Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Motherlode (Gloria, Aileen, Loretta G, Mei Chiu, and Norman)

Many of our older buds are both mothers and grandmothers, and many more have had mothers and grandmothers. It's only right to devote this post to the mothers and grandmothers who made Best Day what it is today.
Gloria Washington
Chance Encounters

I knew it was dicey doing this. Chancy. The man came up to my mother and forcefully hurled a bag at her. We were sitting quietly minding our own business.

“Here.” He shoved it.

She said: “Get away from here!” snarling with venom.

I sized the guy up while looking around.  He looked like a mid-level line-backer who played amateur football, but his eyes held a tinge of sadness. His clothes were clean, no torn edges or signs of vagrancy, but I could smell the cheap whiskey oozing from his pores.

He said: “I’ll sell it to you for ten bucks.” We were in an enclosed public place. I scanned and assessed like a military drone. Assessing for danger. Assessing for pitfalls. Assessing for prying eyes or a set up. Hidden cameras were just that, hidden. Cool, grey cylinders secreted in the ceiling. There were commuters, foot traffic and police.  I took the leap . . .
 “I’ll give you five.” We haggled for a few minutes, the daughter in jeans, the mother in knits and the beseeching, semi-aggressive stranger.

Was anyone looking? Who was watching us? The unknown stranger wobbled slightly on his feet while standing at an awkward stance. His imperfect gait was shaky as he attempted to make the sale. I looked at the merchandise, good quality, perfect size, brand new. I dashed to the newsstand to break a ten, looking over my shoulder at my mother the whole time... watching the man.

Single bills in hand I made the transaction and took the wares.  He said: “I love your mother.” Hustling furtively I grabbed my mother’s arm quickly away from prying eyes and a weepy, sentimental, and inebriated stranger. I congratulated myself for this sheer luck. Not out of the woods yet we escaped to our train and headed home. Once there I unwrapped it…

A designer jacket, pure silk in brilliant fuschia.

God is good.  

Aileen Jefferson
10 Year Old Breaks Record

And that’s exactly true.
Are you interested?
“Mother I want to learn how to swim.”
“You have the rest of your life dear.”
“Mother, I want to learn how to swim, now!”
And before I knew it, not the swimming teacher, but her father had accomplished the job.
The next day at the swimming pool as I yelled, “Stay out of the deep end!” my daughter continued swimming across the entire pool.
I was startled.
I held my breath.
She did the impossible, not only across the pool, but the deep end of the pool.
What happened next, I don’t know.  I fainted.

Loretta Gaither
For Michelle Gaither

I lost my baby January 25th and she was buried on January 29th. As you might remember, she found me on the Internet through Best Day and I'm still trying to cope with it. I know she's up in Heaven with the angels. I went to another center for a while, but I liked this one better so I'm glad I came back. When I found my daughter again after so many years, I found out she was a Muslim. I was a Catholic, she was raised as a Catholic, so I had to get used to her being a Muslim. The first time I saw her, I recognized her behind her veil, and she took
me in and consoled me like I was her Mother. She treated me like a saint and in all honestly, she was a saint. And that made me feel better about her passing because I actually did get to connect with her again and I found an apartment that I've been living in for a year now. I want to thank the Best Day workshop for helping me and taking me back in. I really missed it and I'm glad to be back. God bless Best Day and God bless the readers of this website.

Loretta, signing off.
(Read the epic story of Loretta's reunion with her daughter here)

Mei Chiu
Bound Feet

My grandma had bound feet – did you know? She also lived in Guang Zhou in the same house with Old Li and me. Oh no, not my real grandma. My real grandma, I didn’t meet until I went back to the village and by then she was very old. When I was young, I didn’t know her; when I went back, she was already blind, so she never knew me. Gou Ma visited her and brought her food, and brought me along. Gou Ma was already sixty herself when she took me back from Old Li, and living by herself by that point. I never met her hushand, who had passed away by then.

And so, to be clear, the one I call “Grandma” was actually Old Li’s late husband’s mom. I can see how that could sound a little confusing, and am glad you asked! She and I spent many hours together in the house, most of which I spent watching her feet.

Sad for me – no school to go to and stuck inside. I wanted so badly to go to school.

