Thursday, March 16, 2017

In Memory of Hattie

Last week, I was informed that Hattie Lee Ellerbe had died at age 83 on Wednesday March 8th, 2017. Death is not something you expect to fall upon a writing group. But when working with older writers, it is something the writers and volunteers must keep in the back of their minds. When a member disappears from the group unannounced for months at a time, it's easy to assume the worst. So I appreciate when one of their friends or family members tell me of a writer's death.

It breaks my heart, but it means that Hattie loved us. It means that Best Day was enough of a fixture in her life that she knew everyone there would want to know. And right now, it means that I can honor her in this post, and introduce new readers to her works. Even after Hattie has drawn her last breath, she still speaks and we still listen. 

Hattie was one of the first members of The Best Day of My Life So Far, back when it was originally just a six-week workshop. So she was one of the people who convinced Benita to make it an 8+ year workshop. Every time she came to class she wore a big bright smile; one that both she and everyone else in Best Day was proud of. She always glowed with a youthful enthusiasm, and many people here have described her as beautiful inside and out. She loved her family and community so much that she gained the nickname "The Queen of Patton Street Village." 

And this love of community bled into all sorts of unexpected places. When it came to Best Day, she'd always have something to contribute; a little enhancement after everyone's story. More than once, Benita had recorded and transcribed a story someone else was telling, only for Hattie to pop up with a marvelous story of her own. Hattie's son Keith loved her stories so much that he shared her blog posts with everyone he could. Shortly before Keith's death, his secretary told Hattie that he would show off his mother's stories every time they were posted on this blog.

Below is just one of Hattie's many stories. Long live the Queen.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
Still Celebrating my 82nd Birthday 
I guess I am still in shock over my surprise party. Although I really agree with my friend who said, “When you reach age 80, there should be no surprise party.” I am still shaking from the event which was the 9th of May (smile). I am still reading the lovely cards and looking at the beautiful gifts. Most of them have a butterfly theme. How did so many people know of my love for butterflies? If any of my dear friends have access to this website, please know that I love you much. I thank you and appreciate all you did. To my daughter Karen who has been a blessing to me . . . I love you. You really pulled one over on me!

Read more stories by Hattie Lee Ellerbe:
Patton Street Village

Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Say Hi to Caitlin.. Yes, She's Stepping Up!

After 7.5 years of writing every word on this blog, it's with confidence in my heart and a big smile on my face that I pass the baton to the fabulous Caitlin Cieri. As Best Day of My Life So Far groups grow around the country, it’s time I put more focus into sharing intergenerational engagement tips and methods to more people. Don’t worry, I am not going anywhere ;) I will still be writing you from my heart, but my perspective will be more nationally focused, and I will share primarily via our newsletter which you can subscribe to here.

This blog has always meant more to me than a transmitter of our older buds’ stories. It’s always been my personal oasis from day one.  If Best Day groups are where older adults get to discover their voices, this blog is the place where I discovered my voice, and discovered my mission in this giant world. I am forever indebted to you for reading my words here, whether this is the first time we met or you have stuck with me for all these years. Even if I have never met you in real life, you mean more to me than you will ever know.

I will really miss my blogger role, but I know the person stepping into my shoes is perfect for the role. It’s her turn. It’s her time. Some of you may remember Caitlin throughout the years in volunteer spotlights that I have posted like this one or this one and in posts that I have invited her to write as a guest contributor like this one. Incidentally, it’s International Women’s Day today, and I am honored to have met Caitlin as a young woman 5 years ago and am so proud of the woman whom she has become.

And now… here’s a story/letter entitled “Stepping Up” by Caitlin, about how being a part of The Best Day of My Life So Far has impacted her life… so far!

Talk to you soon in upcoming newsletters. And feel free to reach out to me anytime at!

Love, Benita

Caitlin Cieri
Stepping Up

Hello, everyone! My name is Caitlin, and some of you may know me as a Lead Facilitator of The Best Day of My Life So Far’s Philadelphia Senior Center Group. My duties include events planning, managing the storytelling sessions, making sure every participant gets their work read, writing for those with disabilities or special needs, familiarizing participants with our websites, training new volunteers and keeping an open conversation between Best Day and the senior center. And now, they will include managing this blog.

I first found out about Best Day in 2012, when a coworker took me to one of their Thursday sessions. The first day I was there, I wrote for Joe Garrison. I loved his voice, his attitude, and his appreciation for folk music. After that day, I knew this group was special. I came back week after week and after a while I became a regular volunteer. The only time I wasn't able to facilitate was when I spent a year abroad in England. I missed my older buds so much that I used Hazel's story about her mom dragging her to a lecture by Dr. Martin Luther King for a writing assignment. When I came back to the United States for good, I immediately went back to managing the storytelling sessions at the Senior Center.

The older participants are both great friends and great writers, and volunteering at Best Day has helped me a lot. Writing for Joe and Loretta and whoever else came in prepared me for my job as a transcriber. I got better at telling when people wanted to speak and when they didn't in general. They gave both Benita and I solid advice when we needed it, like figuring out how to get my Poppop more active. And they love when I share my writing, both non-fiction and fiction, with them almost as much as I love when they share with me.

I am honored that Benita trusted me with this storytelling sessions and I was glad to be there to hear the participants’ stories and get them transcribed for our blog. I remember a conversation we had with the other facilitators about a particularly somber session. Something happened on the news and the older adults wrote about the racism they faced in their lives as an adult. At first we were worried that our older friends would lose their motivation to come if all they heard were sad, topical stories. But when I saw all of what they wrote, I knew I was reading something intimate and personal to them. They trusted us with both their best days and their worst days. That was when I said to Benita, "Sometimes the best day of your life is when you can talk about the worst day of your life."

