Easter Sunday started like many Sundays for Judy Wade. The 69-year-old grandmother, who lives just outside Laurel, Mississippi, baked a pound cake and, once it had cooled, set it beneath the dome of a glass cake stand on her kitchen counter. She watched a livestream church service on her phone with her husband, Robert. And when her son Jerel, who lives just a few miles away, texted her about a twister headed their way, she turned on the weather.
“I was watching the radars and based off what we could see, it was headed straight toward them,” Jerel says. In the house where they’ve lived for forty-five years, where they raised their four children, Judy and Robert ducked into the small bathroom off the living room. Within two minutes, the tornado arrived. Winds ripped part of the house off its foundation and sent it spinning toward the road; tree limbs crashed in the front yard and through windows; most of the roof went flying, except for the living room and bathroom where Judy and Robert huddled together.
“My parents are fairly low-key,” Jerel says. “When I checked on them again, as soon as the storm had passed, my dad said, We’re okay, but it looks like the roof is off in the kitchen. So I headed over there, thinking I’d need to help them put a tarp over a hole.”
Jerel and his son jumped in the truck, but they couldn’t get past all the downed trees. Reports would later confirm thirteen tornadoes struck Mississippi and Louisiana on Sunday, and Laurel was hard-hit. They walked half a mile to grandma’s house, where, Jerel says, “we realized, there is no more house. The walls were off, just ripped clean off. But my parents didn’t have a scratch, they didn’t have nothing happen to them other than shaken nerves and shock.”
Jerel scanned the debris. Pressure had sucked the refrigerator straight out of the kitchen. “But on the island, on that same nice glass type dish she has, the pound cake sat. Mom pointed it out to me.” The cake hadn’t moved a bit.
“This was what was kind of comforting to me,” Jerel says, “within minutes, their entire house was destroyed. Forty-five years of memories in that house. But in mom’s frame of mind, our lives were spared, and the cake was spared, and that’s all that matters.”
When Jerel shared pictures of the destruction and the preserved pound cake on Facebook, folks saw it as a beacon of hope. “Are you sure it wasn’t an angel food cake?” one commenter asked. “God’s cake did not move,” said another. And one more: “God knew Mama would be mad.”
Neighbors near Laurel have spent the past few days clearing trees and working to find housing for each other and family (Judy and Robert are staying at their daughter’s home nearby). Jerel says that local churches have stepped in to organize volunteers and direct donations and supplies.
As for the pound cake, Judy is guarding her recipe for now, and Jerel has three theories why. Number one: It’s a very basic recipe but might have just a couple drops of artificial flavoring. But who knows? Number two: She might want to save the recipe for a possible fundraiser or cookbook that could help the community. Number three: “As the photo has gone around, and she’s getting all this buzz, keeping her recipe is Mom’s way of staying sane,” he says. “When she’s lost almost everything else, she knows she has something special, something just for her right now.”