Thursday, December 31, 2009

Come, I Love You So Truuuuu-ue

I could say I wish you were there after every class but I have been saving it for the day when I really need to say it. Today is that day.

We didn’t even have class. It was slippery out, and it’s New Year’s Eve – as expected, the entire building was practically empty, except for maybe twenty people, including staff who was wrapping up their work to take off early. So instead of hiding out in our classroom, our group thought we would just sit around a table in the lobby and chat. In the background, we heard a man playing the piano ever so softly, the volume you use when you’re just playing music for yourself to hear. (I would soon find out that his name is Arthur – my new friend.) One by one, we turned our chairs towards him. Arthur, who had been standing over the keyboard, took a seat on the piano bench. His fingers hit the keys a little louder and with a jazzier groove. Bill took off his sweatshirt and put on his glasses. He walked over to the piano, leaned against it, and started singing. The piano was not glamorous. It was a small, wooden upright in an inconspicuous part of the lobby – I had never noticed it before today. Arthur kept playing – at this point he had started slipping fills into the music – and started singing as well. Dolores had put on her purple coat on her way out, but returned and removed her coat after telling the van driver that she would take the van an hour later. She wanted to stay a little longer today. She started singing too. I didn’t really know the songs they were doing. All I knew was it was live bluesy music, and I loved it. Mo told me this kind of music is called Doo-wop. With a few 60s love songs thrown in between. I couldn’t help myself. I had to join in. They taught me a whole bunch of stuff. I can’t tell you the song names because they didn’t know them when I asked. They just knew the melodies and the words. They made me the lead. They said, Just flow with the melody, then make up the words. Arthur stood up from the piano so we could cluster up to rehearse an a cappella tune – Bill was intent on getting the harmony on this one line perfect so we never sang the full song. “Come, I love you so truuuuu-ue.” I googled this when I got home. I have no idea what song that line is from. I don’t really care. I was having so much fun. By the end of the hour, the entire lobby was on its feet, clapping, harmonizing, inserting yeah, yeah’s between lines, singing spontaneous solos, blending together songs, making up entire songs from scratch. When the senior center’s van returned to pick Dolores up, I said I had to go too. Everyone group-hugged and high-fived and exchanged Happy New Years. I really wish you were there.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Top 10 Countdown

With the peace of Christmas still lingering in the air and the excitement of the New Year (woohoo!) right about to kick in, I just want to take a second to say thanks to you for reading this blog. It means a lot to me and – I know for a fact – to the seniors that you are taking the time out of your busy schedules to listen to stories from their past. Especially to those of you whom I’ve never met in real life, it blows my mind that we’re connected across who-know-what-distance through this little collection of words.

I know for me, being in virtual dialogue with you has become a sort of therapy for me. The routine for me is peaceful. As I stared into the fireplace late last night after eating too much food and getting too many gifts (seriously and seriously!), I realized I should write a quick note to let you know that.

And what end-of the-year toast is complete without a little countdown to ring in the new year? Here is a look at some of my favorite things that the seniors have said.

By 6th grade some of the girls had smiles that distracted me from daydreaming which was my main activity at school.
- Mo, “Girls”

Good afternoon everyone: welcome to the inner chamber of my life.
- Ernestyne, “Ernestyne”

I just write whatever comes out. So some of this may not make any sense… You know, I’ve never shown this to anyone before.
-Henrietta, “Henrietta’s Notebook”

This. I couldn't write that this was the, the happiest moment of my life. Because I wrote about my son. And I have to say, one of the, because then I had two other lovely children... You want me to read it? I wrote a lot.
-Helen, “A Mother’s Pride”

I brought all these things to help me remember. Look.
-Christine, “Christine”

I went into this restaurant. I was the only black person there, and the white people were cracking up. The waitress said, what do you want to order? I said, give me some black and white grits. She said, we have no such thing on the menu. I said, you have a sign here that says black, and a sign there that says white, so I want both. I want everything black and white. And I had all the people laughing. I pointed to the white section and told the waitress, see how good the meat looks? I am paying the same price. I don't want mine all cut up. I don't want something you're about to put in the garbage. Some leftovers from yesterday? Uh, uh, baby, not me. Slice me some nice stuff. I told her, I am no garbage disposal.
-Bernice, “Black and White Grits”

