Tag Archives: kids helping seniors

No good deed goes unpunished.

broken-eggs

When the girls rang the doorbell, they heard Mrs. Henry shout, “Go Away.”

“Mrs. Henry,” Amber yelled through the door. “It’s Laura and Amber. We came to see if you need any help.”

“Come on in,” She yelled back. As the girls opened the door, they heard her say, “Might as well. You already woke me up.” The wrinkled condition of Mrs. Henry’s house dress told Amber and Laura that she really had been sleeping.  Her thin white hair was piled up on her head so that it looked like a giant spider had woven its web there.

“How are you feeling?” Laura asked, trying not to react to her appearance.

“I have a broken hip. How do you think I feel?”

“We were very sorry to hear about your accident.” Amber hoped she sounded sincere. “How did it happen?”

“It’s a long story,” Mrs. Henry sighed. Amber and Laura were sure it would be.

“I was late for my Bridge game and I had my arms full of old clothes I was taking to the thrift store. The gravel in my driveway was loose. I wish I had a cement driveway, but Mr. Henry said we couldn’t afford cement so we had to have gravel. Anyway, the gravel was loose and my feet started slipping. I tried to grab a hold of my car door, but I kept slipping. The next thing I knew, I was down on the gravel. I probably would have lain there until I died, but Doris Duncan came by to check on me when I didn’t show up at the Bridge game. At least I have one person who cares a little about what happens to me. She called for an ambulance and they took me to the hospital. The doctor ordered an x-ray and said I have a broken hip. The next day, I had surgery. They put me in rehab for three weeks, and now I’m supposed to take care of myself. I can get around some in my wheelchair, but no one cares if I starve to death.”

“We care, “Laura assured her. “What can we do for you?”

“You can go to the store and buy me some things that I can cook myself from the wheelchair.”

“We’d be happy to do that,” Amber managed a smile. “Do you have a list?”

“I just need eggs, bread, milk and coffee. Can’t you remember that without a list?”

            “Of course we can,” Laura smiled. “We’ll go to the store right now and be back before you know it.”

            “Sure you will,” Mrs. Henry sounded doubtful. “Here’s some money. Don’t lose it.”

            Laura and Amber jumped on their bikes and raced down the street toward the market. Laura had tucked Mrs. Henry’s money safely in her pocket. After they located all of the items in the store, they went to the checkout counter where Margaret, the clerk, rang up their purchases.

Amber put the milk and bread in the basket of her bike. Laura took the eggs and coffee. They rode back as fast as they could, knowing that Mrs. Henry would be annoyed if they took too long. Just as they were turning the corner onto Hope Street, a large yellow dog ran out in front of them. Amber managed to miss the dog, but when Laura tried to swerve around him, she lost control of her bike. With a loud crash, she landed on the pavement, the back wheel of her bike still spinning around. Amber ran to help her up. That’s when she saw the raw egg spilled on the pavement.

“Are there any unbroken ones?” Laura asked as Amber opened the carton.

“Only two,” Amber said. “Are you all right?”

“I’ll be fine,” Laura sighed, “But what are we going to do about the eggs?”

Just then Amber realized they were on Betty Jenkins’ street. Amber and Laura knocked forcefully on Betty’s door.

            “What’s wrong?” Betty asked when she saw the panic on their faces.

            “We were shopping for Mrs. Henry, and we broke the eggs,” Laura explained.

            “It wasn’t our fault,” Amber added. “A dog ran out in front of us.”

            “Don’t worry,” Betty said, calmly. “It was just an accident. We’ll think of something. Let me see if I have a dozen eggs in my refrigerator.”

            “We just need ten,” Laura said. “Two of them didn’t break.”

            “I’ve only got six,” Betty told them after checking her refrigerator. “Let’s go across the street to Doris’s house and see if she can spare four eggs.”

            “What took you so long? Did you have to milk a cow?” Mrs. Henry fumed as the girls came through the door with her groceries.

            After they had put away Mrs. Henry’s groceries, Laura asked if there was anything else they could do for her.

            “Not today,” she said, “but come back on Wednesday. I’m going to need you then.”

            “You’re welcome,” Amber said when they got outside.

            “You didn’t expect her to thank us, did you?” Laura asked.

            “Of course not.” Amber laughed “Those words aren’t in her vocabulary.” 

From The Handy Helpers: Seven is a Perfect Number, available from Amazon

Happy Father’s Day from the Handy Helpers

IMG_0457Last Sunday was Father’s Day, and I hope all the dads out there had a fun, relaxing day. The Handy Helpers wouldn’t miss this opportunity to tell their dads how much they love them. Here’s some of what happened in Bluesky on Father’s Day.

Melissa was on her way to the kitchen with plans to make breakfast for her family. It would be a Father’s Day surprise. Last year her dad had been stationed in Afghanistan. They wished him happy Father’s Day on Skype. He told them he had limp bacon and runny eggs for breakfast. Melissa promised that when he was home, she would make him some of her famous pancakes.

As Melissa passed her parents’ bedroom, she noticed her sister Trisha crouched in front of the door, holding a present between her knees. “Come on and help me with breakfast she whispered. Let Mom and Dad sleep as long as they can.”

In the kitchen, Melissa poured the ingredients for buttermilk pancakes into a bowl and handed Trisha a spoon. “Mix this up while I cook the bacon. I’m going to make it nice and crisp, just the way Dad likes it.”

