Leon, 12, and Chris, 8, have known their grandmother, Claire, their entire lives but are still shy and mostly quiet as they sit on their beds in a shared bedroom.
Since Claire took them in earlier this year, her grandsons' grades have improved and both have had perfect attendance.
Still, it's clear even to a visiting stranger they are dealing with a deep loss.
Hanging on the boys' bedroom walls are a plush clownfish and a T-shirt and poster of the boys' mom, Jill, who died in June.
The brothers grew even more silent at the mere mention of their mother. They struggle to put their heartbreak into words.
"That was her," Leon said as he stared at his mother's face on the T-shirt. "I miss her a lot."
Chris lay on his bed and hugged his pillow while staring at the poster.
Claire said Jill was 29 when she died, but she and her grandsons do not know how she died.
She said Jill fell into a "deep hole" of depression when Claire's son, Albert (the boys' father), was sent to prison a few years ago.
"She had a lot of depression and was looking for love from her parents and never got it," Claire said. "Her parents were separated since she was born, and she told me she was always tossed back and forth from them. The only stable home she had was here with me and my son."
She was already barely surviving financially due to health issues, when the 57-year-old Claire took in her grandsons.
She said Leon and Chris have only recently started to open up to her after living together for five months.
The three like to play games together like Simon Says and Monopoly. Otherwise, the boys are like most others in the 21st century and are glued to their cellphones.
Claire said while other families are happily preparing for the holidays, she's carefully planning on how she'll cover bills for the months to come. She's struggling with trying to give her grandsons the Christmas they deserve. It's tough enough that it'll be their first without their mother.
"My youngest one cries more," Claire said. "It's hard for me to tell what my oldest one is going through because he doesn't express himself. I just want them to know they can talk to me about anything."
Both boys are fans of Marvel superheroes.
Leon said he likes to collect Pokémon cards, play baseball and ride his longboard. His favorite superhero is Iron Man.
His little brother, Chris, said he prefers Captain America. Chris also likes to swim, ride his skateboard and collect plush animals.
The children represent thousands who will be helped by the Caller-Times Children's Christmas Appeal. The names of the families profiled have been changed to protect their privacy.
Since 1973, the Caller-Times has reported the struggle of needy children and their families during the holiday season. All the money donated to the Christmas Appeal campaign benefits the children; all overhead costs are borne by the Caller-Times, United Way of the Coastal Bend and participating agencies. This year, the Nueces County Record Star and the Alice Echo-News Journal joined the campaign.
Participating agencies include Boys & Girls Club of Alice, Duval County Christmas Committee, the Kleberg County Welfare Department, Nueces County Department of Social Services, the Odyssey After School Enrichment Program in Rockport, Sinton for Youth Inc., and the Purple Door.
HOW TO DONATE
Here’s three ways to help:
*Fill out the donation form on Page 2A. Make your check or money order payable to Children’s Christmas Appeal and mail to: United Way of Coastal Bend, 4659 Everhart Road, Corpus Christi, TX, 78411 (designate funds to Children's Christmas Appeal)
*Donate online at www.uwcb.org. Look for the Christmas Appeal logo.
*Text ChristmasAppeal (no spaces) to 41444 to make a donation.
This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Christmas Appeal: Brothers move in with grandma after losing their mom