I love to be around happy people. It is impossible to be happy all of the time, but happy times are the best memories of my life.
-Hattie, “Riches”

Of course everyone has a little heartbreak. Losing both my parents, losing a child, there are some events that I still haven’t gotten over yet. But I have, and I do have, a lot of happiness in my life. I do. I have happiness.
-Helen, “Detox”

One day in this class I may cry. I've cried a total of five times in my life.
-Mo, “Chain Reaction”

If you love a man enough, your son comes out looking exactly like him, so that you can never forget how much you love your husband.
-Bernice, “The Most Beautiful Theory in the World”

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hattie (Growing Up is Hard to Do)

A revelation and a confession (my husband’s revelation about me this weekend and my confession that it is true): I like cartoons... and not just any cartoons, the ones meant for four-year-olds. I don’t know what my problem is. I am regressing, I think.

Listening to seniors’ stories and challenging myself to think through them by keeping this blog has really helped me come to terms with the reality of aging. I’m excited. Like I’m training for some marathon. I am hitting 30 next year so this is my mental preparation, so I can hit the ground (of course I’m not calling it a hill, no way is aging a downhill thing!) running.

But no matter what head games I play, there is always going to be a part of me who doesn’t want to grow up. Growing up is hard to do, Hattie is right. And maybe it’s alright for me to admit it and laugh about it too.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe

Growing up is Hard to Do!

In spite of the many hardships my family endured coming up, I never wanted to be “grown”.  I wanted to stay a child and “play, play, play”.  I thought if I could do as I pleased, I could be happy for the rest of my life.

I quickly learned, as a teenager, this was not possible.  The responsibilities of getting an education and completing high school became a priority for me.

Being a middle child always made me “special”.  I was little sister to my two older sisters and big sister to my two little sisters.

Since I was the tallest of all my sisters, hand me down dresses were always too short and in “my wildest imagination” too worn . . . but I had to wear them any way.  My two older sisters were always nice and neat.  My two younger sisters were always nice and neat.  Because I was a tom boy, wearing four year old “hand me down”, there was nothing to hand down to my little sisters.  Grandmom never let me forget how “rough” I was on shoes and clothes.  If I hadn’t been so proud of my even, white teeth, I would have told her that the clothes were worn out when I got them.

Being a middle child was different for me because I was the only one out of five sisters who graduated in the fall.  The other four graduated in June.  Grandmom was horrified and declared she never heard of anybody graduating in the winter . . . even though I managed to do it 3 times.

I rode bikes, played marbles, boxed boys and played boy games.  No one ever thought I would grow up to be a girl.  One of my “boyfriends” even said to me “Hattie Mae” if I had known you were going to grow up to be a “girl”, I would have introduced you to some boys.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Sidewalk Encounter

Snow has been falling all morning here in Philadelphia. The sidewalks look like they are putting on layer after layer of fresh white sweaters. Weather outside is frightful, as the song goes, but you gotta admit it is so, so, so gorgeous.

All the classes at the senior center are taking a two-week break for the holidays.* The other day I thought I’d swing by the senior center any way in case any of my buddies showed up for our class accidentally. On my way there, I saw Mo who did forget that there was no class. “But I’m glad I bumped into you because I have something to tell you,” he said. “My ladyfriend saw the website yesterday and loved it. She hasn’t got through it yet, but she will, I am sure she will.” It was chilly out but we stayed chatting for a good several minutes. Mo doesn’t use the computer but his ladyfriend does, he had told me that before. She has email and everything. “I just wanted to tell you that I finally showed her what I've been writing,” Mo said again, beaming. “I wish you could’ve seen her. She couldn’t take her eyes off the screen. And she couldn't stop laughing. She was finding out things she had never known about me. I hadn’t seen her laugh like that for a long time. And she wants to call all my kids this week and show them how to get on the website.” He promised me he would tell me what his kids say.

I felt tears in my eyes. I don’t know if it was what he said or how excited he was. Or the image of this family getting just a tiny little bit closer this Christmas, even though I got the sense that they may not be spending it in the same place. Standing there on the chilly city sidewalk, it was the first moment I really felt like it’s a week till Christmas.