I am even more honored that Benita asked me to run this blog for her, especially since she said it was because of my regular and enduring contact with the older writers. I want to honor the mission statement of Best Day, of ending older adult isolation by spreading stories. This blog has already reunited mothers and daughters, and daughters and grandchildren, so I want to put as many of our participants’ stories as possible on this blog. I’ll miss seeing Benita’s enthusiasm and joy in these posts, but I’m excited to continue her good work.

Much Love,
Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Catching Up with Grandma

Hey Readers!

My grandma's stories, which she began sharing with me over the phone in 2006, were the reason why we became best friends and the reason why I started The Best Day of My Life So Far. Every time I visit her in Seattle, I feel a surge of re-inspiration to reach out to more older people in more places and help their stories reach more young people. My visit home this time was extra special because it's the first time we sat together in front of my laptop to check out Best Day's new mission video. She doesn't speak English so I translated what our participants and interviewees say on screen to her, word for word. With each word, her smile grew. The organization's impact is really her impact – I told her I am so grateful that she's changed the lives of so many people. She simply giggled, as she always does when we talk about Best Day's growth, "I was just the first in line." She'll never brag. She's too cool for that. She's my hero.

That's why I have been a little slower at posting stories on this blog the last couple weeks, because I have been soaking up my time with my family and especially my grandma. But I want to let you know, you guys are always on my mind!!

Actually, this may be a good time to let you in on a little secret... our team has been creating more (crazy exciting) ways to deliver more stories to you than ever before! So if you ever feel that things are a little slower here on the blog, it's probably a sign that things are really picking up behind the scenes and we will have great things to unveil shortly. Stick with us and check back soon! In the meantime, check out our video (with a grandparent or an older bud, maybe) and sign up for our newsletter so you can get the full scoop!

Have a BEST day! - Benita

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Neha (Diwali)

For today, how about a story from Neha who is a super volunteer on our super facilitating team? Yes, Neha, take it away... take us away to Diwali, the loveliest festival of the Hindus!

Neha Katoraka

Diwali is the most colorful, sacred, and loveliest festival of the Hindus. This year, it is on the 30th of October. The festival marks the happy return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after 14 years exile. It is the festival of lights. It means a row or collection of lamps. A few days before Diwali, houses, shops, are thoroughly cleared and decorated. People exchange greetings and gifts or sweets on this day.

At night, buildings are illuminated with dujas, candlesticks, and electric bulbs. We worship Goddess Lasimi, the goddess of wealth at night. Children explode crackers.

I haven’t been able to celebrate this festival with my family for the last 3 years.

This year, we would be celebrating the festival at the University with a group of Indian students. I am really looking forward to this new experience of celebrating our festival with a group of new people.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Diana (My First Day of Birth)

I have to be honest. I didn't really know what to post today. The news and the country seem so tense lately. Too much has been said. And so I was just looking, not for answers, but for a little clarity, a little simplicity as I looked through the stories that our older adult buds have been sharing. The stories never ever disappoint me. This one was it. This one was what I need personally. A celebration of life at its most basic, at its most simple, and yet miraculous little form.
Diana Hallock
My First Day of Birth

One of my beautiful days was when I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland – Great Britain. My mother was young and pretty and lived in the United States, in Brooklyn, New York. My father was born in Shuttleland, Scotland – Great Britain. He had an uncle, his mother’s brother, named Charlie who took my parents to live with him and Aunt Sarah on Orchard Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, GB.

When mother gave birth at the Royal Hospital, Edinburgh, Scotland, of me, I was almost 4 lbs, with lots of dark hair, and she also tld me I was born at noon. Uncle Charlie brought my mother to the hospital (by foot) and she said the doctor who delivered me had red hair. The nurses thought my Uncle was my father. My father as I am told, was looking for a job at the mills (paper mills) but mother’s story said my father was drinking at the “pub.” In Great Britain, the bars were called “the pub.”

My mother, after delivering was put on the “ward”. The wards were rooms in the hospital which held many iron beds. At the end of each bed were iron baskets which were made beds to hold the little babies in. So mothers could breast feed the little ones. The babies, which were under weight had cotton around them to keep them warm.

The depression was starting in the United States. My parents (mother pregnant with me) from LI, NY, US came to Great Britain by boat in 1952. My Uncle Charlie was a brother in the order of the healing Brothers of Marta’s, and also served as a volunteer in World War I of the Shelters in Edinburgh, Scotland, GB. This was my first day of living outside my mother’s warm womb. I am blessed.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hazel (Lucille's Wisdom)

Martin Luther King Day became one of my favorite holidays a few years ago during a Best Day session when my buds around the table - many of whom happened to be African American at that particular session - spontaneously opened up about their experiences of watching him speak in person and on live TV. The past and the present connected for me within that simple hour. History felt for the first time relevant. Hope and dreams for the country felt possible. MLK the icon became suddenly very real, his message of love and unity became timeless. And every time this holiday comes around, I am reminded that this country is worth dreaming for.

Hazel Nurse
Lucille’s Wisdom

It all started several years ago when I received a phone call from my mother inviting me to come to hear a speaker in Atlantic City.

 Having just moved into another home a few months earlier and bearing the responsibilities of a wife and working mom, I refused.  She, on the other hand, insisted that I would miss listening to him tell America a few things.  She said “He has something on the ball”.

Out of respect for her, I reluctantly got my pregnant self together, grabbed my seven year old son and boarded a train to meet her. After his speech, we went and shook his hand, at the Atlantic City High School, in 1958.

Little did Mom know that a national holiday would be celebrated in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.