As she watched the bacon sizzling in the pan, Melissa thought about how much their lives had changed in the two weeks since her dad had been home. At first, she was really excited about doing lots of things with him. But sometimes her dad was in a bad mood and just wanted to lay in the hammock in the back yard. Other times, he wanted to know everything she was doing. He expected her to ask permission to do things her mom always let her do—things like talking on the phone or fixing a snack. “He’s just trying to figure out what his role is in our family,” her mother had told her. “Give it time, and everything will work itself out.”

Melissa was trying to be patient, but she wondered if things were ever going to get better. “Good morning,” she said as her dad came into the kitchen. “Happy Father’s Day.”

“It sure smells good in here,” Cody looked at both his daughters working together. “Looks like you two have everything under control.”

“Happy Father’s Day, Daddy,” Trisha ran to him and put her arms around his waist. Cody bent down and kissed the top of his young daughter’s head.

“It’s sure nice to be spending Father’s Day at home with my girls.”

“Breakfast’s almost ready,” Melissa announced. “Better get Mom and Grandma,” she said to Trisha.

“Change your clothes,” Emma told her daughters as soon as they arrived home from church. “We’re supposed to be at the Smith’s at one o’clock.”

“You’re not taking that cake!” Laura exclaimed as she looked at the food her mother packed to take to the Smith’s. There in the back of the Suburban among her mother’s superbly delicious red beans and rice, pecan pie, and pralines sat Laura’s not-so-nice-looking Father’s Day cake.

“Of course we’re taking it,” Emma said matter-of-factly. “Why wouldn’t we?”

“It just doesn’t look as good as I was hoping.”

“I’m sure it will taste great. That’s all that matters.”

Laura squeezed into the back seat along with the folding chairs her father had placed there. Her three sisters were already seat-belted into the middle seats, leaving her no choice. It was only a ten minute ride to the Smith’s, but Laura dreaded every minute.

As the Thomas’s pulled up in front of the Smith house, they saw Spike sitting in the front porch glider. He had his head down and was scraping his feet across the cement. He looked up as they pulled into the driveway.

“Hi,” Spike waved in their direction.

“How about giving us a hand?” Bill yelled  as he opened the clam doors on the back of the Suburban.

“Sure.” Spike came down the steps two at a time.

“Here,” Emma handed him Laura’s Father’s Day cake.

“Who made this?” Spike asked looking curiously at the cake in his hands.

“Laura did,” Emma told him.

Spike carried the cake into the house. Todd and Jennifer came out the front door to help Bill with the chairs he was taking out of the Suburban.

“Who murdered your cake?” Spike asked Laura as he set the cake on the dessert table.

“Nobody,” Laura said, surprised. “It’s supposed to be a shirt and tie.”

“Yeah,” Spike commented, “with a bullet hole in it!”

“I had a little trouble with the frosting, that’s all.”

“That’s a relief!” Spike sighed loudly.

“What do you mean?,” Laura asked.

“That’s frosting, not blood.” Spike pointed to the red stains on the cake.

From The Handy Helpers: Red, White, and . . . Bloopers!

Hats Off to Spring

flower.hat.13

The senior center was buzzing with activity when the Happy Helpers arrived. The Easter luncheon was one of the big events held at the senior center every year. Mrs. Snow was there, directing the volunteers. When she spotted the girls, she waved them over to where she was.

“We have to get these favors on the tables at each place.” She handed a boxful to each girl. They were tiny straw hats decorated with flowers and birds attached to tiny hat racks with even more flowers and birds.

“These are really cute,” Melissa said. “The ladies at our church made them.”

“That’s right,” Mrs. Snow responded. “They brought them here this morning. Now we need to get them on the tables.”

Amber noticed some of the ladies from the Community Church arranging larger hat decorations in the center of each table. Some other ladies were setting up the buffet tables and placing hat decorations there as well.

“The theme is ‘Hats Off to Spring,’” Mrs. Snow seemed to read Amber’s mind. “Wait until the other seniors start arriving. You’re going to see some crazy hats today.”

The Happy Helpers took their boxes of favors and started putting them out at each place. When they were finished, Mrs. Snow gave them boxes of silverware wrapped in pastel-colored napkins, each tied with a pink, green, or yellow ribbon. Plates had been placed at the beginning of the buffet line, and the glasses were on the beverage table.

“You did a lovely job,” Mrs. Snow said, surveying the room. “I knew my faith in you wasn’t misplaced.”

“Is there anything else we can do?” Laura asked.

“Would you like to be greeters at the door?” Mrs. Snow suggested.

“That sounds like fun,” Melissa said with enthusiasm.

“Yeah,” added Amber. “Then we can check out the crazy hats you mentioned.”

Mrs. Snow positioned the girls at the front door and handed them some programs to give out to each guest. The first couple through the door was Hank and Clarisse Anderson. Clarisse was wearing a fancy red hat with tiny roses and feathers around the brim. When Melissa told her how beautiful it was, Clarisse said that it was called the Titanic.

“It cost about as much as the Titanic,” Hank added. Clarisse shot him a dirty look.

“I see you have your video camera out already,” Amber said. “Are you going to make a movie of the Easter luncheon?”

“I want to catch everyone when they arrive in their hats,” Hank said.

“You have a nice hat,” Laura commented. “It looks like something from the Titanic movie too.” Hank wore a brown felt hat with creases in the front.

“It’s a fedora,” Hank said proudly.

