After school, the girls raced each other to the senior center. As usual, Melissa beat them, her longer legs giving her the advantage. Mrs. Snow showed the Happy Helpers the copy room where the shredder was located. She demonstrated how to use the shredder and stressed the importance of following the safety rules. Then she indicated several boxes that were stacked nearby.
“I don’t expect you to do all of this today,” Mrs. Snow said. “Just do what you can. When the shredder canister is full, the shredder will automatically shut off. Unplug the shredder, take out the full bag, and replace it with a new bag. Plug the shredder back in, and you’ll be ready to go again. You can stack the full bags over there.”
The girls took turns operating the shredder. One of them stacked the papers near the shredder. Another person would hand the papers a few at a time to the person feeding them into the shredder. When the container was full, they would open the door under the shredder and take out the full bag as Mrs. Snow had instructed.
“What if we were shredding money?” Melissa giggled. “Would you keep some?”
“Of course not,” Laura said, pretending to be shocked. “My dad’s a banker. Can you imagine if I was arrested for stealing from the Federal Reserve?”
“Well, it’s not money,” Amber said. “So I don’t think we have to worry about getting caught stealing money.”
“What if there are some secret documents?” Melissa continued. “Maybe we could be spies.”
“Well, we’re not,” Laura insisted. “Anyway, this just looks like a bunch of old invoices. They don’t even have names on them.”
“I’m only trying to make it more fun,” Melissa defended herself.
“Virtue is its own reward,” Laura said.
“What does that mean?” Amber asked.
“I’m not sure,” Laura told her. “I heard it in church. I think it means that doing what’s right makes you feel good, and that’s all the payment you need.”
Hank stuck his head in the door. “Mind if I videotape a little? I’m making a documentary about the senior center.”
“That’s fine with us,” the girls all said. Melissa fluffed out her hair and posed, but Amber and Laura just kept on shredding.
When the Happy Helpers had nearly finished with all the papers in one of the boxes and had two bags full of shredded paper, they decided to take a break and get some sodas from the machine.
They were only gone for about ten minutes, but when they returned, they found the shredded paper all over the copy room.
“What happened here?” Amber shrieked in shock.
“I don’t know!” Laura threw up her hands.
“It wasn’t like that when we left,” Melissa added. “It looks like the bags exploded all over the place!”
The girls went to work collecting up all the shredded paper and putting it back in the bags that were lying empty on the floor. It took them about a half hour to clean up the mess, which didn’t leave them any time to do more shredding.
“Mrs. Snow is going to think we messed around and didn’t get much done,” Amber said with worry in her voice.
“Do you think we should tell her?” Laura asked.
“I wouldn’t suggest that,” Melissa said. “She might think we did it ourselves. We’d better try to figure out who is doing this. Maybe we can catch them in the act.”
As the girls were passing the recreation room, they saw the Three Handy Guys. They were all doubled over in laughter.
“You’re the ones!” Amber said accusingly.
“We’re the ones what?” Logan asked innocently.
“You made the mess in the copy room while we were getting drinks.” Melissa pointed her finger at them. “That’s why you’re laughing.”
“We’re laughing because Gus told us a funny joke,” Chris said.
“Yeah, right,” Amber said with disgust.
“He did,” Logan assured them. “Want to hear it?”
“We’re not in a funny mood,” Laura fumed. “I don’t know why you’re trying to make us look bad, but leave us alone!”
With that, the girls stormed out of the recreation room.
“You probably didn’t know how to use the shredder and blew it up!” Spike yelled after them.
Wednesday, the Happy Helpers rode their bikes to Doris Duncan’s right after school. Doris was obviously feeling better, though she was still using her cane. They followed the same routine as the previous Wednesday, carrying the plants one by one to the sink and returning them to their places once they were watered. When they were finished, the girls reminded Doris that she had promised to help them take some cuttings.
“I have some jars here,” Doris said. “After you take cuttings from the plants you like, we’ll put them in some water in these jars. Then they’ll have to stay here for a few weeks until they have roots. After that we’ll plant them in some little pots that I have.”
“I was hoping I could take my plant home today,” Melissa said, disappointed.
“We could cut some babies off of this spider plant.” Doris pointed to a plant with long, skinny light-green leaves. There were thin shoots coming out of the plant, and at the end of the shoots were tiny plants that looked just like the big one.
“The plant had babies?” Amber said with surprise.
“That’s just what we call them,” Doris explained. “The mother plant grows stalks, and tiny new plants grow at the end of the stalks. That’s where the flowers grow.”
“Can we have a baby plant?” Laura asked.
“We can cut some babies off the stalks and put them in pots of soil,” Doris continued. “If you promise to keep the soil moist when you take them home, you’ll have a good chance of growing a spider plant of your own.”
Doris helped the girls choose their babies. She had them put three little plants in each pot, just in case one might not survive. Then she showed them how to mist the soil.
After that, Doris took cuttings from some of the other plants and showed the girls how to put them in the jars of water. Then they placed them on a shelf under a window in her laundry room.
“It will take a few weeks for them to root,” Doris explained. “Then you can plant them in pots as well.”
Doris invited the girls to sit down at the kitchen table. She brought out a tray with cut-up pieces of fruit and different kinds of cheeses. While they were enjoying their snack, they chatted about the Easter luncheon.
“What’s the deal with Gus?” Melissa asked.
“What do you mean?” Doris looked confused.
“Gus is always at the senior center when we go there,” Laura explained. “Doesn’t he have a family or other things to do?”
“That’s kind of a sad story,” Doris began. “Gus and his wife, Barbara, were one of the first couples to move to Bluesky. They moved here from Ohio, I think. Gus and Babs, as everyone called her, were very outgoing and made friends with everyone in town. Their only son had been killed in Vietnam, so it was just the two of them. They were really the ones who got the senior center started. Gus went to all the businesses and organizations in Bluesky and even some in Marshallville to talk about donating money for the senior center. Babs kind of worked behind the scenes, making phone calls and keeping records. It took three years, but finally, the senior center was a reality.”
“What happened to Babs?” Amber asked.
“She died of cancer two years ago,” Doris continued. “Gus was really lost without her. I guess the senior center is what keeps him going. That’s why he’s there so much.”
“He’s a great guy,” Melissa said. “He always makes us laugh.”
“Since he doesn’t have a family of his own,” Amber said. “Maybe we can be his family.”
“I’m sure he thinks of you that way,” Doris said. “Everyone he meets becomes his family.”
The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon