KENLY, N.C. — The day before Christmas, you won't find one wrapped present in the Hook household in Kenly.
It's the kids' tradition to tear off the paper and reveal all toys. That's when Christmas for the Hooks shifts into high gear.
The family is, mother Tina Hooks said, “trying to keep it as much like we usually do.” Keep the traditions is important because this year, they're not home for the holidays.
A tornado that blew through Kenly in November took away that option. After 10 days in a motel, the Hooks are now in a house. The American Red Cross has paid the first month’s rent.
The family, Tina Hooks said, has “a whole lot more room. I can cook.” Finally, she said, they “don't have to eat out all the time.”
What’s more, there's room for Christmas – the tree, the stockings and even a red bow on the mailbox.
The hooks’ Christmas decorations survived the tornado because they weren't in the family's mobile home. They were stored in a nearby house, which barely saw any damage. The family had begun building it years ago for Alan Hooks’ father, who has since passed away.
Now volunteers are fixing it up to be the Hooks' future home.
Down the road there is a sadder story. Crews have cleared what had been the Gomez home. Marilyn Gomez never made it out the night of the tornado.
“God bless, maybe she's having Christmas over there now, better than us, you know?” said her husband, Argiro Gomez. Tomorrow will be his first Christmas without his wife in 22 years.
He'll spend it with his daughter from New York, and he's staying in a neighbor's home, which he calls a blessing.
“It's not gonna be the same for a while, but with time, you know this thing will heal,” Gomez said.
Time helps, as does money for those who can get that.
The Hooks were turned down for a federal loan, but they did get some state disaster assistance.
“We did scale back,” Tina Hooks said. The kids still got presents, just not as many.
“We just did the best we could for 'em. They know,” Alan Hooks said.
The parents said they got their Christmas wish, too.
“Oh yes! All five of us right here together,” Tina Hooks said.