Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Norman, Frances, Jana, Rachel, Joan, Elliot, Mo, Brenda, Loretta, Joe (We are Family)



One of my favorite things to do every holiday season is to reread stories my senior buds have told through the years, and this year, "We are Family" is the message that I feel like they are sending to me. Like lyrics to a perfect song, I can’t get them out of my mind.

These words take me back to the summer of 2010. Months into our founding, inner city teens who visited our senior storytelling sessions began calling us their second family. They were on summer break but chose to spend time with us at the senior center, week after week, bringing more and more friends.

These particular teens happened to be living in and out of foster homes-they know what family means biologically but we are the only feeling of family they have ever experienced. Soon, story by story, seniors began calling our group their family too.

"We are like a family, or like a rainbow." Beatrice wrote, "I love all of you."

"Different ages, different races, man & woman – we are all the same living in this wonderful world! Like myself, I came from far, far away, miles and miles away – China. That is why I learn a lot here, from all these wonderful people. " Robert wrote. “I try to come to our meetings whenever I can.  I love everyone here.”

We are family–not just because we love one another, but because we love one another despite of and because of our apparent differences. We are family–not just because we can share about our memories, but also, as Elliot calls them, our “dreams and fears.” Hundreds of seniors have joined our group since then, and given us their hearts through thousands of stories, and this family feeling deepens with every single story.

Norman Cain
9.11.2014
My Grandmother's Laundry Room

My grandmother's laundry room was not located in a finished, attractive basement. It had no shelves (containing detergents, bleaches, and fabric softeners) that hovered above a modern washer or dryer.

And when clothes were washed, there was no humming coming from a washing machine. Likewise, there was no humming coming from the dryer and there was no choice about the drying cycle. No hot. No warm. No delicate.

My grandmother's laundry room was located in the back of the family house, in-between the well and smoke house and chicken coop and cotton field. Instead of a washing machine, there was a big black cast iron pot filled with hot water that was mounted by fuel chopped wood. There was no detergent in the water, but rather home-made brown lye soap. The clothes were stirred with sturdy ax handles.

There was no modern dryer but there was a natural drier – the sun, which beamed down upon the clothes that hung absolutely dirt free from clothes lines.

My grandmother did not have a modern laundry room, but her wash was always 100% clean.

Frances Bryce
10.9.2014
Old Age Is Gaining On Me

Woke up this morning – sore as could be
Slowly crawled out of bed
No fast movements these days for me
Could it be true – old age is gaining on me?

Walked up the stairs
Heard loud creaking
Maybe someone is at the door
Or a loose board on the floor
Perhaps someone on the radio speaking
It couldn't be my knees
Tell me, tell me please
Could it be true – old age is gaining on me?

Entered a room to get something, I know
Returned emptied handed
With nothing to show
Could it be true – old age is gaining on me?

Drove to the store to buy some bread
Retuned home with tissues and batteries instead
It seems to be true – old age is gaining on me!

From my name I awoke
Rested and refreshed as could be
Which day is it now?
Better check the paper to see
It's all so true – old age has finally caught up with me!

Jana Henry, Volunteer
10.9.2014
To Feel Is To Live

I've been reading this book with a group of friends from my church. The book has been talking about dealing and recognizing your feelings. I never realized how much I don't verbalize how I truly feel. Many situations I avoid feeling. It's strange how you don't think you act a certain way and then you read something and it slaps you in your face. If there was ever a good slap in the face, it would be a slap that helps you to be a better person. As a writer, I often write stories. I write myself out of these stories. This I have realized this week is not very purposeful. If I am painting these beautiful stories on pages and not telling my own, I am cheating myself. I choose to feel. I choose to write out the good and the bad. If only for the simple reminder when I read these stories I know I felt that moment. I was there. I recognize that I lived my life and not just took a look at it.

