Friends, neighbors help salvage family’s Christmas

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Madison Johnston, 12, left, sits with her father Wayne Johnston, right, in the home of Wayne Johnston’s parents Paul and Virginia Johnston at 202 Bellaire Drive where the two will be spending the holidays after fire consumed their home Friday morning at 93 Warrior’s Trail. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[12/20/01]Wayne Johnston fought fire with kitchenware Friday morning, trying to douse a four-alarm blaze with water from a cooking pot.

All he has to show for his effort is a bandaged right hand. The fire destroyed his 93 Warriors Trail mobile home, furniture and clothes, except for the Mississippi State warmups he wore as he escaped.

But he’s still fighting hard to save one thing: his dream of a normal, happy Christmas with his 12-year-old daughter, Madison, who ran out of the house with her father on Friday morning.

As when he was battling the fire, though, Johnston faces an uphill climb to have an enjoyable holiday season.

“I’ve lost everything I’ve had for the last 20 years in the last five or six hours,” Johnston, 41, said Friday at noon. “I’m devastated.”

Johnston’s voice cracked as he discussed the pieces of his life destroyed along with the home where he had lived for 10 years.

He doesn’t have time to worry about repairing life at Christmas, he says. He works two jobs he’s a manager at SuperValu Fresh Foods and a merchandiser for Keebler.

The Red Cross gave him money, but he can only spend it on the barest essentials, such as clothes.

Madison’s spirits are low, too. This is her first Christmas with her father since he gained custody of her earlier this year.

She’ll never sleep in her old, familiar bed again, and she worries she won’t be able to finish “The Runaway Jury,” the John Grisham novel she had to leave behind in the fire.

Also, her trombone is now a “brass blob.”

“I was in the band at school,” she said. “I guess I’m not anymore.”

Both Johnstons are living in the Bellaire Drive home of his parents, Paul and Virginia, for the next three to four weeks.

They’re wearing clothes borrowed from others or bought

hastily on Friday morning. From their old neighborhood to SuperValu, their friends say they need help.

“I hope what happened to them never happens to anyone else,” said Dane Dixon, whose stepfather, J.D. Hoben, rented the mobile home to the Johnstons. “Mr. Johnston is a hard-working man. Every time you see him he’s tired from working so hard.”

Hoben gave his tenant two pairs of surprisingly well-fitting blue jeans after the blaze, which Warren County Volunteer Fire Chief Kelly Worthy has ruled accidental. Hoben’s wife gave Madison a jacket.

“He’s been like a father to me,” Johnston said. “He’s as good of a landlord as there is.”

More surprising to Johnston has been the outpouring of support from SuperValu, where he says he is known as “the tough boss.”

“It’s just overwhelming to me that I have so many friends that I didn’t even know I had,” Johnston said.

“He’s always worried about other people,” said Smokey Burgess, the SuperValu manager who has worked with Johnston in the grocery store business in Vicksburg since 1982. “Now it’s time for us to help him.”

Burgess and other SuperValu employees have rallied around their co-worker and his daughter with food, clothes and money.

“He’s one of our own,” Burgess said. “We’re going to do our part to take care of him.”

And he hopes more Vicksburg residents will join the effort.

“This is Christmas time, and we’re supposed to be worried about other people,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do to give this man and his 12-year-old daughter a good Christmas.”