Old Li was out a lot, and her mom was a nurse, or training to be a nurse, so she was out of the house too.

Grandma wouldn’t let anyone see her bare feet, so I had to use my imagination. It was pitiful, painful to imagine. Her four small toes were bent backwards under her feet. Her big toe was really the only shape in her cloth shoe you can see. She wore these shoes that had holes just for the big toes. I don’t know how she took a bath. I don’t know. Maybe she didn’t wash her body? But what I could observe was that she tipped her weight to the front of her feet when she walked.

Traditionally, the ladies had bound feet; poorer people had normal feet. But it was just going out of fashion by my time. Good thing!

I will show you a photo of my grandma next time you visit. I will find it. Back then, there weren’t many photos taken, so ones showing bound feet are very rare. It is they kind of picture they make many copies of and sell in Chinese arts and crafts shops – Americans like to buy pictures like that to decorate their houses. They must think the way Chinese people dressed is cute or special.

You know, rumor had it that Grandma was the first woman with bound feet who came to America. But how she hated it here! Because Americans wouldn’t stop gawking at her. She got here all the way by boat and rode all the way home by boat. The rides must have been unbearable, so the ridicule must have been even worse.

Grandma’s feet are really the main thing I remember about her. And I remember he singing. She sang to herself, staring into a book. You can listen if you want but it was intended for herself. Besides that, she spent her time reading the paper, listening to the radio (which had been invented by then and was pretty popular), and sang along to Chinese opera songs.

The Li family had a live-in maid. They had enough money. So Grandma just sat at home. And I was told to just sit at home. With no books to read. They said to me, “Girls go to school for what? You tell me?! Not like you will make money any way.” That is what Old Li said to me. I was very mad at for saying that but what could I do?

Meanwhile, Grandma would try to convince me to be a Chinese opera singer so she could go to shows for free. But I didn’t want to. I couldn’t tell if she was just trying to be funny, because she mentioned the idea often. If so, I didn’t think it was funny. I didn’t even like Chinese opera. I just couldn’t get into it.

What I loved was movies because they are about real life. In Chinese opera, you wave a flag around which symbolizes this or that, but it is not true. I didn’t understand. And besides, I was too short. I couldn’t see past people’s heads. They built low temporary scaffolds out of bamboo and threw wood planks across them. That was it – simple way of making many rows of benches, wasn’t it? The problem for me was that they were all the same height.

When I was twelve, Gou Ma brought me back to the village, where I finally got my wish – to go to school! Can you imagine my happiness? The sad part was, it did not even last a whole year. The teacher was old, and taught all the same classes in the same room. She tried to teach everything, but really only knew a little of everything. Now one good thing was, after I got out of classes in the afternoon, I sometimes went with other girls to the movies. Not too many times, but every time the movies gave me a mixture of real feelings, and I liked that.

Years later, when the Japanese came to fight in Hong Kong during the war, I went to movies a lot. There was nothing to do during wartime. And because of the war, movies got very cheap, only five cents. Your grandpa had a steady income so we had enough to eat and a little extra to spend. You ask why I had this kind of  freedom during the war, why I didn’t have to hide? You see, the Japanese kids were dropping bombs, yes, but just once in a while. You were as safe in the movie theater as you would be at home. We were ok, so why sit at home and be scared? You need entertainment to have a meaningful life. And for me, movies were very exhilarating. Of course, when peacetime came, life was easier in a sense. At that point the family grew, and sometimes we brought all the kids to the movies including you mom when she was little.

A lot to tell. A lot happened. As I start to think back, one thing blends into another, probably hard for you to understand, right? But you are patient. You ask me. You are very thoughtful. You want to know. This kind of deep, deep memory doesn’t usually come up when you are just talking about daily routines. 


Norman Cain
Things My Mother Said To Me

My mother was a short giant of an "absolutely no nonsense" women whose self proclaimed position of boss was never challenged. She would tell anyone (no matter the time and place) to do something, and what she demanded was done without resistance. For instance, I've seen her break up many corner crap games; likewise, I can recall several instances when she actually went into the streets' gambling den and told the hardened card players to curtail the vile noise that the entire street could hear. And they complied.