“It’s a Stetson,” Clarisse added. “And it cost as much as mine.”

Gus was the next to arrive. The girls tried not to chuckle when they saw his hat. It was a black visor with black and gray hair sticking out of the top. This was especially funny since the girls knew that Gus had no hair at all underneath the hat.

“Like my hat?” Gus asked.

“It’s really you!” Melissa giggled.

“If there are prizes for the best hats,” Amber added, “you’ll win for sure.”

“Maybe the goofiest,” Melissa whispered to Amber.

Doris Duncan came in using a walker. Her hat was made of straw and was decorated with beautiful fresh flowers. Betty Jenkins wore a gray cowboy hat with a decorative band and black feather.

 

From The Handy Helpers: A Rocky Start

Martha and Mary

Mary-and-MarthaThe story of Martha and Mary in the Bible is one of my favorites. It is about two sisters who respond differently when Jesus comes to their house for dinner. Martha is busy with preparations, rushing around to get everything done. In the meantime, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to him talk.

I think many of us identify with one of the sisters. For me, I am most like Martha. When I have guests, I am constantly busy making sure everyone has what they need. In between tasks, I try to visit with my guests, but I always have things I need to do as well.

In the Bible story, Martha is upset when Mary doesn’t get up and help her. When Martha complains to Jesus, she expects him to order Mary to help. To Martha’s surprise, Jesus does just the opposite. He tells Martha that Mary has chosen the best way and he will not take that opportunity from her.

An incident in Seven Is a Perfect Number was the perfect place to introduce this story.  When the sharp-tongued Mrs. Henry breaks her leg, the Handy Helpers are called upon to help with some of her daily tasks. Reluctantly, they respond to Mrs. Henry’s daughter Clara’s plea to “not give up on her.” After spending an afternoon vacuuming and dusting Mrs. Henry’s house, Melissa comes home very upset. This is what happened:

“It’s just not right,” Melissa said as she plopped down on the sofa in her living room.

“What’s that, dear?” Her grandmother asked.

“We worked like slaves at Mrs. Henry’s house, dusting and vacuuming and mopping. And she didn’t even say thanks.”

“I’m sure she appreciated what you did for her,” Sarah patted her granddaughter on the shoulder. “It’s just hard for her to admit she needs help.”

“That’s not the worst part,” Melissa went on. “All the time we were working on her house, she was sitting there with Beth Anne, talking and laughing. They were looking at her photo album. Beth Anne didn’t even offer to help.”

“Talking to Mrs. Henry was helping,” Sarah pointed out.

“No it wasn’t,” Melissa continued, getting more upset. “She’s really lazy. I’m glad we didn’t vote to let her in the Handy Helpers.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Sarah said, surprised.

“We were all working hard and she wasn’t doing anything. Like I said, she’s lazy.”

“That’s one way to look at it,” Sarah said, patiently, “but maybe there’s another side you haven’t thought of.”

“Like what?”

“There’s a story from the Bible that might help,” Sarah went on.

“No offense, Grandma. But I don’t think something that happened to people thousands of years ago is going to be much help to me today.”

“I think you’ll be surprised. Anyway, humor an old lady and let me tell it. The story is about two sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha met Jesus and invited him to her home. She worked very hard to get everything ready and when Jesus arrived, Martha was busy serving food. Instead of helping her, her sister Mary sat down at Jesus’ feet and listened to him talk. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Don’t you care that my sister is letting me do all the serving myself? Tell her to help me.’ Jesus said to Martha, ‘You are worried about many things. But you only need one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and I won’t take it from her.’”

“So,” Melissa said with a shrug, “Jesus didn’t make Mary help her sister. I think he should have. She was being lazy.”

“Giving Jesus food was one way to serve him,” Sarah explained, “but Mary was serving him as well.”

“By just sitting there on the floor?”

“There are lots of ways to serve Jesus,” Sarah went on. “Serving him food was Martha’s way. He didn’t reject Martha or the food she served him. He just wanted her to see that Mary was also serving him by listening to his word. They were both serving Jesus, but he told Martha that Mary’s way was better.”

“Well Beth Anne was only talking to Mrs. Henry, not listening to Jesus,” Melissa stated emphatically. “It’s not the same.”

“I’m not so sure. Maybe Mrs. Henry needed someone to talk to more than she needed a clean house,” Sarah said.

From The Handy Helpers: Seven is a Perfect Number

We are all called to have a servant’s heart and to serve one another through love. But first we must have a heart for Jesus as Mary did. It is easy for me to be like Martha and I’m happy to serve others.  But it is my prayer that I can become more like Mary. For I am convinced that I will be a much more contented servant of Christ.

 

Mr. Pritchard’s Peaches

peachesGus stopped his truck in front of a small house with brown siding. Paint was peeling from the dark-brown trim around the windows and door, and the roof was missing more than a few shingles. The blinds were pulled tightly shut, and a rusty No Trespassing sign hung on the chain-link fence. “Warren has some memory problems,” Gus said, opening the gate, “so I’d better go talk to him first to make sure he remembers we’re coming.”

Logan and Spike waited next to the pickup, watching Gus as he talked to Mr. Pritchard on his front porch.

“There’s something weird about his hair,” Spike said, watching as Mr. Pritchard seemed to be moving his hair around on his head.

“I think it’s a wig,” Logan replied after studying it for a few minutes.

