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Family surprises Natchez mother with new house

Anita Smith, center, wipes tears from her eyes after her children surprised her by giving her The Watts-Whitmore House on Martin Luther King Street while friends and family gather for a welcome party. Anita was a single mother to her four children, Joseph Smith, Alexis Smith McLaurin, Greg Gibbs, and Azalia Smith, along with serving in the army and attending night school and this was their way of giving back to her. Anita had no idea of the surprise and thought she was attending a party of her son Joseph Smith’s friend. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Anita Smith, center, wipes tears from her eyes after her children surprised her by giving her The Watts-Whitmore House on Martin Luther King Street while friends and family gather for a welcome party. Anita was a single mother to her four children, Joseph Smith, Alexis Smith McLaurin, Greg Gibbs, and Azalia Smith, along with serving in the army and attending night school and this was their way of giving back to her. Anita had no idea of the surprise and thought she was attending a party of her son Joseph Smith’s friend. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — She never said no.

From school choir practices to cheerleading tryouts, Anita Smith gave nothing less than 100 percent to her four children.

Serving in the U.S. Army and taking night classes — not to mention having a day job — never sidetracked the single parent from her top priority, her children.

“I wanted them to have a better life,” Smith said simply. “That’s what all parents want — for their children to have a better life than they did.”

As a way to show their gratitude, Smith’s four children — Joseph Smith, Alexis Smith McLaurin, Greg Gibbs and Azalia Smith — surprised her Tuesday with 2,628 square feet worth of appreciation.

They gave her a house.

“My mom loves history, so giving her the opportunity to restore a historic house, I think that’s really important,” said Joseph, who now serves as a minister in Washington D.C. “Growing up, our houses were small, but crammed with so much love.”

For the last two weeks, Joseph said he and his three siblings have been preparing the Martin Luther King Street home for the big reveal. From replacing carpet to scrubbing walls, he said he wanted the home to reflect the love his mother gives selflessly.

The best part of the gift, Joseph said, was that his mother had no idea it was coming.

While walking up to the home Tuesday, which was packed with some 50 family members and friends, Anita said she was flabbergasted by the immense gesture.

“This means the world to me,” she said. “Just to know that my kids think enough of me to want to give me a gift at this magnitude. It’s wonderful.”

Before she stepped foot in the house, family and friends gathered for a blessing in front of the home.

“Today, mama, this is your house,” Joseph said to his mother. “You made sacrifices for us so we could do everything we wanted to do. You never said no, never one time. I just want you to know how much we love you.”

Azalia said her mother always expected nothing less than the best from her children.

“She instilled a love of learning in us,” said Azalia, who is now pursuing a Ph.D. in environmental toxicology at Southern University and A&M College. “She wanted us to have something we could keep — our education.”

Augustus Seiferth, Anita’s 89-year-old mother, said she was overjoyed when she found out about her grandchildren’s plan to honor Anita.

“She can be bossy, but it’s all out of love,” Seiferth said with a laugh. “What they did, this is absolutely wonderful.”

Currently working as the city’s code enforcement officer, Anita, 60, said she has no plans of slowing down.

“After my kids were gone, I look back and think how in the world did I manage to do everything?” she said. “They were in choir, band, cheerleading, scholars clubs, ensembles, marching band — everything. And then I had a full time job, and I was taking night classes for computer science.”

Looking back, she said the sleepless nights were worth it, because she saw her dreams come true through her children.

“At some point, I guess they grew wings,” Anita Smith said. “And now they’re flying.”