She did not waste words on idle gossip, trivial matters or to hear herself talk; to the contrary, when she spoke it was for a relevant reason, and those who were within hearing range definitely listened. Including myself. I listened to her – partly, because I did not want to encounter her anger, but mainly because of my respect for her and her information, advise guidance, dictates, etc. that she dispensed.

Over the years, in her discussions that she has conducted with me, she has issued mandatory mandates, rendered perceptions, engaged in serious discussions and has given me tons of well needed counseling. I will never forget those sessions. She could be quite the disciplinarian. I can remember coming into the house after a pleasant day of playing and immediately being the recipient of the whipping that I was promised earlier, a whipping that I had escaped my mind.

Between the painful licks from the belt and my pronouncements of I-ain't-gonna-do-it-no-more, my mother would say didn't I tell you not to? Those whippings hurt, but there was something called a "Good Talking To" that would have me sobbing from the soul, boo-hooing with pain. The "Good Talking To" would consist of phrases like "I'm ashamed of you" and "You know better."

I remember my mother religiously lining each of my four siblings up and staying in a stern voice "What do you say when you speak to a grown person?" We would chime "Yes Sir" "Yes Ma'am." And during the holidays when children were required to say poems (which were called pieces) in church, she would line us up (my four siblings) and urge us to use our hands, eyes, hesitation, pronunciation and enunciation for the best presentation effect.

My mother also had a humorous side. When I received the award for being the top student in my sixth grade special education class, she said "If Norman is the smartest kid in the class, God help the rest." Before breaking out into a prolongued uncontrollable laugh. Whenever she had to inform me about something she knew would be disappointing news for me, she used a love filled gently voice. "Sissy's house caught fire last night. Sissy is dead." Sissy was the first girl that I had ever been romantically interested in. I have never forgotten her untimely death; however, there were more romantic interests.

Once, when I was a teenager, she looked me in the eyes and said, "I know what your problem is – girls." And she was correct. A few years later, when a serious heart break had me in a state of depression, she said to me, "There will be other girls." She was right. When I became older and seemingly a veteran of heartbreaks and homeless separations, my mother adamantly said "Get your own place." She was right.

When I left my parents' home on the morning of July 5, 1965 to report to the army, she urged me to hold my head up and a year and a half later when I came home on leave, she touched me and said with a tone of relief in her voice, "You came home." During what I surmise was my mid-life crisis era, my mom constantly told me to not throw away my gifts.

And when I told her about a dream I had about her father, mother, and uncle, she said that they were urging me to keep the faith. During a period in my life when nothing was going right and I was making wrong decisions, my mother would constantly tell me to not discard my gifts. When I told her that I had had a dream about her parents and her father's brother, she said "They are telling you that you can do it." If one did a wonderful deed, my mother would not necessarily congratulate them, as she felt that they were doing what was expected of them.

So whenever she told me "You did a good job," it meant a lot to me and encourages me to strive as hard as I possibly could. There are of course many other things that my mother said to me, and everything she said to me was in love, and if the tone of her delivers were sometimes harsh, it was merely to display "Tough Love" and to leave an everlasting message.

Happy Belated Mothers' Day from The Best Day of My Life So Far!

Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (Benita and Mei)


The month of May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and what better way to celebrate than with a look at Best Day's origins? This nationwide non-profit started when Benita was just a 25-year-old Philadelphian calling her grandmother in Seattle. Next thing she knew, her grandmother Mei Chiu told her all sorts of incredible stories about her life surviving WWII and raising eleven children. But when Benita told her how proud the rest of the family must be to have such an awesome grandma, Mei said "No one knows any of this. No one knows because no one ever asks." So Benita started The Best Day of My Life So Far to end senior isolation, and to give older adults of all races a voice.

The full origin story can be found here, but I wanted to end this with some stories by Benita Cooper and Mei Chiu. 

Benita Cooper 
What Americans Certainly Don't Do 

Next year I am turning 30. I am excited about it. I love the idea of getting old, the peacefulness of it, the been-there-done-that of it. But then I look around and see people's attitude towards older people. It's upsetting. Youth in a jar, that's what people want. Not wrinkles, not physical delays. And when I poke around on the web I see on Yahoo this Q&A string entitled "What Cultures Respect and Revere the Elderly?" And the Best Answer - based on number of votes - said, "Africans and Amerian Indians definitely do. Asians had in the past but the younger generation is not following this past example. Americans certainly do not." Ouch. I am Asian and American, so that's a double whammy. I guess my relationship with my grandma has grown something in me. I don't know what else to call it except for a soft spot for seniors. I didn't know what to do about it until months ago, I suddenly noticed the senior center one block away. And after some meetings and emails with the fabulous staff there, I knew what I had to do: start a storytelling and writing workshop for seniors there. And put their voices here, online, for us to listen. 

Mei Chiu 
Two Mothers 
From this story
When I was small, I had to serve two mothers.When I was a baby, about the time I was just learning to walk, a widow woman befriended my mother. At first the widow saw my mother in the market and approached her, saying nice things about her lovely baby girl. Then she joked about wanting to take the beautiful child.More and more the widow imposed her unwanted attention, until one day, the widow took me from my mother's arms and announced that from then on she would be my mother.


Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Could You Do Us a Favor? (Joe)

I wanted to use this blog post to talk about something I've been thinking about for a while. One of the distinct things about Best Day is that we've worked with the Blind and visually impaired before. Our volunteers make particularly good transcribers, and we have amassed quite the collection of stories from these storytellers. Joe, whose story is featured below, is a regular both in our workshop and on this blog.

Now I want to ask my readers if any of them have worked with the visually impaired and want to volunteer. Normally, these stories are written first, read aloud second, and posted online last. We photocopy every senior's story so they can keep a copy for themselves, but this practice doesn't benefit our Blind authors. As far as they're concerned, we're just giving them paper. I've considered typing up Joe's stories in Braille, or perhaps even a Braille run of our book, but I don't know where to start.

We'd love to hear from you! Tweet @bestdaysofar or tag @bestdayofmylifesofar on Instagram with your thoughts about this post. And if you or someone you know is willing to volunteer, contact me directly at In the mean time, pass this around, tell your friends and family, and please let us know if you want to help. Thank you so much for reading and enjoy today's story.

Joe Garrison 
When I had my R&B Group 

It was originally called R&B harmony, white disc jockeys changed it to doo-wop. 
When I was 15, I formed my own group with some classmates. We would practice after school at 3:30 in a classroom. We were asked to perform at intermission of school dances. We played at a girl’s birthday party and we were a hit. We were called The Meridians. There were 4 of us. 
The hand bell ringing choir had us perform after their concert. We needed to blow off some steam from singing hymns. 
I had a music teacher who would let us sing our rock and roll songs. We would cover songs, and one guy in the group would write his own songs. They weren’t very good. 
He mostly wrote about girls he met. I wonder if they ever found out about each other. 
The term Rock n’ Roll was made up by a white disc jockey named Alan Freed. But most of it wasn’t Rock n’ Roll at all. 
I’ve always been a fan of all kinds of music. But I’ve always enjoyed my time as a part of a music group. 
My idol was Tony Williams a member of a group called the Platters. He was a R&B crooner.


Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Long Tables (Norman)

 Typically, the folding tables at the Philadelphia Senior Center are arranged to be compact and close together. Every time I come in I'm used to seeing three small tables arranged in a sort of pi-symbol shape, but without any space between the two bottom parts. This week, there were closer to four or five tables arranged in a C shape, with all the extra space included. This arrangement is perfect for larger classes, but when there's only five people in the room, they tend to spread themselves out and leave lots of room between seats. It makes the room and the class look more sparse. I thought that we'd have all clumped together so we could hear each other and talk to each other more easily, but we like our space between chairs. I've seen it on Septa, and I've seen it all over the U.S. The Europeans don't need nearly as much personal space as we Americans.
Not actual tables from the Philadelphia Senior Center.
Norman Cain 
Having Our Say  
Several Sundays, I had the pleasure of being a part of a senior group from Scottish Rite Senior Housing Development that saw the play entitled "Having Our Say" at the Suzanne Robert theater located across the street from the Phila Senior Center. 
The play was adapted from the 1995 memoir of the Delaney Sisters which 
chronicled the first 100 years of their existence. The 2 scene play was enacted in a spacious and 1990s modern kitchen in New York. Through dialogue and photography, their story was unveiled. Their father, an ex slave, was from Florida. Through perseverance and luck attended and became principal of the Saint Augustine school in Raleigh, North Carolina. He and his wife were the parents of 10 children. Sara, Louise. «≤Sadie«≥ Delaney was born in 1889 and her sister Anne Elizabeth "Bessie" was born in 1891. 
Eventually, Sadie graduated from Pratt Univ. in New York and went on to graduate from Columbia Teacher College. She became the first teacher in genetic science in NY in 1923. Bessie graduated from Columbia Dental School. The sisters lead a rewarding life, filled with giving back to the community through their lives They were well respected and were friends of Walter White, W.E. Dubois, Booker T Washington, Pearle Bailey, and Cab Calloway.
Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Chicken Soup For The Soul (Joe, Frances, Norman and Clarissa)