(*Even though the physical class is taking a quick break, this blog is paddling along. I still have a few more stories from previous weeks to show you. And for those of you who are newer to the blog, I was thinking that I can do some “highlights” from previous stories too. Alright, gotta stop typing so I can head out to put my feet in that fluffy snow…)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mo (Hugs, Kisses, and Playground Games)

I can’t believe how much Mo has changed within a few short months. He’s become so comfortable opening up to us. In the beginning, it wasn’t that he was reserved, he was just guarded. He told me he had never tried to write, let alone write about his feelings.

But if you’ve been reading along, you can see how much he’s willing to tell us. He’s practically working on a tell-all of his life, starting from his childhood, and now moving on to his adolescence. He’s been waiting to show this blog to his kids, he tells me, but now he’s about ready. He wants to have written enough for them to read so that they would be adequately surprised. He’s never been able to tell these stories to them. (In fact, lately, I notice that he’s been calling his writing “chapters” not “stories” – that’s how I know he’s really on a mission.) His kids are the reason he’s doing any of this. He’s so proud of himself, I can tell, because he knows all this – the fact that he is opening up, the fact that he has a mission – will make his kids proud of him.

Now, Mo comes to class early and stays late. After class, when I step out to xerox what everyone had written for the day, he would remain in the room, writing more. And when I return to the room to organize my papers, he would stay to chat with me about how much he’s enjoyed the other seniors’ stories that day.

The nuns seemed to mention “The Occasions of Sin” more often than in 5th grade but I was a sheltered only child who just realized that more than hugs and kisses were in my daydreams but nothing that seemed sinful.

A girl named Gail was very attractive but when we were close at recess she smiled and her teeth were covered in a film and something between her teeth and gums that actually repelled me. I thought about asking one of my girl cousins to suggest she brush her teeth but I never did. Gail left the school later that year. The teacher wrote letters to my parents about my attempts to read library books during class by hiding them inside my text books. When caught I would have to stand out in the corridors until the next subject came up. As my grades were very good nothing else was done. It was so boring.

At the town playground we sometimes formed teams to play against the Cub Scouts and teams from other playgrounds. No adults were involved in these games.

Louie Spinelli, Snuffy Flynn and John Brennan made varsity football, basketball, and baseball teams but I was neither big enough or good enough to compete with the 8th and even 7th graders. There were no junior varsity teams but we became pretty good competing on the playgrounds and sneaking into the public school and various Protestant church basketball courts.

By this time we had moved out of the Little Italy neighborhood and in to an apartment on top of Dan’s Barber Shop on the hill leading to the bridge for automobiles and people which connected the North and South sides of the town divided by the railroad tracks.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bernice (And Now, onto Heavier Topics)

If there’s a scale that measures funny, where amusing is a 3, entertaining is a 5, and hilarious is an 8, Bernice would bust the scale at some double-digit. She’s in a league of her own. The other day, she made me laugh so hard that I tossed my body back in my seat. “Look, you fainted,” she commented right away with the straightest face. After those little words, my laughter tripled in intensity and became officially unstoppable…

But, once in a while, in the middle of all the goofing around, when you least expect it, she would move without warning onto heavier topics. I don’t know what I’m more amazed by – that she’s gutsy enough to talk about these things, or that she injects just enough humor for them to be bearable.

Here are a few things Bernice told us the other day, while writing. (She can’t help talking when she writes, which by the way, is pretty funny.) She’d look up every so often and make comments like these and then return (oh yes, straight-faced) to her page, leaving the rest of us in silent awe. Two seconds later – when we regain consciousness – someone would say, “Bernice, what you just said was amazing.” And all she would say is, “Really?”

Pop would come home at night; Ma would have a list of who’d been bad. I was always at the top of the list. All the parents knew what time school got out and if you weren’t back at the house a certain time after that, you’d better watch out. How come they said when they were whipping you, that it hurt them more than it hurt you? Pop would take all his belts out from the basement and ask me to choose. I said I didn’t want to choose. He said I had to choose. He beat the daylight out of me. How could it hurt him more?

We had a mean teacher. She was so mean. We said good morning. She didn’t say good morning back. That was how mean she was. I don’t know what kind of a husband she had. But she took it out on us kids.

