Thursday, September 20, 2018

Surprises (Jose)

A couple weeks ago, Norman asked when Benita would be coming back to visit the Philadelphia Senior Center. I was curious too, since her kids were old enough to be in school. Maybe she’d have enough time on her hands to stop by. When I asked Benita, she said she’s come to the next session to catch up. That was surprise number one!
Last week, Benita came in to a class full of older buds. She caught up with Frances, Joan, Eugene, Elliot, and Rochelle, and I introduced her to Jose and Delores. I was a little disappointed I couldn’t introduce her to Anne, Kant or Nouria, and I was worried Norman wouldn’t make it. Norman’s been a busy bee lately, so he’ll often call to say he won’t make one of the workshops. So I decided to give him a call.
Norman picked up and asked if we’d be in our usual room or the computer lab. I told him that we’d be in our room, and that I wanted to make sure he could make it because Benita came to visit. I heard him laugh on the phone and say, “Well, if Benita’s gonna be there...”
Then I saw him walk into the room and say, “I’d better come.” Benita ran over to him and gave him a great big hug, and we all had a great big laugh.


Jose Dominguez
The Real Education
At 22, I was studying law at the University of Chihuahua. At the beginning, it was easy, but now the courses were really complicated. This story is about one turning point in my life as a law student. 
It was my fourth year and at the end of the period, the final exams came as a course. This time, it was a course “Mexican Agrarian Law” and I had to study 800 pages. The book consisted of 28 chapters and the biggest was chapter 8 with 220 pages long. 
We had 7 days to prepare so I decided not to study chapter 8. The test was oral and the professor and two other faculty members were the jury, it was impressive. 
When my turn came, they randomly selected 2 chapters and there it goes – chapter 8. Oh my god – the only thing I did was take some time to decide as if there were something to decide. After a few seconds, I told the jury I prefer chapter 11 if you please, but my professor told me 8. “Oh no, Jose, that chapter has been explained all day long, please explain chapter 8.” Oof, I said to myself, there are 2 options: I run from here or I fake my explanation. So I began reading the topic of the chapter. It was on the history of the Agrarian Law in Mexico. My professor was a communist and I knew he did not like the destruction of our cultures by the Spaniards and so on. So I began praising the primitive laws and taking the law from Spain. The professor was happy I noticed. The 2 other teachers were so bored that they decided to go out to smoke a cigarette and that was it. I was in charge. I finished the test, embraced by my professor who told me I came in 6th and continue studying, you have a great future. Conclusion: The school teaches us on how to solve exams, test, ect. But many times they do not teach the real life. 

Life is full of surprises, you know.
Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Public and Private (Kant, Mo, and Delores)

A few of the older buds have been reluctant to post their stories online, due to concerns about being traced or watched by dangerous forces. This is understandable, between Cambridge Analytica, Edward Snowden, and all the myriad ways apps and websites can collect your information with its users none the wiser. However, they were more than willing to post stories under pseudonyms and noms de plume. Some of you might be surprised to learn that Mo McCooper's real name isn't Mo McCooper. He actually took the last name in honor of our fearless leader Benita.

On the other hand, there are plenty of older buds who are more than happy to share their lives outside of the workshop and website. Delores took time out of her weeknight to see a play I had produced back in March, and she brought a friend with her who had no problem with her picture being put on the website. I even saw her walk past the window when I was having lunch and gave her a quick call to ask if it was her.

The most important thing for me as a Best Day Facilitator is to make sure the seniors are comfortable enough to share their stories, under their real name or otherwise. Many of them come from places of hardship, and I never ask them to divulge something so intimate until they're absolutely ready. That is why I always feel so grateful that they do, that they trust me with their lives...along with the world.