Hi again everyone. I had a doctor's appointment to go to, so I wasn't able to make last week's workshop. You know how they say April Showers bring May Flowers? And do you know what comes after May Flowers? Pollen-related allergies and sinus problems. So I thought I would post some stories about sickness and health (of all kinds) for people to binge-read while they're feeling under the weather. 

Joe Garrison 
A Word From Our Sponsor 

There have been times I’ve written about stories. “Golden Age of Radio.” I remember the old commercials with memorable household phrases. Here are some popular ones from my formative years. 

The Lone Ranger was sponsored by General Mills for Kix Cereal. “You’ll get a kick out of Kix.” 

Baseball games would have sponsorships. One company would sponsor 3 innings. Another company would have another and so on. 

Arco Atlantic keeps your can on the go. For business, for pleasure, for any kind of weather. 

In the 50’s we had Schaffer Beer. “Schaffer is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.” 

All purpose cleaner 
Lestoil – It’s so easy when you use lestoil. 

Deodorant – Arid 
“Don’t be half safe. Be completely safe.” 

Alka Seltzer – “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz. Ok what a relief it is.” 

Bromo Seltzer “Fight Headaches 3 ways” 

The Cheerio’s commercial scared me because I thought the announcers were going to pop out of the radio. 

These commercials remind me of a more innocent time, a happier time where people lived simpler lives in the 1940’s. A time of relative innocence. 

Frances Bryce 
Health Care Can Be Unhealthy  

The new meant a new Health Provider the Affordable Care Act Reserve as Obama was not the reason for the change.  My late husband’s work had provided the insurance; all I had to do was produce my card and see my PCP (Person Care Provider).   

The fun began when I had what seemed like endless options to choose from; I selected what I thought was the one agency that would fit my needs. 

My ophthalmologist was in the group so I went to keep an appointment made six months previously; my dismay was that I needed a referral.  That made me wish for the good old days, calling my PCP after listening to many prompts.  I learned that I needed a PCP, when I explained that I had previously given this to the insurance company, the person said I needed to call the insurance company who would give them the information (my PCP) then they would call my ophthalmologist with a referral number so that I could be seen.  I called the ophthalmologist’s office and was rewarded with good news.  I could now be seen.  This wasn’t my best day so far, but it sure made me appreciate those days that were some of my best days.  If I am not satisfied that the end of the year I will be afforded to enter into another opportunity to change.  I fear that this time may became my best day.

Norman Cain 
Lost Found Story 

Up until several weeks ago I was always early for the best days of my life storytelling and writing club. Lately, however, I have been as much as 15 minutes late. This is because I have been involved with a poetry/discussion group each Thursday between 10:45 and 12 p.m. at the Center in the Park, Senior Center or at German Town and Cheten Ave. 

I consequently have to rush to get to the Best Day of My Life sessions. 

In my rush today, I unfortunately left the story – all type written – that I going to present to our class today. Fortunately, when I called Center in the Park, I was told that my story was there. So after this class I will be heading back to Germantown to retrieve the lost found story. 

And the class can hear it the next time. But for now, what you have just heard, is my story for today. 
Old age has not only affected my knees, but my memory as well. 

Clarissa Tate
My Son Gregory 

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day and also, it’s my son Gregory’s birthday. He was born on this date 37 years ago at 1:37 p.m. 

Oh what a joy that was, one of the happiest days of my life. Greg was such a happy and energized child. He was quite a large baby at birth weighing in at 8 lbs 14 oz. He had lots of curly hair. I used to braid it as it grew longer. He was a very smart kid, he did very well in school up until high school, being a teenager, he started to goof off and I wasn’t having any of that. Things that Greg enjoyed, I simply took away until he resumed his academic responsibilities. After he graduated, he attended Pierce Jr. College. He has that 2-year degree, he’s had jobs after that and always took care of himself. He’s been with Homeland Security, checking for bombs at the airport for the past 12 years.  

Last year he also started his own business of demolition, moving, and hauling. That’s doing quite well. He also is back in school for carpentry so that he can get larger bids on contracts in his business, they kind of go hand and hand. Needless to say that I am very proud of him and his family, my beautiful daughter-in-law and most importantly, my two grand sugars. WOW, they are my Baby’s Babies!
Curated by Caitlin Cieri

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Spring Has Sprung (Mike and Ruth)

Despite those odd warm days we've had in January, February, and March, it is only now that it feels like Spring truly has sprung. The weather's consistently nice, and more of our older writers have been coming back to the workshop. Spring is a time for renewal and revitalization, and I'm starting to renew interest in our First Thursdays.

The First Thursday of each month, the writers and volunteers move from our usual room to the computer room to check on our blogs. Ever since we started posting these stories online, we knew how important it was to show the authors that their works were being read. But I had realized that I had been doing everything for our writers instead of letting them search on their own. That's a disservice, no matter how good or bad they are with computers. So by the end of the year, I want to make sure every single member of our group can find this website on any computer and search for specific stories and authors.

We've also had a few new writers join us over the past few weeks. I've posted them this week and am excited to see what they think of seeing their work online.
Michael M. Tsuei
The Experience of Scuba Diving

Almost twenty yeas ago, I had change to visit the Florida Keys, long famous for their only-here invention and laissez-faire idiosyncracies; the type of place where you grow accustomed to the unexpected. Unexpected indeed. At the time I had worked at Princeton University. The R/D programs for develop the new medication. Conforms with FDA, the research involved some travel to different place, Key Largo. There, what I have my scuba diving experience.
Joint marine scientist in educational workshop and seeking to learn about coral health may bring to us better understanding the new way to cure the killer disease.
Most people know that the large-liver, trophy-fish-cacthing author Ernest Hemmingway once lived at Key West. His wooden Spanish house on Whitehead Street is now a museum famous for his sea collections. And inquisitive six to a cat. The war president Henry Truman once spent six months at Key Largo, famous for it and called "Little White House."
I can only saw this is life experience for me.The trip to Key Largo is a one. Scuba diving taught me several lessons.
1. Never alone in the ocean water. Always close to your partners.
2. Do not touch anything in the water ever. You are so interested in things to find out. Just don't touch.  Urchin can react and extend their spike and hurt you while you touch them. Don't step on things, because the ecosystem in the ocean water is very ephemeral. Environmental impact by human over the boundary invade their territories.
3. Always know your location in the ocean water. Never swim away or too far from the boat. Timing is essential for scuba diving.
4. Ocean floors are so quiet, so tranquil. Almost felt that the time had been stopped, as like the whole worlds frozen up in time. Any excess movement can cause excitement and chain of action. I still remember I had made eye to eye stare to a marlin hidden in the hole of coral reef. Turn out the marlin so large, the head alone's about 2 feets in diameter.

Ruth Lewis
My Cat Xena

My cat Xena is no longer with me. I had to leave her when I moved away ten moths ago. Before that time we were together for two years. I met Xena after my 1st cat, Mr. Bobo, died after living with me for seventeen years.
I was not looking for another pet but there she was in my life and feeling as if she belonged there.
I was not used to having a female pet and found out it was much different than a male, more independent, more self assured.
Xena and I became the best of friends. She would follow me, talk with me, show me how she did things and how she wanted things done for her. She was very demanding in her routines, like whenever i went into the bathroom she thought it was my responsibility to turn on the water in the tub so she could drink from the facuet before she ate. She had to go outside in the yard, at least for a couple minutes.
I miss her a lot. I miss her constant meows  and conversation. I miss her smell. I miss her comfort.
Ruth Lewis
Curated by Caitlin Cieri