Two weeks before Christmas, the grim text message Del Summers saw on his cellphone was hard to take in: “We informed corporate you were terminated.”
The father of three young boys was fired Friday.
That news came just days after the first awful surprise of the week.
On Monday, he went to his job as a diesel mechanic, opened the truck repair shop and discovered his $11,000 set of wrenches, air hammers and other tools was completely gone.
The other workers’ things seemed intact. But all of the drawers of his 4-foot-tall box was empty. Everything was there the day before, on Sunday, when he went to work for a few hours.
“That pretty much tore my family’s Christmas,” Summers said.
Learning by text that he lost his job was the coup de grace. “Now they took what little bit I had left and finished it off,” he said. “It’s just a sad world.”
Summers and his wife, Lora Davis, had been making the best of things. Their cozy East Side house was decorated with colored lights hanging from the front window and at the archway to the dining room, a Christmas tree was merrily festooned in candy canes and garlands.
“We try not to show the children the drama that we’re going through,” Summers said.
As he talked by the kitchen doorway, his boys surrounded him.
The littlest, Liam, not quite a year, was eating cheese puffs from his highchair. The oldest, 9-year-old Dominick, was quietly playing a video game on the TV.
His middle son, Collin, 5, sat at the table practicing his letters, drawing pictures of presents and paging through a Walmart catalog in which he had circled toys on every page – a Ninja Turtle couch and play set, a remote-control airplane and the scarce and popular “Pie Face” game that surprises players with a slap of whipped cream in the face.
Davis gave Collin a serious look and warned that he wouldn’t get everything. “Santa Claus has a whole lot of people,” she said. Her boys enjoy simple things, too, she said, like new socks.
“Whatever they get, they’re happy with,” said Davis, a stocker at Walmart. She works the early shift so she can be home after school. “I don’t want a day care to raise my children,” she said.
For the last few years of hard times, the couple signed up with St. Lawrence Church on East Delavan Avenue for help with toys.
The connection is a boost that developed when Davis started taking her kids to see the nurse practitioner at the church’s children’s clinic.
“Anytime that I have a difficult time with anything, all’s I have to do is call them and if they can help,” said Davis, “they will.”
That was especially true three years ago after their son Eian died a day after he was born in early December. Someone from the church called before Christmas to say their family was chosen for a special present because they were working so hard to better themselves.
They could pick out something big and the church would buy it.
“We were shocked,” said Summers. “It’s the first time we’ve actually had anybody stick their hand out and help us out. It was uplifting after the tragedy we just suffered.”
They chose a couch. Now the fat beige cushions are a nice spot for the boys to stretch out and play as Collin did before settling down to draw.
This year things had seemed to be getting a bit better because Summers was wooed away from his old job with the promise of higher pay at the company where his tools were stolen last week.
“They pretty much threw the kitchen sink at me to leave where I was,” he said.
At first, he hoped his employer would put in an insurance claim. He has $200 monthly payments and still owes $4,000 on the tools. That, combined with child support for a son and daughter from a previous relationship and other bills, means there is little spare cash.
“We kind of live on a tight budget,” he said.
Even so, with lights and decorations all around, they are looking forward to Christmas.
Usually the day includes family time watching holiday movies and cartoons like “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Summers’ favorite.
“Now when it comes on, I still get excited. Even at 36. No matter what, they try to make the best of it. That’s how we try,” he said.
The kids are the best part. “I just enjoy their reactions and faces on Christmas morning,” said Summers. “I just pray we can give them the Christmas they deserve.”