Kant Spel
The Best Thing You’ve Learned In your Life to Differ Judgment 

I always want to be right or at least have people think that what I’m saying is valid, correct, accurate. I have needed this affirmation. Being somewhat wobbly about most important things. The things my parents did were full of contradictions and didn’t make sense for me so I had to forge my own path.
I was somewhat desperate for clarify and a moral path, goals, with integrity. I read, I listened, I consulted. I compared my discomfort with other girls my age. Very few were as lost or discouraged as I was. They saw their parents as role models. I did not. I judged them because of my extreme discomfort. I had a grueling path to adulthood. Whatever my other efforts were – schooling, relationship, artist stimulation, my primary effort was to stabilize myself.
I held on to a few things that helped. Shakespeare’s words “to thine own self be true” came up frequently.

Mo McCooper

The only debates I remember when I was going to school were in games where you or a guy on the other team were out of bounds. There were no referees at those playground games, but we got by with some unwritten rules. If you called fouls on defenders, that seemed excuses for missing a shot – we would all foul you harder to discourage the habit.
Baseball and football had fewer disagreements, but they were sometimes harder to agree on.
The younger players would learn from the older or the new players from the regulars.
For it all to work, we had to learn how the games were more worth playing and winning more rewarding if a playground rules were followed by all.
As far as the classrooms from first grade to 12th grade, I don’t remember any debates at all.
More to follow.

Delores Wilson
Taste of Nostalgia

Our family was one of the first to have a television on the block.
The neighbors were welcome in our house to watch television until they could afford their own.
The programs were very original and children, friendly. They taught a lot of object lessons.
Did we have a favorite? Yes, Sunday for me was “Lassie.”
We were encouraged to pay attention to the local and national news.
The adults understood how to engage us children in current events of those days.
I recalled one time, it was a commercial on televisions. Mr. Lynch shared with me, “that the commercial paid for the shows.” After hearing that, I
Ed Sullivan Show was a variety show that aired on Sundays. Featuring movie stars that are still alive and performing today such as Gladys Night, etc.
The Uptown Theatre was “the place.” All who was who came from there. The Apollo Theater in New york held that same standard.
To be an “Artist” at that time, rather acting, singing, dancing, writing behind the scenes or in front. The enclaves demand the best and they, the “artist” gave their best.
Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Labor Day (Norman)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve wished people Happy Labor Days, and several of them said “I don’t have Labor Day off.” That got me to thinking how much of our work schedule we take for granted. We expect most people to go to school, go to college, get a job, get all the holidays off, save up a nest egg, then have a long, comfortable retirement. This lifestyle is getting harder and harder to maintain, especially for seniors. It’s easy to rely on Social Security when you retire, but it’s only a recent invention, and it might die out by 2035. Besides that, seniors who go on Social Security are forced to cut back a lot to make sure it lasts their entire retirement. Some of them have family who can pay for a retirement home, but not necessarily the exact services needed. Others are forced to continue working, many in physically dangerous jobs outside their area in expertise. 

Point being, there are a lot of seniors who don’t get the comfortable retirement they worked for all their lives. And if you yourself can’t support them financially, then support them emotionally. Buy the older bud in your life a nice lunch, take them on a trip somewhere fun, help them look up homes and services, invite them over for a barbecue. And above all, listen.

Norman Cain 
Working in Tobacco 

According to Deloris, our cousin who was raised by my grandparents, who was four years older than me and six years older than my sister Gwendolyn (whose beauty earned her the nickname “Baby Doll”), each summer during the 50s and 60s, my sister and I were sent to South Carolina to visit my maternal grandparents. We worked on their tobacco farm, a plowed plot of land boarded by linen covered a rectangular wooded bed in which tobacco seeds were encased. In April, the small emerging plants were removed from the bed, planted in rows, spaced several inches apart. This process was accomplished by three workers. The first worker made a whole in the ground with a pole; the second worker placed the small plants in the hole; and the third worker would place water and fertilizer in the hole. By mid-summer the tobacco plants would have bloomed.   