“Yes,” Gus said with a grin as he returned to his truck, “Warren has a toupee.”

“A what?” Spike asked.

“You know, a hairpiece. Not everyone is as comfortable in their own skin as I am.” Gus laughed, lifting up his straw hat to rub the top of his bald head. “Warren has been wearing that rug for as long as I’ve known him.”

“Does he know he isn’t fooling anyone?” Logan asked.

“I doubt it.” Gus laughed again. “And nobody’s gonna tell ’im either.”

Gus took a ladder and some wooden boxes out of the back of his truck. “Let’s get started.”

The guys had been picking peaches for about forty-five minutes when Gus received a call on his cell phone. “That was Hank,” he told the boys. “Norman got stung by a bee and slid off the ladder. They’re working a few blocks away. I’ve gotta take the first-aid kit over there and fix his bee sting and scraped leg.”

With that, Gus got in his truck and drove away. Spike and Logan continued picking peaches. “These peaches smell so good,” Spike said. “Do you think it would be okay if we ate one?”

“There’s plenty of them.” Logan was standing next to a tree with branches so loaded with peaches they touched the ground. “I’m sure no one would miss a couple of peaches.”

They each pulled a peach from a tree and washed it at the faucet. The peaches were amazingly sweet and juicy. “This tastes so good,” Spike said. “Maybe we can take some home when we’re finished.”

“That would be great,” Logan agreed. “Maybe my mom will make a peach pie.”

The boys were still enjoying their peaches when they heard a pounding noise coming from a window in Mr. Pritchard’s house. They looked up to see Mr. Pritchard shaking his finger at them. His hair seemed to move up and down with the movement of his finger. Suddenly Mr. Pritchard’s face disappeared from the window and reappeared at the back door.

Raising the broom he held in his hand, Mr. Pritchard shouted, “Don’t you move! The police are on their way. I’m tired of you kids stealing my peaches!”

“But . . . but . . ., ” Logan stammered.

“Whatever you’re trying to say, save it for the police. This time I caught you in the act. You two are in big trouble!”

Within ten minutes, a police car pulled up in front of Mr. Pritchard’s house. As the officers came through the back gate, Spike and Logan let out a sigh of relief. They immediately recognized Officer Mills and Officer Fillmore. Officer Mills was a hefty man in his midforties with a red face and short brown hair. Officer Fillmore was a tall, slim black woman with a pleasant smile. Both wore uniforms. They were the police officers who had been on duty when Beth Anne was lost. “I hope they remember us,” Logan whispered to Spike.

“Yeah, they’ll know we wouldn’t steal peaches,” Spike whispered back.

“What seems to be the problem?” Officer Mills asked.

“These two boys were stealing peaches off my tree. They even had the nerve to stand here and eat some!”

Officer Mills looked at the half-eaten peaches in their hands. “What do you boys have to say for yourselves?”

“We’re helping the senior center pick peaches,” Logan tried to explain. “Gus brought us here.”

“If you’re supposed to be picking peaches,” Officer Mills asked, “why are you eating them?”

“They smelled so good,” Spike was finally able to speak. “We just wanted to taste one.”

“You boys look familiar,” Officer Fillmore said. “Aren’t you friends of Beth Anne?”

“Who cares who their friends are?” Mr. Pritchard shook his broom toward the boys. “They’re stealing peaches. Haul them to jail!”

“Sorry,” Officer Mills looked sadly at the boys. “If Mr. Pritchard presses charges, I’ll have to take you in.”

“I’m pressing charges!” Mr. Pritchard insisted. “So take them away!”

“What’s going on?” Gus asked as he hurried through the gate. “Did someone get hurt?”

“These boys were stealing peaches off Mr. Pritchard’s tree,” Officer Mills explained. “He’s pressing charges. So I’ll have to take them in.”

“Warren,” Gus said patiently, “do you remember me telling you I’d be out here picking peaches with two boys?”

“I remember you said you’d be picking peaches. I don’t remember anything about any boys.”

“We did have permission,” Gus assured the officers. “These boys are volunteers at the senior center. See, it says so on their shirts.”

“That’s right!” Officer Fillmore smiled. “These boys are Handy Helpers. They help out at the senior center.”

“I had to leave for a bit,” Gus explained. “That’s why they were here alone.”

“Everything seems okay to me,” Officer Mills turned to Mr. Pritchard. “Is everything okay with you?”

“Yeah, I guess so. I’m going back in the house. Go ahead and pick the peaches. Just don’t let those boys eat them all.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Spike said with a groan. “The way my stomach feels right now, I don’t think I can eat anything!”

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

 

 

A Rocky Start: Chapter Seventeen Continued

Amber

If Amber thought going to church was difficult the Sunday before, that was nothing compared to the way she felt this week. It seemed like everyone at church was looking at her, like they all knew what she had done. Amber tried to avoid running into Mrs. Snow, but it seemed that Mrs. Snow went out of her way to say hi to Amber. “I hope you enjoyed the luncheon yesterday,” Mrs. Snow said, as if nothing was wrong. “You left so quickly we didn’t have a chance to talk when it was over. Hopefully, we’ll see you back at the senior center again. We always need good volunteers.”

Amber spent the afternoon in her room. By that time, her parents knew the whole story. Mrs. Snow didn’t want to get Amber into trouble, but Mary persisted until she finally had no choice but to tell what had happened.