Rachel Hampton, Volunteer
10.09.2014
Finding Home

I made a new friend! Her name is Cat, and she is a friend of my boyfriend, Serge. I am always nervous to meet new people, because when I went to a different school I had a very hard time making friends – I was very lonely. That was a hard time in my life. I have more friends now, but then I worry about losing them. I worry, about the loss of friendship I see around me. People move around so much, they lose contact, with family even – it’s like we’re losing the talent to live in community with each other. I feel like – okay, I’m not very adventurous, but I just want to live in one place with a bunch of people I love and trust – I want to have a home. And the way society is set up now, that’s so hard to do. You leave to go to school, you follow whatever work you end up doing, you move and move again and you’re supposed to put all this energy into your work, it’s so hard to put energy into just paying attention to other people. A lot of the relationships I see around me are superficial as a result.

But I am determined not to live like that – I want the people in my life to be the most important part of my life. And I hope that if I focus on that, I’ll be able to find my own kind of happiness and love.

Joan Bunting
10.30.2014
Was It Puppy Love? I Don’t Think So

I met Gerald Blake in 1949. My sister Doris and I had been living at a new location. From Mrs. Chamberlin Smith to Ms. Eunice Jackson. We were also reunited with three of our siblings: Bernice, Eugene and Paul.

We had been living there about a year when I met Gerald. We were both only nine years old but knew right away that we liked each other.

Gerald was gifted with a beautiful singing voice. He had the prettiest white teeth and was very shy (we both were). We never even kissed.

When Gerald was seventeen years old he joined the army. We would write letters to each other and sometimes write poems.

In one of his letters he asked me to marry him. I had not graduated from high school yet and told him that I was not ready to marry. His mother found out and stopped speaking to me.

When Gerald came home he married someone else. When his cousin Brenda married my brother Eugene, Gerald attended the wedding with his wife. Of course I felt jealous but I got over it.

Elliott Doomes
11.13.2014
Dreams and Fears

I have recurring dreams about my visions, dreams where my vision is clear. But then I wake up and it’s the same. I live in fear now, because I can’t see on the right side. When someone’s walking behind me I stop and let them pass so I can see them. And I bump into things now. People try to help me, but I wave them off, because I don’t want to be helpless or useless. I worry about something happening to my other eye, so I didn’t let them operate on it. They messed up my eye and couldn’t tell me what went wrong, why I can’t see out of it now. That disappointed me – I don’t want to talk to doctors now, I’m so upset.

I still hope it will get better – a drowning man grasping at straws, but one day maybe I’ll get enough straws.

Mo McCooper
10.24.2013
The Dark Side

Sometimes in the elementary school years, I would notice that some of my classmates’ mothers would look very tired when I was in their house after school. Sometimes some of them had black eyes. I never asked my friends how or why but we never stayed inside to play any games or read any comic books.

When I grew up, I was sometimes in a bar where their fathers drank. It was obvious they were not enjoying their shots and beers anymore but just killing time before going home. One man would start to softly sing, “I only want a buddy, not a sweetheart, for sweethearts always make me blue.” It was awful to hear him.

Brenda Scantlebury
11.13.2014
Here Today

Today is the Best Day of My Life So Far: this week! I say that because, for the past two weeks, I’ve been working with little people again! I thought I was finished a couple years ago, when I was no longer working at the preschool that I had worked at for nineteen years.

I am in charge of several two year-olds. A set of twin boys --whew! Talk about energy! I am quite sure you can imagine. These twins remind me of my own, who are now grown men and have children of their own.

I left my class early today so that I could go to a doctor’s appointment and to also participate in my storytelling and writing class! I really miss my group of friends.
It is a pleasure to be in their company and also to hear all of the wonderful stories that they tell!

Shalom!

P.S. I am Here Today --Amen.

Loretta Dotson
9.25.2014
Fruitful Labor

I learned at a early age you work for what you want and need. In order to help out I would after school scrub steps and earn 25 cents. There was a couple from Germany struggling to learn English. I would for three days after school spend time teaching and tutoring them for $1.00 an hour plus they would give me a banana sandwich on buttered rye bread.

Ground beef was not expensive about $1.50 a lb. Long grain rice was 10 cents a lb. I would buy dinner about two nights a week. My mom and dad were proud of me for helping out. My older sister married and my older brother were in the service. It was no problem helping younger sister and brother with homework and assigning chores.