Our job would be topping: breaking small flower-like plants from the stalks, suckering/removing miniature tobacco plants from within larger leaves and worming, pulling green horned tobacco worms from the plants so that they would not devour the profits. Near the middle of July, the tobacco would be ready to harvest. Men in the fields would strip the leaves from the stalks and when they acquired a sufficient bundle, they would place them in a rectangular mule driven vehicle known as a drag whose sides were covered in burlap. 

Generally, young boys would drive the drags to the tobacco barn, where the ladies worked. Their job would be to tie the tobacco to sticks. Young girls would hand several leaves to the ladies who would tie them to the sticks. The sticks would be taken into the barn and hung on rafters. Then, the curing process begun. 

For at least a week, both day and night, my grandfather would have to check the temperature emitting from the oil heaters. When the tobacco was cured, it was taken to the pack house. The tobacco was unstrung and graded by quality – excellent, normal, and trash – and tied. The latter was accomplished by the tips of a bundle of leaves being aligned and tied together by a leave folded in quarters and tightly wrapped around the tips.  

The bundles would be parted and slid on polished hickory sticks. The first row bundle of sticks would be placed on burlap-covered floor. Sticks of tobacco would be placed on top of one another and when the process was completed, the tobacco was completely covered with burlap. Each day, the burlap would be removed and the tobacco would be sprinkled with water by means of a straw broom so that the tobacco would not dry out. 

Finally, the tobacco would be loaded on a wagon, driven to town to the warehouse. There, workers would remove the tobacco from sticks and geometrically be placed in wicker baskets according to grade. Auctioneers, followed by a clerk, and a line of farmers swiftly moved down rows rapidly calling out what his company was willing to pay for each basket. The farmers were given slips indicating upon which was written the amount the auctioneer was willing to pay for each basket of wares. 

The farmer was given a voucher, which he turned into a caged cashier. 
And here's this week's senior selfie, a labor of love by José and his trusty selfie stick.

 Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Summer's End (Ellie)

Last week was Ellie’s final week volunteering with us. For those of you who don’t know, Ellie’s the striking young woman dressed in all black who’s popped up in our senior selfies. I first met her in early August and she said she was working at the Philadelphia Senior Center for the summer. It was only for the summer because she had to go back to Temple University to get her Masters’ Degree.
Ellie was an amazing volunteer, adeptly writing for anyone who needed it, setting up the room, talking with all sorts of older buds—even the ones outside Best Day—and coordinating some of the senior selfies! Every Thursday, she’d go home and tell her daughter all about Best Day...and she said she wanted to come to the workshop too!

Because of the time frame of Best Day, it’s hard to find volunteers who become regulars, especially during the school year. But every volunteer who comes leaves an indelible mark on the older buds. And every volunteer has their own story to tell.

Ellie Scicchitano
Roller Skating

I first decided to try roller-skating in January of 2017. I bought myself a pair of rollerblades since they reminded me of my childhood when everyone used rollerblades. I remember the kids in my neighborhood would glide around on blades and it looked like fun.
I bought my daughter a pair of regular skates – we call that style “quads” in roller-skating culture – and we paid a visit to our local skating rink. My daughter and I are fortunate enough to live near a roller-skating rink in a city that has so few of them.
First, we practiced at home on a tile floor. We learned how to stand up on our skates and keep our balance. Once we felt comfortable, we took our humble skills to the local rink.
Roller-skating requires more than a fair share of bravery. The floor of our rink is
hard and unforgiving and there are other skaters around of varying skill levels.
There is een a huge sign above the entrance to the rink in the lobby that warns skaters of what could happen to them just by skating. It is a participation sport and it is risky.
Still, my daughter and I bravely put on our skates and stepped onto the rink. At first, I was afraid to look away from my feet. I watched my skates as I circled the rink, hoping to anticipate a fall and stop myself in time. There was also the issue of keeping my balance, not leaning too far back or two far forward. Speed wasn’t even a concern at this point – only staying upright was!
Thanks to my practice at home on the tile floor, I was able to hold my own pretty
well – and being young, my daughter took to skating very quickly. The first problem I had was amazingly recognizing when I was too tired to continue. On rollerblades, one’s ankles take a lot of stress. At one point, I fell and landed on my tail bone. It hurt so badly that no medication could dull the pain. I said I would never skate again.
The most wonderful thing about roller-skating is how it parallels life: When you fall, you learn to get back up and keep going. And I did: The next day I returned to the rink and tried again and kept trying. Each time, I got a little better.
Eventually, I switched to regular skates and my daughter switched to blades. I kept practicing though at one point, I had to take a break due to schoolwork, but I took it up again recently. And I found that my learning curve had gotten faster and I learned how to fall “safely”; landing on muscle or on my hands in a push-up position, to spare my knees. I also learned a move called the crossover for turns and I can skate backwards, though not very fast.
I’m still nervous about falling when I step onto a skating rink, but it’s gotten a lot
easier. And if I do fall, I know exactly what to do: Like everywhere else in life, I pick myself up and keep going.