“You can’t hide up here forever,” Mary said. “It’s a beautiful afternoon. We’re all going for a bike ride. Why don’t you come with us?”

“I’m not hiding out,” Amber said. “I’ve grounded myself. I’m paying my dues for my don’ts.”

“That’s not what you’re doing,” Mary insisted. “You know the right thing to do. You have to go back to the senior center as a volunteer. That’s how you can pay your dues for your don’ts. Pray about it. Have faith that God will show you what to do.”

 

“You’re lucky,” Amber said to her little plant as she picked it up from the windowsill. “You can’t make any mistakes. I wish I could sit in a pot of dirt all day. Then I wouldn’t make a mess out of everything I try to do.”

“If you sat in a pot of dirt all day, you might not make any mistakes,” John said as he came into his daughter’s room, “but you wouldn’t accomplish anything either.”

“All I accomplished was hurting other people,” Amber said sadly. “I wish I’d never gone to the senior center.”

“Don’t say that,” John frowned. “You’ve done lots of good things for seniors, and you have a chance to do lots more.”

“No,” Amber insisted. “I’m just like the son in the Bible who wasted his inheritance. I’ve wasted my chance to help seniors.”

“I think you missed the point of that story,” John said.

“No, I didn’t,” Amber assured him.

“His father forgave him,” John reminded her.

“But he didn’t get his inheritance back,” Amber said.

“Do you remember what happened when his father saw him coming?” John asked.

“He ran to him. The son asked his father to make him a servant because he didn’t deserve to be his son.”

“But the father didn’t do that, did he?” John continued. “Instead, he put a robe and a ring on his son. He ordered a feast in his honor because his son was lost and now he had been found.”

“He forgave him.” Amber remembered. “He forgave him and made him his son again even after he made so many mistakes. I guess he thought his son had suffered enough.”

“Forgiveness is a gift that’s freely given,” John explained, “not because someone has earned forgiveness. It is given out of love. Christ suffered for us when he died on the cross. That’s why we don’t have to suffer for our sins. All we have to do is go to him and ask for forgiveness. Do you know what mercy is?”

“Not exactly,” Amber admitted.

“God shows us mercy when he forgives us. God’s mercy is what we need the most when we deserve it the least. We follow Christ’s example when we show mercy to those who have hurt us. Do you understand?”

“I think I understand,” Amber said thoughtfully. “God forgives us because he loves us, and we forgive each other because we love each other.”

“But there is another part to the story that you have to remember,” John told her. “After he was forgiven, what did the son do?”

“I guess he wore the robe and ring to the feast,” Amber offered.

“That’s right.” John smiled. “He accepted his father’s gifts. But in order to do that, he had to accept his father’s forgiveness. What if he had said, ‘I can’t take your gifts because I don’t deserve them’?”

“He would have hurt his father’s feelings, I guess,” Amber said thoughtfully.

“That’s right,” John agreed. “His father gave him a chance to start over and be his son again. Your friends at the senior center have offered you the same chance to start over. All you have to do is accept their forgiveness and forgive yourself. Do you think you can do that?”

“I still feel like I don’t deserve it.”

“Think about what I said.” John put his hand on her shoulder. “Then when you’re ready, I know you’ll make the right choice.”

 

By Wednesday afternoon, Amber still hadn’t decided what she was going to do, when Betty Jenkins came to visit.

“I brought you some chocolate chip cookies,” Betty said as she took a seat in Amber’s living room. “It’s sort of a bribe.”

“A bribe for what?” Amber was curious.

“Well,” Betty continued, “this Saturday is the last shuffleboard match of the season. I’m up against Clarisse again, and I don’t think I have a chance without my cheering section. I’m really hoping you’ll be there.”

“I’m not a volunteer there anymore.”

“I’m just asking you to come as a spectator,” Betty said hopefully. “It would mean a lot to me.”

“I might . . .” Amber took a bite of her cookie. “There might be one thing you could do to get me to come.”

“What’s that?” Betty asked.

“You said you were trying to bribe me. Tell me the secret ingredient in your cookies and I’ll come.” Amber smiled shyly.

“I don’t know.” Betty sounded doubtful. “Can you keep a secret?”

“I’m really good at keeping secrets,” Amber assured her.

“You did keep the secret about your career report, didn’t you?”

“Yes, if you tell me the secret ingredient, wild horses couldn’t drag it out of me,” Amber promised.

Betty leaned over and whispered something in Amber’s ear.

“Honest?” Amber sounded amazed. “That’s what it is? I would never have guessed that.”

“See you on Saturday,” Betty said on her way out the door.

 

Laura and Melissa were busy setting up the yellow and black disks when Amber arrived. They waved to her as she walked over to the sidelines. Logan and Chris were setting out folding chairs for the spectators.

“Hi,” Chris said hesitantly. “Glad you could make it.”

“Me too.” Amber smiled. “I didn’t want to let Betty down.”

“Here.” Logan pointed to the chair he had just unfolded. “You can have this seat.”

 

Clarisse, in her hot-pink stretch pants, was warming up by swinging her arms in a circle. Betty was using the time before the match began to have a chat with Gus. It looked like he was talking to her as a coach. Soon, Walt was blowing the whistle for the start of the match. Betty won the toss. She elected to take the black disks, which meant that Clarisse would have the yellow and go first. Clarisse’s first disk landed on the line, which meant no points. Betty sent her first disk down to the scoring area, but it too fell short of landing in a space. By the first end, Clarisse had fifteen points and Betty had seventeen. Amber began to feel nervous watching the ladies walk to other end of the court. At the end of the second round, Clarisse was ahead, thirty-three to thirty-two.