There were 10 of us and we were very close. Because of the responsibility patterns we grew up and it was easily transferred to our adult life. Some of our younger relatives haven’t quite seen in our way yet, but we’re hoping. When you work for something needed or wanted there is a sense of joy and pride. It might be something you cherish and plan to keep or it could be a gift for someone special. When you earn is it’s a keepsake in your heart.

Joe Garrison
5.22.2014
My Dream

A few weeks ago, I wrote a story about how my meeting Benita in April 2010 made me comfortable and motivated me to keep coming to this writing class. A lot of memories of this class have stayed with me, even the birth of her baby, Kian.

About four months ago I was reading a Western novel and one of the characters was a nine-year-old boy called Keelan. Keelan is pretty close in sound to Kian. Then about a month ago, I had a dream that Benita’s little boy was eight years old, and was the leader of a junior detective agency.

I don’t remember the case he was involved in, but whatever it was, he solved it. I couldn’t wait to tell Benita about the dream, and she got a big charge out of it. He was about 4’11”, and was telling Benita all about the case he had solved. He was wearing jeans and a buckskin vest. I can’t see, so I can’t see colors and light in my dreams, but I can imagine textures and shapes. What’s funny is, in real life, Kian was only about eight months old, and was just starting to crawl. He definitely doesn’t know how to talk yet. But that dream felt real!

The reason I am writing down this story is that people you like can have a great influence on what you remember and dream about. I really believe that if something or someone is an important part of your life, it plays itself out in dreams.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Gift from the Heart: The Best Day of My Life So Far Storybook



“The words of these stories bring back the past, but more important than that, they fulfill our common need to be heard, to be listened to, to connect.”
- AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson

Here at Best Day, we believe that big things come in little packages. We believe that our seniors' stories are vehicles of inspiration, joy and love. That's why my team and I have poured our hearts and souls into sharing our seniors' hearts and souls in a new gift-ready format with you. In time for the holiday season, we are excited to announce that The Best Day of My Life So Far Storybook is now available on Amazon.com! Whether it's for a loved one whom you see every day, or a friend whom you have lost touch with for a while, this is a gift that will allow you to give a piece of your heart to them, and will warm their heart in the deepest way.

Click Here to pick up a few copies today!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Joan (What is Your Hidden Talent?)


Thanksgiving is around the corner, and I find myself rereading all of Joan’s recent stories to get myself into the mood! Even on ordinary days and bad days, she finds something to celebrate. Every day, she finds a reason to be thankful. Even in sad memories, she finds closure and an eventual joy. I see her thinking about it, looking for it, and always finding it. Joan asks us in her story, “What is Your Hidden Talent?” I feel like hers is not just drawing pictures. Her talent is finding and spreading joy.

Joan Bunting
10.16.2014
What Is Your Hidden Talent?

As a little girl – age four or five – my sister Doris taught me how to color without going outside the lines, how to write my name and how to read. When I was in the second grade I was reading at third grade level. Doris also would draw pictures for me. She showed me how to draw stick figures. Doris had and still has artistic talents.

When I started working at the age of forty-three, I worked at a day car center as a teacher aide. One of my jobs was to draw pictures for the class. My lead teacher must have seen something that I didn’t know I had so she started asking me to draw bigger things.

The first large picture she asked me to draw was a Santa Clause part-way in a chimney. I told her I would do my best. I didn’t know whether I could do it or not. When I finished I was amazed. After that, I drew a large tiger that was hung on the wall.

When drawing on tee-shirts became popular, my co-workers asked me to draw on tee-shirts for them. All I could say was, “I’ll do my best.”

I was even doubly-amazed when I actually drew a hand holding five cards, a bingo card and other fascinating pictures. I even made a piƱata for the children and filled it with candy.

One day I will bring some of the work I’ve done. I took pictures; I would have never guessed that I had such a beautiful hidden talent. What is your hidden talent?

Joan Bunting
9.25.2014
Rain Rain Don’t Go Away?

Why do people let rainy days and Mondays get them down? Do you remember that song?

Today is a rainy day but I feel great. Rainy days have never stopped me from wanting to enjoy my day. When I was younger rainy days were for enjoying being with my husband and having fun with my children indoors. I love watching the rain drops fall, especially when it was coming down in sheets just like it did a few time this summer.

