I was fortunate as a child to be able to spend lots of time with my grandparents. My grandfather was in a wheelchair as far back as I remember, due to hardening of the arteries. I remember sitting on his lap and how he smelled of juicy fruit gum and Day’s Work tobacco. He was a proud World War I veteran who insisted we attend the Veteran’s Day parade every year. My grandmother was a sturdy, hardworking woman who kept her family going during the Great Depression. My grandfather worked for the WPA, a program that was part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. My grandmother worked at any job she could find along with caring for her five children, washing their only clothes every night so they would be clean for the next day. Knowing who my grandparents were has helped me know who I am.
In our world today, there are still many strong extended families, but there are also families that are spread out across our country. In those families, children may only know their grandparents as some people who visit occasionally. Making that connection between the younger generation and the older generation was the main impetus behind the Handy Helper series.
In my books, the children and seniors come to respect each other and discover that they have a lot of common ground. For example when Doris hurts her back, Amber and her friends want to help. At first Doris turns them down. Amber asks another senior, Betty, why Doris won’t let them help her. Betty tells Amber, “You have to understand something about seniors. We need to be independent. Sometimes people treat us like we can’t do anything. Sometimes they make us feel like we are just in the way. Doing things for ourselves is really important.” Amber responds, “I do understand. It’s the same way for kids. Sometimes adults treat us like we’re helpless. We may make mistakes, but it’s because we’re still learning. We like to be independent too and show everyone what we can do.” Perhaps the two groups do share a common (for lack of a better word) enemy—the generation in between. When Amber wants help with her career report she doesn’t ask her family who tend to take over. Instead she asks Betty who shares a common interest—art.
Sharing between the two generations should be a two-way street. For example, when I finally broke down and got an iphone, I arranged for my granddaughters to spend the night. Together, they walked me through the ins and outs of my phone. It was a great experience and one we will always cherish. It was certainly more fun than a tutorial. My granddaughters showed me how to use Facetime and added emoticons so my texts wouldn’t be boring.
Many people are looking forward to retirement, but I would guess that few of them are wanting to grow old. Unfortunately, the two experiences are hardly ever mutually exclusive. Our society seems ready to put the older generation out to pasture, but there is still so much they can contribute. The seniors in my books are not sitting around complaining about aches and pains. They are out experiencing life to its fullest. They dress up in silly costumes and have all kinds of events, always including the Handy Helpers in whatever they have going on. While the Handy Helpers do help some seniors who are in need, more often they are helping the seniors who are helping the community.
It is my hope that in writing these books, I can inspire young people not only to help the seniors in their community, but to spend time with them. If they do, everyone benefits.