“Don’t worry,” Gus said. “Betty is holding the hammer.”

“What does that mean?” Amber looked confused.

“It means she has the advantage,” Gus explained. “Letting Clarisse go first was a good strategy. Betty’s a smart cookie.”

After two more rounds, the score was sixty-six to fifty-eight, with Clarisse still in the lead. A collective gasp went through the crowd as Clarisse scored seven points with her first disk, bringing her score to seventy-three. She was now only two points away from winning the match. Amber wanted to cheer when Betty’s first disk landed in the 10 spot. Now she had a chance to win. But Amber’s hopes were soon dashed when Clarisse scored eight more points.

“The game isn’t over yet,” Gus assured her. “Betty still has a chance.”

“She does?” Amber asked with surprise. “But Clarisse has more than seventy-five points.”

“But Betty’s holding the hammer.” Gus smiled.

“Oh, yeah,” Amber said, still not sure what that meant.

With her next disk, Betty knocked Clarisse out of the 8 spot and clear off the board. Amber managed to stop herself just before screaming out loud. Clarisse was noticeably shaken as she took her next shot. It barely made it to the “dead” line, scoring no points. Then Betty moved in for the kill. All she needed was seven points for the win.

Amber ran to Betty’s side and gave her a hug. “You did it!” Amber shouted. “You won!”

Clarisse shook Betty’s hand and congratulated her on the victory. Betty was beaming with pride as she thanked Clarisse for a great match.

While Laura and Melissa were putting away the equipment, Amber sat on the bench outside the door to the senior center.

“I was really happy to see you here today,” Gus said as he sat down beside her. “Betty was worried you wouldn’t come.”

“Did she tell you she bribed me?” Amber said with a laugh.

“Oh, yeah, well, she drives a pretty hard bargain. You’re very important to her,” Gus added. “I hope you know that.”

“I do,” Amber assured him. “She’s important to me too. That’s the real reason I’m here.”

“She’s not the only one who likes having you around,” Gus went on. “I hope you’re coming back as a volunteer.”

“I’m thinking about it,” Amber said. “I probably will.”

“Walt and Mrs. Snow will be happy to hear that.”

“You know”—Gus became more serious—I never had a daughter or a granddaughter, but if I did, I’d want her to be just like you.”

“Really?” Amber sounded doubtful. “Laura’s a lot smarter than I am, and Melissa is way prettier. Besides, I mess up a lot.”

“My wife, Barbara, would have loved you,” Gus said. “In some ways, you remind me of her.”

“Do I look like her? When she was younger, I mean?”

“Not too much,” Gus explained. “She had white hair when she passed away, but when she was young, she had dark-blond hair. She called it ‘dirty blond.’ She was really short too. No, you don’t look too much like her, except for your eyes. She had the same warm, deep brown eyes you have. Sometimes there was a little mischief in them just like I’ve seen in yours. Definitely, it’s your eyes that remind me of her.”

“You must really miss her,” Amber sighed.

“I miss her every day.” Gus looked away thoughtfully. “Someday I’ll be with her again. But until then, I’m glad I have friends like you to spend time with.”

“I’m glad I have friends like you too.” Amber looked up at Gus.

“You know,” Gus went on, “there’s someone who’s missing today.”

“You mean Spike.” Amber looked down at her hands.

“That’s just who I mean. He must be feeling pretty bad not to show up here for the shuffleboard finals. You may be the only one who knows just how bad he feels.”

“Maybe I should go over to his house and talk to him,” Amber offered.

“That sounds like a great idea.” Gus patted her on the shoulder as he got up from the bench.

 

Amber knew where Spike lived even though she had never been to his house before. She was surprised at how neat his home looked. A white picket fence surrounded the freshly mowed lawn. Flowers spewed out of planters under the windows and from pots on the front porch. Spike’s oldest sister, Jennifer, answered the door when Amber rang the bell. She wore a long gray sweatshirt over black leggings.

“I . . . I’m here to see Spike, I mean Mike,” Amber stammered.

“Come in,” Jennifer said. “I’ll take you to him.”

The inside of the house was equally as neat. Jennifer led Amber down a hallway lined with family portraits. In the kitchen, Monica, Spike’s other sister, was doing homework at the kitchen table. She was still dressed in her softball uniform. Amber recognized the math spread out in front of her. It was algebra, like she had seen Kyle doing. Then she remembered that Monica was also a freshman.

“Michael’s in the backyard, playing with the dog,” Jennifer said as she slid the patio door open.

Amber found Spike dragging a tattered stuffed toy tied to a string. The toy was being chased by a pure-white miniature Siberian husky.

“What a beautiful dog,” Amber said. “What’s her name?”

“This is Tigger,” Spike told her. “She’s really Jennifer’s pet, but she lets me play with her. She can do some tricks. Want to see?”

“Sure,” Amber said.

Tigger followed Spike’s commands as he told her to sit, beg, and play dead.

“Kyle’s trying to teach Domino some tricks,” Amber said with a laugh. “Unfortunately, he’s an ADHD dog.”

“That’s funny.” Spike laughed too. “Jennifer took Tigger to a special doggy school. That’s why she can do so many tricks.”

“I don’t think Domino would do very well in school.” Amber laughed again. “He would probably flunk out.”