Mondays seem to give some people the blues. I believe that happens to people that have to start a new working week. But for me Mondays are the new beginning of new experiences, meeting new people and having new fun.

Whatever day it may be remember this: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” There are those who don’t wake up the next day.

Joan Bunting
10.30.2014
Was It Puppy Love? I Don’t Think So

I met Gerald Blake in 1949. My sister Doris and I had been living at a new location. From Mrs. Chamberlin Smith to Ms. Eunice Jackson. We were also reunited with three of our siblings: Bernice, Eugene and Paul.

We had been living there about a year when I met Gerald. We were both only nine years old but knew right away that we liked each other.

Gerald was gifted with a beautiful singing voice. He had the prettiest white teeth and was very shy (we both were). We never even kissed.

When Gerald was seventeen years old he joined the army. We would write letters to each other and sometimes write poems.

In one of his letters he asked me to marry him. I had not graduated from high school yet and told him that I was not ready to marry. His mother found out and stopped speaking to me.

When Gerald came home he married someone else. When his cousin Brenda married my brother Eugene, Gerald attended the wedding with his wife. Of course I felt jealous but I got over it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Elliot and Frances (Lives Have Value)




This is a perfect world, when we see each other as people being a part of the whole. I feel like Elliot may be onto something here, do you? It’s a shame that people can view others as a threat without knowing who they are or getting to know them–whether it’s Frances’ example of young black men or other marginalized cultures.

My hope is that someone out there, and hey, it would be awesome if it happens to you, will read this pair of stories, and realize how terrible it feels to grow up marginalized and fearful of being viewed as a threat, and then realize that we each in our day-to-day lives have the power to scrub away a little of that imperfection in the world, just by understanding each other a little bit more.

Elliot Doomes
10.09.2014
My Opinion

I get tired of hearing people say, "This is not a perfect world." There's nothing that we need that we can't find in this world that we live in. We have water, we have food, we have sunshine, we have shelter provided by the earth. For me, that makes the world perfect because we have everything we need.

The only imperfect thing about this world is the people in it. The people no longer see each other as people being a part of the whole. People look at the differences between people. We don't perceive each other as human beings sharing this perfect world. We don't think of other people as being a part of you, or a part of us, or a part of me. From human being to human being, what hurts me hurts you, so why do we want to inflict pain on each other?

Most people see differences in people from other nationalities. We all breathe, we all defecate, we all bleed, so where's the difference? Ignorance is the only word I can use. The differences come from our individual perceptions, which are based upon our own ignorance. If I don't communicate with you and you don’t communicate with me, we will never understand each other.

Most times if we understand each other, we will find that we both aspire to the same things. We all want to be happy. We all want to have freedom. We all want to love somebody. We all want to be loved by somebody. We all want to have a loving family. We all want to provide for our family. We all want our grandchildren to think we walk on water. Because they love me and we love them. You and I are the same. The differences are in our minds.

Frances Bryce
9.11.2014
Live Have Value

The media that reported the death of a young black male in Ferguson, MO, unarmed, by a white officer caused an uprising between the police and the citizens in MO. We saw the frustration of people who often are marginalized in that and other cities.

The Inquirer published accounts of few Afro-American men about their experiences with officers that are supposed to protect them. This fact was driven home when the above incident happened. They recounted "the talk" that their parents gave them about how to survive in this atmosphere, it was not about the birds and bees. They warned their black males how to speak, move, and behave if they are encountered by police. They told their sons, nephews, and other black males that they are often viewed as a threat without knowing who they are or getting to know them.

One writer had a very positive experience early in his life with a detective who befriended him, when his mother was attacked. So he thought all policemen everywhere were like the detective. Sadly, later he read and witnessed several incidences that showed the brutality when black and Puerto kids were harassed for no reason.

I remember overhearing my father talk to my brother about the treatment that young males are subjected to. At 14 years of age, I had to explain to my son why I refused to buy a utility knife because I was aware that if he had an encounter with another kid, the utility knife could be considered a weapon. I tried to explain how he may be viewed. He didn't understand at that time. Later, when he was older at Christmas, his stocking contained a utility knife. I'm sure it wasn't appreciated as much, but at least his wish was fulfilled.