Thursday, May 21, 2015

Norman, Joe, Elliot (Boyhood Stories)

Baby boy 2 is coming any day now and I am instructed by my doula to start relaxing so it's a good chance to curl up with some stories over a cappuccino (decaf!) and to say hi to you guys here!! For some reason, I am gravitating towards stories about boys growing up... hmm, wonder why...

Norman Cain
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.

Joe Garrison
Early Morning Concert

I used to go to a summer camp for sightless adults. I always had a good time there and met some great friends. This particular summer, I attended camp and one of the counselors was a guitarist. He had a Beatles song book. We got along great. I remember his name was John. He and I always had little sessions where we’d sing a few songs. Didn’t always have to be Beatles songs We like all rock n’ roll. One morning at around 8:15 (this was before breakfast and even before flag racing), my counselor friend accosted me and asked me if I wanted to sing a song. Naturally I said yes. And we decided to do a rendition of “Hey Jude”. Before it was over, it seemed like the whole camp was singing, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, Hey Jude.” I am telling this story to share that I love music and singing and the fact that it brings people together.

Elliot Doomes
What Do I Really Know

When I was 16, I knew everything. No one could give me advice. And when I turned 21, all the things that I knew at 16, I rejected. When I became 31, the things that I thought I knew at 21, I rejected. When I became 41, my ideas changed again, and I let go of half the things that I believed at 31.

I was married and raising children by then, so of course my ideas changed. Before, I was only responsible for myself, but now I was responsible for my family and my wife. All that foolishness I might have valued before, it seemed so trivial, as I tried to keep my family stable.

Someone said once, “Youth is wasted on the young.” It is! When I was young, I had no direction, no stability, I was carefree. I was all about myself, all about fun, I thought I knew it all. If I had the knowledge and wisdom I have now as a youth, there’s no telling where I would be now. That’s why I say, What did I really know about life? I know that there’s always more to learn about life.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Surprise! Surprise!

Our volunteers and seniors can't be any more amazing.

Yesterday, I brought my 20-month-old son Kian to our group session, mainly to say "See you in August" to everyone. For the next couple months, I will be hiding out and resting up for Lil Bro's arrival then spending time with both boys while my trusty co-facilitators take turns running the group. I will still (of course!) be reading all of my senior buds' stories as our copy editors type them up and sharing them with you here on the blog.

Well, as I strolled in with Kian, I remember seeing the world's brightest smiles, and perfectly decorated tables with "baby boy" napkins, crazy cupcakes and a full spread of snacks, then a split second later, hearing uncontainable shouts of "Surprise! Surprise!" They had thrown an amazing baby shower for Kian two years ago; I couldn't believe they pulled it off again! The seniors then proceeded to hand me a handknit blanket, cards, and baby clothes.

So no, it wasn't a day when we wrote down stories from the past with pens. It was a day when we co-wrote another unforgettable page in the forever-unfolding, never-ending Best Day story of love. I can’t wait for Lil Bro to meet his amazing Best Day family.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Brenda and Lady Gray (A Gift to Others)

Just got back from our Book Signing and Storytelling Event at the PSC Green Bean CafĂ©. It was awesome! Our seniors signed a lot of books, and presented a whole lineup of readings that merged recent stories with earlier ones from our storybook. We had professional photographer Natasha Esguerra volunteer her services for the event and will be unveiling photos via Facebook and Twitter – make sure to connect with us there to be the first to see the pics… I know they’re gonna be great! The event as you know from previous blog posts is in honor of Older Americans Month, and what was cool is the conversations that emerged were really about respecting and honoring people in general. I feel like Brenda’s story captures the spirit of the event just right.

Another highlight of the event is that it was really like a family reunion, in some ways. Members from our Pitman Manor, NJ, and Center in the Park, PA, groups drove up to mingle with our Philadelphia Senior Center group. Even though some of us had never met before, it’s like we’ve always known each other through each other’s stories. Lady Gray is one of our CIP group members and wrote gracious comments for the PSC group, mentioning the impact that different stories had on her. I thought that was such a nice gesture, because as a Best Day storyteller herself, she must know how great it feels to know that others are listening and impacted.