“I’ve seen Domino. He’s a nice dog.”

“Thanks.” Amber smiled. “I think so too. You know, everybody missed you at the shuffleboard match today. Betty beat Clarisse. It was pretty exciting.”

“I don’t think anyone wanted me there.” Spike looked away. “Especially not the Happy Helpers.”

“That’s not true,” Amber said emphatically. “Besides, we’re all working together now. We’re all one group.”

“You’re one of the Handy Guys?” Spike sounded surprised.

“We’re not calling ourselves the Handy Guys,” Amber informed him.

“Chris and Logan are now Happy Helpers?” Spike guessed again.

“No, we compromised. We took the handy from your name and the helpers from our name. Now we’re the Handy Helpers. It works for everybody.”

“You know I’m the one who got you girls in trouble, don’t you? Chris and Logan had nothing to do with it. I hid the spoons and spread the rocks all over the walkway. I even messed up the copy room with the papers you shredded.”

“We were pretty sure it was you all the time,” Amber admitted. “Why did you do that?”

“I was afraid that you would take over.”

“What made you think that? You guys were there first. Anyway there’s plenty of work for all of us.”

“You said it yourself, the day you put up your poster. You said you could do anything we could do, but you could do it better.”

“That was just a joke,” Amber assured him. “We didn’t really mean it. Why would you think we were serious?”

“I have two older sisters,” Spike explained. “They’re always telling me how girls can do things better than guys. Why wouldn’t I think you were serious?”

“I guess I can see your point,” Amber said thoughtfully “But there are lots of jobs that need to be done and lots of things you guys can do better than we can. I think it makes sense to work together. Don’t you?”

“It does make sense,” Spike agreed. “Too many people get hurt the other way.”

“Too many innocent people,” Amber added.

“I’m really sorry.” Spike looked up at Amber.

“I’m sorry too. I’m the one who cut holes in the bags of shredding and threw the muddy water on the van you washed. We both did things we shouldn’t have, and we’re both sorry. But now we have a chance to start over and work together. That’s why I came to see you. I’m hoping you’ll join us. We really need you.”

“Chris and Logan told me the same thing. They aren’t mad or anything, but I don’t deserve a second chance.”

“That’s what I thought.” Amber tried to smile. “Then my dad explained to me about forgiving yourself. He said that forgiveness is a gift that is freely given, not because we deserve it. But to accept forgiveness, we have to forgive ourselves first. Otherwise, we are rejecting the gift of forgiveness. Does that make sense?”

“I think so,” Spike said thoughtfully. “You mean that if I don’t forgive myself, I can’t accept forgiveness from other people, like Walt and Mrs. Snow.”

“That’s what I mean,” Amber said. “By offering us a second chance, they’re offering us a gift. We shouldn’t say no, because forgiveness is the nicest gift that anyone can give.”

Spike and Amber went back into his house. He walked her to the front door.

“See you later, alligator,” Amber said as she went out the door.

“After a while, crocodile,” Spike answered back.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Seventeen

Amber

It was Melissa’s idea to dress up for the luncheon at the senior center. Amber would have been happy to show up in jeans and a T-shirt like she usually wore, but Melissa suggested she wear her Easter outfit. That meant that instead of riding her bike to the senior center, her mother drove her there so she wouldn’t get her clothes dirty.

“You look very nice,” Mary said as Amber got out of the car. “I’ll be here at two o’clock to pick you up.”

Melissa and Laura were already inside when Amber arrived. Mrs. Snow greeted her and showed her to the table. “We’ll be starting in a few minutes,” she said. “You get to sit at the head table.”

Amber looked around the room. The junior volunteers were seated at a long table near the front—Three Handy Guys at one end and the Happy Helpers at the other. Walt and Mrs. Snow had places in the middle. There were vases of fresh flowers on the tables. The room was filled with chatter as the seniors were selecting seats at the round tables.

“You girls look very nice today,” Mrs. Snow said.

“Thanks,” they said all together.

“I thought you’d be wearing stripes by now,” Spike shouted out from his end of the table.

The Happy Helpers gave him a dirty look as Walt rose and picked up the microphone.

“We’re here today,” Walt began, “to thank our junior volunteers who do so many nice things for us.” Walt introduced the Happy Helpers seated on his right and the Three Handy Guys seated on his left. “Since they are the guests of honor today, we’re going to let them go through the line first. Then we’ll call the order of the tables to follow. Stick around after you eat. We have a special video prepared by our own Hank Anderson.”

Betty Jenkins was at the head of the serving line, handing out plates and directing the diners as they progressed through the line.

“This salad with the dark-green leaves looks really good,” Amber said as she scooped some onto her plate.

“I made that,” Betty told her proudly. “I hope you like it.”

“I’m sure I will,” Amber said as she moved on to the potato salad and pasta salad. The table was loaded with all kinds of casseroles and breads. On another table, she saw luscious pies, cakes, and cookies. Amber looked for Betty’s special chocolate chip cookies but didn’t see them there.

“I love this salad Betty made,” Amber said once she had begun eating.

“That’s a surprise.” Laura laughed.

“Why?” Amber asked. “I always like salad.”

“Even spinach salad?” Laura laughed again.

“These dark-green leaves are spinach?” Amber asked, surprised. “That’s not possible. Spinach is stringy and bitter. This salad is crisp and sweet.”