Thanks for all your support, Ellie. See you soon!

Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, August 23, 2018

National Senior Citizens' Day (Ledice and Jose)

This past Tuesday was National Senior Citizens' Day, a day to honor the seniors and older buds in our lives. Since Best Day was inspired by a conversation between Benita, our founder, and Mei Chiu, Benita's grandmother who came to the United States from Hong Kong. To celebrate that incredible journey Mei made, and the stories that came with it, I've devoted this post to stories from our immigrant older buds. Please keep in mind that American English is not our storytellers' first language. We've kept the grammar and word choice intact, except in rare cases where leaving it out would make the story more confusing.

Ledice McKnight 
My Arrival to the USA 

I always remember when I arrived at the United States in 1981.
I was very excited coming to the United States, my purpose was learning English to an intermediate level to pass the TOEFL or the Michigan test. However, my happiness very soon turned into a nightmare. I arrived at Metro Airport in Detroit, Michigan and the person that was supposed to pick me up never showed up. I had to venture at 9:00 PM into a town that I had never been before and I did speak very very little English. 
I went from Detroit Airport to Ann Arbor at 9:00 PM. I showed my papers to the cab driver, my passport, and student visa. Since it was very late, he dropped me off in a little motel called Harmony House. I did the best I could to explain to the motel’s owner that I needed a room. At this point, my head was about to explode. I had a horrible headache. I left my country at 6:00 AM and more than 12 hours passed and I had not eaten anything. When I got a key to my room, I sat down in the bed and I cried and I said to myself I took so many English classes at Venezuelan American Institute and I did not understand a word of English.

Jose Dominiguez 
My Wife Farewell

Taking Maria to the emergency hospital was not a surprise. For 3 or more years her health was diminished month after month day after day. At 64 years of age and 40 of marriage this looked like the prelude of a farewell. She always had something to say and her advises were on natural healing and to surrender ourselves to the will of God. Nevertheless she, as always, looked powerful so sure of her recovery, so sure of her will of power but that Sunday she was so week that immediately was transferred to a IC unit. The infection was touching her blood and that means sepsis. To give her a chance of breathing, she was hooked to a respirator. Her life was in decline, the doctors told us that there was no hope. I took her hand and at the same time that I touched her dear face I muted slowly: “Maria you are going to make your final trip. Your soul will leave free from your body, you will be in an indescribable area because of its beauty and peace and at certain point you will hear a voice calling you ‘Maria, I was waiting for you this is your eternal dwelling. From here you were ushered at Earth and now you return to your real home here, time, pain, suffering, attachments those not exist.
You are welcome dear Maria our dear daughter.’”
She did not reacted and a few moments later her heart stopped.

If you liked these stories, then pass them around. Stories are meant to be shared, and Best Day is as successful as it is because of word of mouth. Thanks for your support, and Happy Belated National Senior Citizens' Day!

 Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, August 16, 2018

In Memory of Helen

I’m sorry to announce that older bud Helen Claybrook has passed away in July. She was always a diligent member of our group. Even when her health got worse, she would stop by once every few months to write another story. I remember holding onto a copy of a story she wrote a few years ago, because I knew she’d come back. I finally gave it back to her on November 9th, just a few hours before Best Day’s Happy Hour fundraiser. And she took our name to heart, too! I can’t tell you how many of her stories started with some variation of “The happiest day of my life was when...”

She was a tough but loving mother who worked her butt off to provide for her kids. They're full grown now, but she still continued to take care of her beloved cats as well. Helen was also invaluable to her friends, and fellow older buds. Older bud Loretta was actually the one to tell us Helen had passed. Neither of them had been able to come to Best Day lately, but both of them valued us enough to keep in touch.

I went through the blog and noticed that not all of her stories were posted. Today, I intend to fix that by sharing as much of Helen's work with our readers as possible. Here's to you, Helen. We miss you.

Helen Claybrook
Where I lived

I lived in Eastern Shore, VA, the landscape was wild. There were pine trees, potato farms, grass everywhere. There was only seven houses on about forty acres or more of land. No street lights. There was just endless roads, blackberries were along the road. Apple, peach trees, the Atlantic Ocean was within walking distance from my home. There was also a very large and deep hole - was several miles between the road and Atlantic Ocean. No supermarkets, McDonalds, no doctors, hospitals, only five miles into Maryland. There was also a hospital in VA one hundred miles away.
Now, they have a hospital fifteen miles into Salisbury, MD, doctors you can visit in two towns over. The farms are no more. People work at Perdue or Tyson Chicken factories. They live in houses, mid-level homes, double-wide trailers. There is a supermarket, Family Dollar, State store and Pizza Hut.

Helen Claybrook
Going to the Hospital

I am going to the hospital when they call me and I am a little scared. I have not been feeling well for a week. But I keep pushing myself to do what I have to do to take care of my apartment and cat. My apartment is only three rooms, but it is a lot for me to keep clean. My cat makes a mess every day. Somehow she finds the caps off my diabetic needles and pushing them under and out the door. I hope she is alright while I am in the hospital for four days.

Helen Claybrook
My Miracle from Jesus

The best day of my life was when my great granddaughter was born in 2016.
I was given until morning to live in 1972. I had to have a total because of P.I.D.
I think it was from using Johnson body powder. Then I was told I needed a cardiac cath because I had C.H.F and it would only get worse as I got older. They perfected the cardiac cath and invented new medication which has helped me live longer. Then twenty-five years ago, the doctor who is in charge of Presbyterian Hospital told me I had a year to live if I continued to live like I was living. I was a falling-down, pisses drunk. I worked everyday, but had to use money for drinks and bills. Twenty-five years later I have not had a drink of liquid for over twenty-three years, four months, twelve days. I drank two years after the doctor told me I would die in a year, stopped drinking after I went to another doctor. He circled blood alcohol level as 3 times the legal limit in Pennsylvania. I drove there to the Doctor’s office. Now they say I have five years to live on kidney dialysis. My friends said you did the math: 125 years x 5 years ; 68 – how old I am now = 193 years til I die.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! 

Helen Claybrook
A Good Day

The best day of my life, this year, was yesterday when I found out my insurance will pay for my dialysis treatment. My kidney has been failing for twenty-five years. My doctor, Dr. Shepard told me I had one year to live if I continued to live like I was living. I drank for two more years and finally stopped twenty-three years ago. I like to travel to the eastern shore, Atlanta, Georgia, and San Francisco. I am hoping I can also still go to Puerto Rico. I would also like to go on a cruise.

Helen Claybrook
Nursing School

One of the best days of my life was when I was accepted to Nursing School.
I was left by my husband to raise our two sons. Lawrence and Frank.
I went on public assistance. I didn’t like it. Everyone in my family worked. So I asked, did they have a program to help me pay for school. The answer was yes. I went to school to be a licensed practical nurse.
I worked from 1972 until 2006. I wasn’t not happy, but it paid the bills.

Read more stories by Helen Claybrook: