Wiedmer: Houts, Xoinis have special joys for Mother's Day


Joni Houts' three children came home for Mother's Day a week early. An F4 tornado having ripped through the family's Trenton, Ga., neigborhood on April 27, Ashley and Andrew reached their Glenview Drive residence the following day. Emily arrived from Texas 24 hours later.

"They started cutting up trees and clearing debris the minute they got out of the car," their mom said. "Then they went to neighbors' houses to help everybody else, because that's what we do around here."

Ashley, of course, plays professional basketball for the WNBA's Washington Mystics. The former University of Georgia point guard also proved she can drag tree limbs, waterlogged insulation and roof shingles to the curb.

Andrew just finished his freshman year at Columbus State, and Emily lives in Fort Worth.

"Because of basketball tournaments, travel and things, I can't remember the last time I had all three of them home for Mother's Day," Joni said. "It's probably been at least 10 or 12 years.

"But having them all home last weekend, just sitting around playing Yahtzee by candlelight because we didn't have any power, well, it was just wonderful."

There has been a lot of wonderful pour into our area the past week and a half in hopes of easing the immeasurable pain of indescribable loss.

One minute Joni Houts was emotionally recalling the morning after the twisters roared through - the morning her husband had to clear a path through fallen tree limbs and downed power lines just to exit their damaged home.

"We woke up," she said, "to helicopters overhead and people walking around like they didn't know what to do."

The next minute she was smiling as she recalled Ashley's friend, Erica Williamson, a former University of Notre Dame player.

"She'd broken her foot. She had a cast on," Joni said of Williamson, "but she was here all weekend doing anything she could to help. The support has just been amazing. [Georgia] Coach [Andy] Landers has called to check on us every day since the tornadoes hit. Ashley's agent, [Chattanooga-based] Mike Cound, has called every day, too, just trying to find anything he can do to help these communities."

Not everyone can focus every day on the tragic events in Trenton, and Ringgold, and Apison, and Bradley County, and Alabama, and Mississippi. On this weekend above all others, sometimes it's nice to focus on mothers only.

Which is why the Hixson Youth Athletic Association's baseball league set aside Saturday to honor mothers by letting them coach their sons.

And so it was that Paula Xoinis found herself calling the shots for the 10-under Yankees in the bottom of the fourth and final inning of a 9-9 game against the Athletics, which had led the Yanks 8-3 an inning earlier.

Down to her last out, she called for a steal of home. It worked. The Yanks won, her 9-year-old son Jonathan arguably the happiest kid on the team.

"It was stressful," said Paula, whose husband Dino has coached in the league for 20 years. "I didn't want to be the one to cause the last out. But it was also so much fun."

Like any mother of four who has probably spent too many weekend afternoons at the ballpark, Paula wasn't quite willing to call it a day on Mother's Day weekend simply because she won the big game.

"Oh, I have a feeling that as soon as we leave the ballfield we're going shopping," Dino said.

"Nothing's going to top this, though," Paula said with a grin. "The only tough part was when I had to change pitchers. It was tough to look into that little boy's eyes. It almost made me cry."

This is when the game's grizzled old veterans will no doubt cue up the Tom Hanks speech from "A League of Their Own," the one where he blurts out, "There's no crying in baseball!"

But crying is a requirement for motherhood, and we're all the better for it. Especially as it pertains to the past 11 days.

"We always go to my mother-in-law's in Rising Fawn on Sundays," Joni Houts said. "Last week all the kids were there. Nanny Houts made chicken pot pie, which is Ashley's favorite. I think it was a reflection of family more than anything. It was time we haven't had together in a long time. Just a blessing."

But today her kids are scattered again, secure in the knowledge that Mom and Dad are safe and sound and still able to live in their home.

"I think this Mother's Day is going to be a quiet, peaceful, restful day," she said.

Eleven days after the worst day our little corner of the world may have ever experienced, stealing some quiet time at home may never have sounded better.