Sundays at Debbie Rion and Mark King’s home were tradition, routine, comfort.
Mark cooked the meat – often in a smoker – and Debbie handled the sides. Mac ’n’ cheese was a staple. To-go boxes were stacked on kitchen counters because all the kids and grandkids were essentially required to leave the Loris home with food.
“Momma always texted us, ‘Hey, y’all coming for Sunday dinner?” their son, Justin King, said.
Text messages usually had a few more words and didn’t end there between Debbie, Mark, Justin and Nichole Black, King’s sister.
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“‘Love you more.’ ‘Love you most.’ Every text message, ‘Love you more,’” Black said.
Sunday dinners and text messages of love are now only memories. Mark and Debbie died Friday during Hurricane Florence from carbon-monoxide poisoning from a generator at their home.
King and Black were on vacation in Orlando at the time of the hurricane and spoke to their parents during the storm when the power went out in Loris. “The Lord’s got me,” Mark told his kids.
When the siblings didn’t hear from their parents by the next day, they knew something was wrong.
‘The biggest heart’
Debbie and Mark never left the Loris area and loved the community. She taught kindergartners at Daisy Elementary for 30 years. He sold cars at the Bell and Bell dealership.
“Everywhere she went, she knew somebody,” Black said of Debbie.
People frequently told Black her mom was the best teacher. She believed in getting on the floor with kids and not lecturing. She also had a box of clothes so she could dress up as different characters.
Mark had his own way of welcoming people and could “sell an empty box,” his daughter said in between tears and laughter remembering her parents.
“He didn’t have that filter,” Black said, “but he had the biggest heart and would give you the shirt off his back, literally.”
King described Debbie’s and Mark’s relationship like “The Notebook.” They met as teens, fell in love, had two kids, fell out of love, and then decades later, got back together.
“They were great parents, and even better grandparents,” he said.
Debbie, 61, and Mark, 63, spoiled their four grandkids and hoped for more. Black remembered after she moved into her house with a pond that there was Grandpap with four poles ready to take the grandkids fishing.
“He loved family, and my mom was the same way,” King said, spinning a silver pewter cross in his hands.
King said the cross brought comfort, and he found dozens in drawers at his parents’ home.
Next weekend was supposed to be joyous, with the family reading for King’s wedding. Debbie constantly bugged him with questions, like whether she should learn a dance by watching a YouTube video. She already had her dress and accessories for the nuptials.
King still plans to hold the wedding, though now it will include tributes to his parents.
“I think Momma would be upset if I didn’t go forward with it,” he said.
The news about their parents “was devastating,” the kids said. It’s also been difficult hearing people in town comment about what happened to their parents.
One of the great things Debbie and Mark did was serve as a sounding board, people for King and Black to call in tough times. Days after their death, King said he was on the back porch, asking for guidance from his parents that the two were doing OK.
“I just wanted a sign,” he said. “We’re not supposed to be burying our parents.”