It is my pleasure to welcome Shannon Wiersbitzky, author of What Flowers Remember, into the Author’s Limelight this week. Although I read her book this past summer, the memory of it has stuck with me. This is the first book about Alzheimer’s that I’ve read which was written from the perspective of a young girl…a young girl named Delia, who’s able to see her elderly friend, “Old Red,” as a person, not a disease. Her endeavors to “help him remember,” are so innocently tender, allowing us, as the reader, to witness his decline through the eyes of a child.
Shannon, in your own words, please tell us about your book.
In What Flowers Remember, due to a shared love of flowers and gardening, Delia and her elderly neighbor Old Red Clancy dream up a seed- and flower-selling business. The two make quite a pair. He has the know-how and she has the get-up-and-go. But something is happening to Old Red. And the doctors say he can’t be cured. He’s forgetting places and names and getting cranky for no reason. As his condition worsens, Delia takes it upon herself to save as many memories as she can. Her mission is to gather Old Red’s stories so that no one will forget, and she corrals everybody in town to help.
What Flowers Remember is a story of love and loss, of a young girl coming to understand that even when people die, they live on in our minds, our hearts, and our stories.
I’m curious to learn what inspired you to write this story….
I spent my childhood summers with my grandparents in a small town in West Virginia, not totally unlike the fictional town of Tucker’s Ferry. As a result, my grandparents became like second parents. When I was in my twenties, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I hoped and prayed that he wouldn’t forget me. But of course, the disease doesn’t work that way, and I was forgotten along with everyone else he loved. The moment I realized he no longer knew who I was is something I will never forget. It broke my heart. And it was that nugget which inspired this story.
Would you like to share an excerpt with our readers?
Yes, here a two short excerpts:
Joined together by an interest in gardening, a young girl named Delia and her elderly neighbor, Old Red Clancy become fast friends in Tucker’s Ferry, West Virginia.
Most folks probably think gardens only get tended when they’re blooming. But most folks would be wrong. According to the almanac, a proper gardener does something every single month. Old Red Clancy was definitely a proper gardener. That’s why I enrolled myself in the Clancy School of Gardening. If I was going to learn about flowers, I wanted to learn from the best.
As time passes, something begins to happen to Old Red. And the doctors say he can’t be cured. He’s forgetting names and places and getting cranky for no reason. As his condition worsens, Delia takes it upon herself to save as many memories as she can.
Besides the shoebox of photographs, Mrs. Hutchinson had a story. It turned out she’d been best friends with Rosalea. The story she wanted to tell took place after Old Red came back from the war.
“I don’t know what he did over there, or what he saw,” she said, handing me newly returned books, “but he came back changed.”
“Changed how?” I asked. As she spoke I loaded the books onto a cart.
“Well, he’d lost weight, barely more than a skeleton really, his cheeks all caved in. He’d been shot, you know, in the hip, which is how come he got sent home. That’s why he uses that cane. They never did get the bullet out completely.”
I’d never once wondered where Mr. Clancy got that limp. Maybe I should have. The whole time I figured it was just from being old, and instead it was from being brave. They don’t have classes on bravery in middle school. If they did I’d have signed up. It would have been helpful to learn how to stare down what I feared most and not blink.
Could you tell us how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I did research on Alzheimer’s as I wrote the novel. The Alzheimer’s Association has a wealth of information. While I knew what my grandfather experienced, I didn’t know if that was typical or if there were other signs and symptoms which might be worth including to make it more accurate. Most people only think of Alzheimer’s as losing memories, but it can often cause changes in mood, and even result in a loss of smell. I included both of those in the book.
Alzheimer’s isn’t typically a disease associated with children. Why include this as a topic in a middle-grade novel?
I never set out to write a book “about Alzheimer’s”. I wanted to write a story that spoke to my own truth, about how it feels to be forgotten by someone you love. Within the context of fiction, I imagined what a young girl might do, and what an entire town might do, if they felt they could, in some way, prevent memories from being forgotten.
The reality is that according to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors will suffer from some type of dementia. One in three. That is an astounding number. It also means that there are many children who will be impacted by the disease. The current estimate is that 250,000 children ages 8-18 provide help to someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Whether it is grandparents or parents, or someone else they know and love. I hope the story will help kids and adults discuss the topic and help them, even in some small way, heal.#
I’d like to add that I highly recommend this read to anyone, young or old, in a situation where a loved one has dementia/Alzheimer’s and would like to thank you, Shannon, for sharing with us. If you’d like to learn more or visit Shannon on social media, she can be found here:
Shannon Wiersbitzky is a middle-grade author, a hopeless optimist, and a lover of the outdoors. The Summer of Hammers and Angels, nominated for the William Allen White award, was her first novel. Born in North Dakota, Shannon has called West Virginia, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Michigan “home” at some point in her life. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two sons, and her rescue mutt, Benson.