“Spinach from a can is stringy and bitter,” Laura pointed out. “But fresh spinach is really good.”

“Now I wish the grasshoppers hadn’t eaten the spinach in my mom’s garden. Maybe she’ll try again, and I’ll help her grow some spinach. Now that I know how good fresh spinach tastes.”

The guests had just finished their desserts when Walt stood up and grabbed the microphone again. “As I said before, Hank has been making a video of the things that we do at the senior center. Without further ado, I call your attention to the screen that we’ve set up on the north wall. Gus, could you please dim the lights.”

As the room grew dark, Amber noticed Hank turning on the projector. It took a few minutes to warm up, and then a picture of the front of the senior center was visible on the screen. The viewers were taken on a virtual tour of the senior center as Walt, the narrator, pointed out all the activities that happened there. In the exercise room, a tai chi class was going on. Amber watched as the instructor led the seniors in smooth, graceful movements. She was thinking she would like to try tai chi some day. In the recreation room, seniors were playing chess and checkers. Others were working on a community jigsaw puzzle. The next scene showed seniors playing bingo in the dining room. Then there were highlights from the shuffleboard tournament. The video made being a senior look like a lot of fun.

At last, the video showed what the Happy Helpers had been waiting for, the spring luncheon. They laughed as they saw themselves greeting the seniors who were wearing their funny hats. Walt continued to narrate as he explained how important it was to have good volunteers. He introduced the Three Handy Guys and talked about all the things they do. There was video of them mowing the lawn and washing the vans. Hank had even gone to Gus’s house and made a video of them painting his porch. Walt continued to talk about volunteers as the video showed the Happy Helpers shredding paper, setting the table, and cleaning the kitchen.

As the next part of the video started, a hush fell over the lunchroom. This part wasn’t narrated by Walt. It showed the lunchroom the day the spoons disappeared. Bob was frantically trying to find the spoons. In the meantime, seniors were doing their best to eat the pudding with forks. In the video, pudding was dropping all over the tables and into laps. Some seniors tried drinking the pudding with equally disastrous results. Some were slipping on pudding that had been spilled on the floor. It could have been a scene from Funniest Home Videos, except no one was laughing.

As the video continued, it showed the walkway in front of the senior center. Instead of being nicely swept, it was covered with rocks and clods of dirt. Seniors in wheelchairs and those with walkers were trying to navigate their way to the front door, but it was difficult with so much debris in their path.

Amber looked over at Spike, who had his head down. Her face turned red as she watched the next part of the video. It was taken in the shredding room where Mrs. Snow and Walt were picking up the bags of shredding that Amber had cut the bottoms out of. They had shocked looks on their faces as the shredding flew everywhere. The two were down on their hands and knees, scooping it out from under the table and desk and stuffing it into new bags.

Amber was wishing the video would end, but there was more. This time, it showed the van covered in muddy water. Bob was on his way to deliver lunches to the seniors who were homebound. Instead of taking nice, hot food to them, he was saying, he would have to take time to wash the van because the windshield was too muddy to see through.

That was all Amber could take. In the next second, she was out of her seat and bolting for the door. Just as she came racing down the walkway, her mom pulled up in front.

“What’s wrong?” Mary asked when she saw the disturbed look on her daughter’s face. “Didn’t you have a good time?”

“I just want to go home,” was all the explanation Amber gave her. She sat in silence for the rest of the trip.

Amber went straight to her room and closed the door. She turned her face to her pillow just as the tears started to come. After about fifteen minutes, she stopped crying, except for an occasional sniffle.

Mary knocked on her daughter’s door. “Amber, are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Amber assured her. “I just have lots of homework.”

“Laura and Melissa are here. Come on down.”

Amber went to the bathroom and washed her face. She hoped that she looked like nothing was wrong. But her puffy red eyes gave away the fact that she’d been crying.

“Why did you run out like that?” Melissa asked.

“They were just trying to make a point,” Laura said. “Walt talked to the four of us afterwards. He said he likes having us as volunteers, but he doesn’t like the war that’s been going on between us and the Three Handy Guys. We all talked it out and decided to work together instead of fighting each other. Then we can be better helpers for the seniors. That’s what’s important, isn’t it?”

“Did you say ‘the four of you’?” Amber asked.

“Spike ran out right after you did,” Melissa explained. “Logan and Chris are going over to talk to him.”

“If Spike’s in it,” Amber snarled, “I don’t want to be. Actually, I don’t want to be in it anyway.”

“But you’re the one who got us started helping Betty Jenkins,” Laura reminded her. “We need you.”

“You don’t need me!” Amber said emphatically. “I just mess things up.”

“I did some things too,” Melissa pointed out. “I’m the one who locked the boys in the ladies’ room.”

“But no one was hurt by that. I didn’t tell you before, but I’m the one who cut holes in the bags of shredding. When I saw Mrs. Snow crawling under the table to try to get all that paper . . .” Amber’s voice trailed off.

“We figured that out after we talked to Chris and Logan,” Laura told her. “They’re not mad. They know Spike did things to us. Everyone wants to just forget about it and start over.”

“That’s easy for you to say.” Amber hung her head. “You’re not the ones who made a mess of everything. You’re better off without me.”

“That’s not true,” Melissa said. “We need you. You’re an important part of our team. Like Mrs. Snow said, just because we got off to a rocky start doesn’t mean we should quit trying. We have a chance to really help people who need our help. That’s what matters.”

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon