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Since Jerry and Wilma Davis were married 24 years ago, they have lived one tragedy after another.
Injuries, illness, layoffs and losses have plagued the couple, and the latest setback occurred this spring.
On March 28, the day of their anniversary, the Davises, their three daughters and 4-year-old son watched as their memories and everything they worked for went up in smoke.
Jerry and Wilma headed to Mount Airy, N.C. to celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary at Chili’s restaurant that day. But their celebration was cut short when they received a frantic phone call from their 21-year-old daughter Chrystal, screaming that the house was on fire.
“Get out of the house and call 911,” they told their daughter.
“When she said the house was on fire, it was like a ton of bricks falling on us,” said Jerry, of the long 30-minute drive back to their house.
When they arrived, smoke rose out of the house, and the fire had mostly been contained by the Galax Volunteer Fire Department.
They found their daughter safe, sitting in an ambulance. Chrystal, who was treated and released at Twin County Regional Hospital, received first-degree burns to her arm when she tried to save the family’s two dogs, Rusty and Rocky.
The miniature dachshund, Rocky — which belonged to the boyfriend of 18-year-old daughter, Chelsea — didn’t make it.
“We were just in shock,” Jerry said, describing how he felt when he first arrived. “You think it can never happen to you… We're fortunate, considering, and we were just happy to see that our daughter was safe. We couldn’t even imagine the trauma that she had to endure.”
The Davises thought they were prepared. They had smoke detectors, but the batteries were dead. They had a fire extinguisher, but it didn’t work.
Jerry said the fire was a result of a short circuit in the wiring mixed with grease on the stove. As Chrystal was boiling water on the stove, she walked out of the kitchen to a nearby room, talking on the phone. Just a few minutes later, she heard a loud popping noise.
As she went back into the kitchen, flames rose from the stove. Chrystal tried to put it out, but the fire extinguisher didn’t work.
The fire was contained to the kitchen, but most of the house suffered extensive heat and smoke damage. Since the fire, the Davises and some friends and family have been working to restore it, while they temporarily reside in a trailer park owned by Jerry’s sister.
After the fire, the value of the three-bedroom home dropped from $58,000 to $30,000.
The Davises didn’t have any fire insurance coverage, even though Wilma had considered getting some just months before. After Wilma heard about a Fries family that died in a fire in 2009, she called to get a quote on the coverage.
“At the time, we were just making it from payday to payday, and was just wondering where the money was going to come from,” said Wilma, explaining why the family didn’t get the insurance.
The Jerry Glenn Davis Rebuilding Fund is set up at Grayson National Bank, where people can make donations. Friends of the Davises, some members of Mount Pisgah Church of Christ, will host an auction/barbecue dinner benefit on July 31 at the Galax Moose Lodge to help the Davises restore their house.
“It has been traumatic to all of us,” said Jerry. “But we’ve had a lot of help, and it’s great to know that you have people in the community that you can count on when things aren’t going well. If we didn’t have a support system, we don’t know what we would do.”
“We greatly appreciate everything,” said Wilma. “It’s wonderful to live in a community where people pull together and help one another.”
The Davises have lived in the home for almost 21 years, since their oldest daughter Kimberly was just two years old.
When she was about four, Kimberly drew on her bedroom wall an “A” with a marker just because it was the first letter she learned to write.
“We never painted over it just because it was special to us,” said Jerry. “It’s things like that we won’t get back.”
It’s not just the memories that are gone.
“We don’t feel like life will ever be the same,” said Jerry. “The feeling of security is gone. I feel like I wasn’t able to protect my family.”
Working on replacing the wiring, painting and replacing charcoaled walls and doing what they can to remodel the rest of the house, the Davises hope to be back in as soon as possible.
However, even painting becomes an issue for Jerry. He was told by doctors to not do any kind of painting, but Jerry ignored the warning and ended up on antibiotics for several days.
Since Jerry and Wilma first came together, they have been trying to find blessings throughout the insanity.
The first tragedy came when they were dating. In 1984, Jerry's hand was cut off in an accident on the job at a furniture factory. His hand was reattached, but it has been a struggle to gain employment due to the disability.
“It has been hard to grip with my hand, and it's especially been hard for others to understand that I can still do things, though,” said Jerry.
After they were married, Wilma lost her 23-year-old sister in an accident, “which has still been hard to accept,” she said.
In 1997, their daughter got sick. She became so weak that she had to be carried everywhere. Doctors could not determine what was wrong with her, and the Davises feared that they were going to lose her.
But months later, their daughter's health improved.
Six years ago, Jerry, who worked at Vaughan Furniture Co., lost his job when the E.C. Dodson plant in Galax had its first round of layoffs.
In 2007, while working at a furniture company, he developed a hernia and had to undergo surgery, but didn't have health insurance. The factory did not hold his job for him.
Over the years, Jerry has endured the pain of being laid off at several companies, mainly due to the economy.
Jerry lost his job at Galax Energy Concepts, where he had worked since January 2008, when the company shut down in October 2009.
Jerry has been doing what he can with unemployment benefits.
At the time of the fire, Wilma was getting a few hours on the job with the U.S. Postal Service. Fortunately, her job has now gone to full-time.
They are now able to obtain health insurance, which they haven't had for years.
Wilma said God, friends and family have given them strength to make it day by day.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said Wilma. “We don’t always understand the reason, but we will know in time, and if we don’t, it doesn’t matter. If we fall down, we get back up and try to learn from the experience.”
HOW TO HELP
The Jerry Glenn Davis Rebuilding Fund is set up at Grayson National Bank, where people can make donations. Friends of the Davises, some members of Mount Pisgah Church of Christ, will host an auction/barbecue dinner benefit on July 31, starting at 4 p.m., at the Galax Moose Lodge to help the Davises restore their house. Cost is $6 for adults and $3 for children.