One time the doctor said I didn’t have much longer left to live. Well, the doctor could say anything he wanted but God is the head doctor, you know. So I said to God, fine, let your Will be done. Ha! Turned out He’s not done with me yet. You know what I don’t understand? When I was at the hospital, I walked by other people laying in their beds cursing God – I could hear them from the halls – now why would they do something so stupid? That’s the last person you should be cursing. You should be praying. You shouldn’t give up on yourself. Let your last words – if they are your last words – be nice ones.

(Want to read more? Check out the Blog Archive for the older post "Black and White Grits". Watch Bernice tackle civil rights!)

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Class felt nice today. We went half an hour overtime and we could have kept talking for hours more. Hattie said, “They must think we’re giving out money in here. We always leave the room with huge, silly grins on our faces.”

Today was one of those days when everyone had powerful thoughts that kept rolling and rolling. No one talked over one another. The seniors took turns reading, speaking and listening. And no matter who spoke, he or she got everyone else’s full attention.

I remember at some point, Helen said, “Of course everyone has a little heartbreak. Losing both my parents, losing a child, there are some events that I still haven’t gotten over yet. But I have, and I do have, a lot of happiness in my life. I do. I have happiness.”

What could you say to something so profound? Except – nothing. Saying nothing was the only appropriate thing the rest of us could do. And that’s what we did. Hattie, already moved to tears – was the first one who started clapping. Then the rest of us joined. We just sat around the table and clapped. I mean, where else can I sit in a circle with other people and just clap about the sheer power of a thought? It felt nice. Nice like spa-nice. Detox-nice. Feel-good-about-yourself-and-humanity-nice.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Henrietta (Yes But)

Hope you don't mind I'm dedicating this week's blog posts to Henrietta. Just thought I'd try something different this time around, and more importantly because her writing needs it, it demands center stage. Below is a sampler of her poems - we'll start off with an edgy one, then a softer one, then finish off with a nice, simple one about the senior center itself. BTW is "Yes But" the greatest title of all time or what? When a poem has that for a title, it's gotta be read. Oh yeah, I'm all for judging a book by its cover and a poem by its title!

Yes But

You got to go day to day.
I want to know, how will you
Go from day to day? Oh! Life is
An all day thing, 24 hours of
Heaven or hell!

When life's one hell it's full of hate
Each moment is worse than Death
Could be your fate.
As others live past Hours of Life.

But who said Life is fair?

Many only like Hypnotized life.
Life so
Deeply Hypnotized all Life long.
Strung out on Emotional Highs
And Lows that can kill Elephants.

And there is one other thing.
You will be here
From one day to the Next.
And Night
And Winter Can be Long or Cold
And nobody tells you come October!
How no one really gets out alive!

Yes but? You got to go day
To Day.
I Want to know. How will you go
From to day to day?
Oh! Life is an all day thing. 24 hours
Of Heaven or Hell!

Roses Not Ashes

If  I did not have ashes
There will be no roses
Now that's a phenomenon
I've no words for this
I'm part the push.

The prayer is all up in the answers.

To all my prayers
To all my prayers
Source has answered all my payers
While I get there.

While I can see, and smell the
Roses After years of Ashes
Now we live days of Roses
I glorify source Moment by Moment.

For days of Living Roses not Ashes
Welcome the Holy Ghost have
Your way in the Days of
Roses Not
Ashes. Looking back at my life

Through all of the Ashes days
I Bless Source for His
Presence, Power, and Plenty, and the
Loss of Days of Ashes to get the
Days of Living Roses. Praise God
For the days of Living Roses.
Angels please take this to the next level.


At the corner of the future is
Like a shining path. You see it.
There it was a light. Help in hope and prosperity.
And there it is. At the corner of the
Future is P.S.C. Philadelphia Senior Center.
A place of hope at a time when you must find
Like minded people, to join, to build your future.
Never before now, and all over 60 years old.
You need a place to be, do, and create.
Times have changed. See globe financial crisis?
Be real, be each globe change.
See you There in the future!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Henrietta's Notebook - Continued

I wish I could flash back time and take you with me so you could feel what I felt when I held Henrietta's notebook pages in my hands. These scans give you an idea, I hope, of the way her pen went over and over the pages and sometimes poked through, the slight wrinkles, the occasional bent edges... The pages contain so much thought that they felt almost heavy.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Henrietta's Notebook

Papers were spilling out of Henrietta’s notebook yesterday. It was impossible to hide my curiosity: “What’s all that?”

