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Dreams You Give Your Children

Catherine Bellizzi
Catherine Bellizzi Author Interview

The 86-Year-Old Orphan follows a woman that is dealing with getting old and searches for renewed meaning in life. What was the inspiration for the setup to this heartwarming story?

I came up with the idea after visiting my elderly aunt in assisted living. I realized no one who knew her now had any idea of the vibrant, energetic woman she once was. She was young and beautiful and so much more than the image she currently presented to the world. I wanted to tell the story of her life and to show what led her to this new chapter, a chapter she embraced as she had all her other chapters, with openness, love and friendship.

Tessie is an interesting character. What were some ideas that guided her character development?

While motivated by my aunt to explore the subject of women who came of age in the 1940’s, Tessie was really inspired by my mother. She was a woman before her time in many ways. A working woman, who loved her family, but also found fulfillment outside the home in her work, in books, in film, in Broadway shows. She gave up some of her dreams so that I could have mine, like so many mothers of that era, and I wanted to write about her generation and the choices they made.

The novel explores growing old and family. What were some themes you wanted to focus on in this book?

I wanted to explore the joys of having a family, but also the sacrifices, sacrifices that may not always be appreciated. The dreams you give your children while they may not realize the dreams you gave up for them. I wanted to explore how our families react to us getting older. Also, what happens to us as we age and how we can make the best of it, oftentimes finding, unexpectedly, we have made a new family for ourselves with new caring friends.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

In the beginning stages, the new book is about Luna, a young career woman who deals with mixed messages in communications, both personal in her established relationships and technical, specifically phone or text messages that may be unseen or deleted and may change the course of her life.

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Tessie won the prize. A long life. Why didn’t she always feel like a winner? She had led a charmed life. She was young and beautiful, shiny and new, once. Had the world at her feet. She would walk into a room and every head would turn. Now people avert their eyes, especially when they see her wheelchair. She didn’t plan on becoming an old woman, but here it was. Sure she had graying hair and wrinkles now, but were those such terrible things to have? Why couldn’t people just let her age? Why couldn’t she let herself age? Follow Tessie from Brooklyn, to career, to family and finally to a new life in Arizona. She always felt that you should bloom where you’re planted and that’s what she intends to do. Can she make a new life for herself at this age and in this place with new love, new friends and new family?

The 86-Year-Old Orphan

Tessie always knew that getting old was part of life. What she didn’t expect was how quickly it happened. Or that she would be spending her golden years in Desert Twilights, the assisted living facility in Arizona, across the country from her home, her family, and everything she had ever known. As her 86th birthday approached, Tessie seemed to spend more and more time reflecting on the life that had led her here, even as those around her were often doing the same. She was comforted by memories of what was, as much as she was haunted by thoughts of what could have been.

The 86 Year Old Orphan by Caterine Bellizzi is a heartfelt, and sometimes heartbreaking, look at aging. It explores how hard this natural process can be to face, the different attitudes people take toward it, and the different paths that lead people to what is, eventually, the same place. When we’re introduced to Tessie, she has been at Desert Twilights for three years already, but faced with her upcoming birthday, falls into a bout of nostalgia that is stronger than usual. Via frequent flashbacks, Tessie’s life is shaped, from her tumultuous childhood as the daughter of immigrants, through her early hopes and ambitions, on to the expected role of housewife and mother. While Tessie expresses very little regret for her life’s decisions, she naturally wonders how things might have been different if her choices had taken other routes and different points. Her fellow residents at Desert Twilights are similarly introduced, both in their current situations and earlier years, and although they have all followed drastically different paths, they have all ended up spending the ends of their lives together.

The 86 Year Old Orphan touches on a variety of themes, ultimately focusing on acceptance, and the fact that life experience isn’t so much what happens to you, but your reaction to those events. Over the course of the story, Tessie has a renewed sense of self discovery, and comes to realize that the best way to live the last years of your life is to be as happy with the present as you were in the past, despite the gulf of differences that might exist between the two.

The 86 Year Old Orphan began a little slowly, and as a result I wasn’t sure if it would be very interesting, but it gained steam quickly and before long I was completely invested in Tessie’s life, wondering where it would go from here. I cried more than once as well! Bellizzi has written a beautiful story that will make reflect on your own life, past, present, and future.

Pages: 194 | ASIN: B0898K76SM

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