris said. And in those brutal hours after the storm, after the sons knew their parents were dead, they took comfort in this: Amidst the splintered trees and stinking debris, the Lipscombs were found together. Every bone in Bill’s body was broken; Linda suffered the one fatal blow to the head.
But lying there in death, in the woods near what remained of their house, Bill was spooning Linda.
“It’s a picture you don’t get out of your head,” said Chad’s wife, Katrina.
A family legacy
More than anything, family is the Lipscombs’ legacy. Their three sons, seven grandchildren and host of other relatives function as a unit –- just like Bill and Linda did. They eat dinners at each other’s houses, go on vacations in Florida together, help out in each other’s yards.
Bill and Linda married in 1966, lived in Gadsden while the boys were young and Bill was entrenched in his work at Gulf States Steel Co. Several years later, the family relocated to Williams, because Bill and Linda wanted their boys to go to Pleasant Valley schools.
“They wanted to experience country life,” Chad said. “And they wanted us to go to a better school system, have better opportunities.”
Now, the brothers are spread out between Gadsden and Jacksonville.
Craig, 43, works at a telecommunications company in Springville, lives there with his wife and two children. Chad, 41, his wife, Katrina, and their two daughters live in Jacksonville, where Chad also works in telecommunications and Katrina has a job with the Department of Defense.
Chris, 40, owns a construction company in Southside. He, his wife, Misti, and their three kids live there in a house Chris recently built.
That lakeside home is where the family gathered on a recent Friday to talk about the couple whose absence is so strongly felt. Even in this spacious living room, there aren’t enough chairs for all of the sons and their wives –- plus Linda’s sister, and Bill’s mother and sister. So some of them sit, while others crowd around behind the couch.
They keep close, hold each other when tears start. They laugh and pass the tissues as they remember Bill and Linda.
“They did not act their age,” Chris said. “Even when they were 60-something years old.”
They talk about Bill’s love of fishing, working with his hands. He had a small woodworking shop in the backyard of the Williams house. He spent hours there, and in the yard, keeping the grass neat and the plants trimmed.
Linda’s house was equally organized: She rearranged the living room furniture on what seemed like a weekly basis as she cleaned. And of course, there were the candles, the smells of Mamaw.
When the grandkids were babies, Craig’s wife, Michelle, remembered, Linda would have them over for hours at time. She didn’t have a crib or a bassinette, so she’d improvise. Michelle would return to Mamaw’s house to find her son or daughter swaddled in blankets, sound asleep in an open dresser drawer.
“She loved them so much,” Michelle said of Linda and the grandkids. “When they came home from Mamaw’s, they had that smell of potpourri.”
“We’ll be fine”
Chad tried to convince his parents to leave their house before the tornado hit. I’ll come get you, he told his mother over the phone; the storm is going to be bad where you are. Linda had called him around 5:30 that night.
We’re shutting the water off, she said. An hour later, Chad called her back.
Let me pick you up, he said again.
But Linda didn’t want to leave her house; she wasn’t scared.
The sons finished each other’s thoughts as they described the night of the tornado:
“Mother loved to get out and watch storms,” Chris said.
“I don’t think she realized then it was as bad as it was,” Chad added.
“Both of them were like, ‘if it’s going to get you, it’s going to get you,’” Craig agreed.
The oldest remembers his own phone conversation with his mother that night:
“Momma, it’s right down the road,” Craig said to Linda. He had called her about an hour before his younger brother did, with his own pleas.
“If it gets too bad, we’ll just get under the house,” Linda replied. She was cheerful, Craig remembered, unconcerned.
“We’ll be fine,” she assured her oldest son. “Call me when it’s over.”
But the phones didn’t work when the storm was over. None of the sons could get in touch with either Bill or Linda – not on their cell phones, not at the house.
Craig, Chad and Chris each made separate decisions to drive to Williams, check on their parents and make sure they were OK.
They weren’t. Each of the brothers knew this when they saw Bill and Linda’s yard. There was nothing left of the brick house save for part of the garage.
“It was just gone,” Chris said. “When it looked like somebody had just took a lawnmower and cut -– I knew then we were in trouble.”
When the Lipscombs come together as a family -– for Christmas celebrations or an upcoming church service in honor of Bill and Linda -– they are thankful for each other, acutely aware of what was lost.
Chris still waits for birthday wishes from his parents.
Craig misses the 8 o’clock evening phone conversations he had with them.
Chad forgets Bill and Linda won’t be at church each Sunday, won’t come over to his Jacksonville home for dinner on Sunday nights.
“It was heartbreaking,” Chad said of the tornado, his parents’ sudden deaths. “When I first stepped in Mom and Dad’s yard that night, I just dropped.
“Like that, the center of my soul left me.”
Faith, family, healing
Through faith and family, the sons have begun to heal in the year since the storm.
The Lipscomb family is a large and successful one – and they attribute that to the example set by Bill. When he died, he worked as a custodian, a handyman of sorts at Alexandria Elementary School. When his sons were growing up, he worked at Gulf States Steel. The 32 years Bill spent with that company coupled with the desire to have a job throughout his retirement impressed upon his sons the importance of hard work.
It helped, too, Chris said, that Bill always had him and his brothers out in the Williams yard – weeding, cutting the grass, hauling firewood.
“Work and work ethic –- that was real big to dad,” Craig agreed. “He taught us that if you can work, you won’t have to have worry.”
All three brothers heeded that advice –- all three say they spend long hours at their respective jobs, ensuring they can provide for their children, carry on the legacy of Linda and Bill.
“They were proud of their sons, believe me,” Linda’s sister Elizabeth Self said. “Proud of them for being good husbands, good daddies, good providers for their families.”
They all pray a lot, the brothers said. They spend hours talking about Bill and Linda to each other, their wives, their children. They have new rituals –- a spritz of Mamaw before bedtime, a silent chat with Bill before work.
A picture of the perfect couple, framed and well-dusted, sitting on Chris’ counter.
“You couldn’t ask for better parents,” Chris said.
Star Staff Writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Csteele_star.