“Oh, these? Just some thoughts I’ve been having.”

“Can I see?”

“Sure,” she answered right away.

She seemed glad that I asked. It was almost like she wouldn’t have mentioned anything if I hadn’t noticed, but she'd clearly brought the papers in to show us. One by one, she handed me the pages, her glance lingering across their surfaces as they left her hands. I could tell they meant something to her.

Soon, she produced an entire mound of papers, each packed with dense handwriting in every possible direction, filling rows and margins. Here and there numbers are sprinkled among words – I couldn’t tell what for. At the end of some of the paragraphs are heart outlines with smiley faces. I wouldn’t have pegged her as the smiley-face type. She is more intellectual than bubbly. Earlier in the lobby she had been reading a National Geographic article about Russia. Last week she had been telling me about the significance of the year 2010 in the Mayan calendar. Besides this writing class, she is also learning French and Spanish at the senior center.

All the pages contain writing, and some are layered with magazine cutouts too. Mad, dense cutouts. This stuff is raw and intense. This is no random scribble.

Helen exclaimed, “Look at the thought you put into that.” Her eyes were wide. I am sure mine were too.

In response, Henrietta apologized, “When I write, I don’t stop to proof read. I just write whatever comes out. So some of this may not make any sense.” And then, she turned to me, “Can you help me read this out loud? When it is cold, I have trouble seeing.”

She went into her purse to retrieve her reading glasses anyway.

Neither she nor I could decipher all the handwriting, so we ended up reading together, our backs bent over the table, our faces smelling the words – here and there we had no choice but to make up filler words on the spot. “Maybe the computer can spellcheck this for you when you put this up on the internet,” she said.

“You mean it is ok for all this to go on the blog?”

“Sure. That’s why I brought it in.”

“Henrietta, this is just - wild. This poetry. These collages. When you think random thoughts, they come right out like this, as poetry?” I didn’t know what to say so I kept repeating, “This is wild, this is wild.”

“You know, I’ve never shown this to anyone before.”


“No. I guess I never had the chance to but I keep doing this for myself.”

What an honor it is to see her work and then share it here online with all of you. Right now, as I write this blog post, our trusty volunteers are scanning her collages and typing up her poems – can’t wait to add them to the blog later this week for you to see.

Henrietta inspires me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mo (Girls)

Read at your own risk... oh yes read it, read it, all I'm saying is, my jaw was wide open by the end of this one. Here's Mo recalling in detail (and uh-huh I mean PG13-rated detail) the trials and tribulations of his first teenage years. Poor Mo. OK now - brace yourself for a little shock and a lot of heart.
By 6th grade, some of the girls had smiles that distracted me from daydreaming which was my main activity at school. Slipping library looks inside the text books also had gotten me through the awful boredom. A desire to stay awhile in the cloakroom at the back of the classroom with a girl in my grade remained unfulfilled. At the playground, a few of the Irish girls would play a little baseball or basketball with their brothers and the rest of us. At one corner of the huge playground was a garage for town trucks and about 25 cement tunnel pieces which were perfect for sixth graders to hug and kiss in. We all wondered if we were the one Sally liked the best. These encounters were incredibly innocent although the word BONER was coming into the conversation at times. Connecting the protrusion in my knickers to sex had still not occurred to me.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hattie (Boys)

Nothing like a back-to-the-basics story to pick me up. And hmm, what’s more basic than say, boys and girls? Here is Hattie to tell how she grew up as one of the boys. I have to tell you I am biased on this story – to me there is nothing more wonderfully feminine than a woman who can kick it with the boys, ok, ok, I’ll admit it, I like to think I am a tomboy but in truth I am more like a tomboy-wannabe. So you can imagine, when Hattie read her story out loud, I kept wanting to jump up and say, “Me too! Me too!” - oh yes, that would include playing wing-“man” for her buddies – to this day, I do that too.

(BTW, next up, Mo’s story…“Girls"!)

Hattie Lee Ellerbe

November 19, 2009

My father always wanted “a boy”.

By the time his third daughter was born (which was me), he treated me like “his boy”.  He would bring home pets.  I remember he brought home a puppy.  When my two older sisters ran from it, I just stood there.  I was too afraid to move.  He put the puppy in my arms and beamed, “See Hattie’s not scared”.  I stood there frozen until the little puppy fell to the floor.