Brenda Scantlebury
A Gift to Others

On my birthday, March 12, I sat in a funeral service in New York City. It was a service to celebrate and honor the life of a friend. Many times in our lives, we do not realize how much we mean to one another. Our being or spirit is important to other people. We can be a cloud or bright light like the sun. Our words are important! So it’s best to say or speak good or positive words. Even in passing a stranger, a smile might be the very thing that person needed. Saying “Good Morning,” “Good Afternoon,” or “Have A Good Day” can encourage someone’s heart. Just hearing the words: “I Love You” means so much! I loved my friend. We are like pieces of a puzzle! When you put all the pieces together; they complete and make the whole picture! We are a gift to others and on another. Amen.

Lady Gray
Older Americans Month Event Comments

“I’m Not Getting Old (Wink Wink), You Are” – what an interesting outlook by Dolores! I heard stories that caused me to flash back to times of my childhood and I heard history! That was inspiring and enlightening. I loved the great debate about paper towel placement in Frances’ story, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” because my mom (age 82) and I would have this debate all the time I was growing up. Nice to know I was not alone. I really appreciated Elliot’s words in “What Did I Really Know” because at one time, I thought I knew everything. Now, just like him, I know I have more to learn. A young audience member said, “What is most personal is universal.” I agree 100%.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Thank You – Jana, Rachel, Cassie, Allison!

If you’ve been following our group’s “family pics” on Facebook, you may have noticed that my belly is rapidly expanding… every time I catch myself in a mirror, it’s always bigger than the last time I looked! My second pregnancy is going by much faster than my first. My baby is breakdancing in my belly even more than I remember my firstborn doing (who is a VERY active toddler now) so basically my husband and I are getting ready and excited for our home to turn into crazytown.

I want to dedicate this blog post to four wonderful young women, without whom I wouldn’t be able to focus on my son’s arrival next month. Jana, Rachel, Cassie and I share the facilitating hat at our group – at least one of us is there every week to make sure our senior buds have the best time (so far!) of their lives. Jana wears another hat which is to pass our seniors’ handwritten stories onto Allison. Allison is our copy editing coordinator who works behind the scenes with copy editors around the country to make sure our seniors’ stories get typed up between our group’s weekly sessions, so they can be shared with readers like you, on this blog, our other social media, books and events. As you will see in the stories below, each of them has a heart of gold. With this blog post, I just want to say...

Jana, Rachel, Cassie and Allison: Thank you for the impact that you’ve made, not just on our seniors’ lives, but also mine ;) I appreciate you guys so, so much!

Jana Henry, Volunteer
Not Really A Loss

I’m not sure in this life if we have a time limit to grieving. If we do have time limits I myself think that it’s only a time limit that we place there ourselves. On December 19 almost 2 years ago I spoke my last words to my granny. Though she didn’t speak back I know she heard me. A few days later she passed. I remember the holiday season being a blur. In my heart I felt like I had lost my best friend. Though I know it was her time I selfishly wished her to stay 97 more years. I don’t cry sad tears anymore but I do shed thankful ones. You don’t get many relationships in life like the one her and I shared. I smile at the habits of hers I picked up. I laugh when my family says I sound just like her, and I fully accept it now when people say I act like an old lady because – young or old – she was one of the best people you could have ever known. A long winded woman who turned every conversation with a stranger into two old friends catching up.

Rachel Hampton, Volunteer
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.

Cassie O'Leary, Volunteer
Sweet and Sour

I just wanted to share a little and say how happy I am to be here right now and see everyone's shining faces seated at these tables. Lately, life has handed me some lemons and I somehow forgot the old adage and recipe to always make lemonade with the lemons you're given. I'm reminded today that I am lucky to be here and alive and have the chance to share even just a small amount of words with you lovely people.