As we became older and there were now five girls, daddy left our care up to his mother.  Our mother had passed away at age 28.  We were from newborn to age 9 at the time.

If an errand had to be run or anything had to be cuddled or “petted”, you can be sure, daddy would say, “Hattie can do it”.  On the other hand, when something went wrong, my grandmother would say, “Hattie did it”.

Growing up I was always with the boys, playing their games and helping them get phone numbers of girls.  They treated me like one of the boys.  My best friends were mostly boys.

I will write more about being a middle child next time.  It has its “perks” and disadvantages.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

My Sweet Aunt

I didn't realize what I am most grateful for this year until the final hours of Thanksgiving Day. An aunt whom I was extremely close to passed away in Seattle at midnight west coast time. She is happy for all the right things (love in every form) and sad for all the right things (injustice of any sort). I will remember sharing French pastries with her and wrapping Chinese dumplings with her. I will remember how girlishly she giggled the first time she met my now-husband. We had just started dating but were already in love and she could tell. I am grateful for my aunt's lifelong innocence. She was 58.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Helen (My Lovely Parents)

One day till Thanksgiving and the first hints of the holiday season are everywhere - strangers on sidewalks are nicer, grocery stores are smelling like cinnamon, and last week Helen read us a Santa story... You know what I think about Helen's stories. I soak them right up. Always. But this one - like the hot cocoa I just made and finished in, uh, four gulps... I know, not ladylike at all - is especially irresistible. For me, there is nothing more comforting than hearing someone older than me talk about her very early childhood. I mean, to hear Helen talk about the painstaking effort that her parents went through to make Santa possible is really to hear a child's testament of how much she still loves (yes, of course, present tense, and permanently present tense - loves) her parents. And to get this close to feeling the idea of permanence is, to me, pretty comforting.

Eat lots this weekend (can you tell I will?) and Happy Thanksgiving!
My parents were born in North Carolina in the same country town. The little girl, who was to become the mother of my sister and I, was the daughter of the area minister of three small churches. My father was the son of a farmer. So they always, always knew each other.

When they were eighteen and fifteen years of age, they married. Later, they came nother to Philadelphia. In the ensuing years my sister and I were born. We were a closely knit family. My Dad always called Irene and I “his girls”. He never went to work without coming into out bedroom doorway to check on us.

When Christmas came around, it was really a time of fun and expectations. We really believed that there was a Santa Claus, and that he came down the chimney.

Mother began to cook the goodies several weeks ahead of the holidays. I can remember Mother having us help to pick the meat out of the walnut shells – which she had cracked with a nutcracker. Mother was to use the walnuts in a walnut cake. Usually she also baked a coconut cake and a chocolate layer cake. Sweet potato, lemon meringue and pumpkin pies were also added to the goodies. Oh, yes, I almost forgot to add butter cookies. Needless to say, our home was full of delicious aromas.

My father would pretend that he was sneaking into the kitchen or dining room to snitch some of the cookies. Of course, my sister Irene and I were on the receiving end of some of them. You might know that my Mother was well aware of what was going on – pretending that she didn’t.

Christmas Eve, we were sent to bed early. Naturally, we were very nervous. We would lie awake for quite sometime before we could go to sleep.

Christmas morning Irene and I awakened early and raced down to the stairs to the living room where the Christmas tree and our gifts were.

Our parents were smiling. Years later, when we no longer believed in Santa Claus, they told us that sometimes, they stayed up all night. They were trying to make things nice for us.

My sister and I were truly blessed to have such wonderful parents.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hattie (Riches)

The first time I met Helen, I was immediately struck by a certain-something that she carries about her. I guess I can call it aura but that just sounds too bizarre and psychedelic for my taste. Months went by and I started to assume that her certain-something just happens, that she was born with this lucky layer of goodness around her skin and that’s that. Then she told her story, “Riches” and finally I understood. Through seventy-six years of ups and downs – in other stories she’s told us about losing her mom when she was only five – she has made the conscious choice to be thankful for the full lot of it, for all of life, not just this event or that. And when someone is so completely thankful, it just shows.

Hope this story gives you a nice little kickstart to your Thanksgiving week!

Hattie Lee Ellerbe

I feel so rich! I tell my children that they are my jewels. They make me wealthy - all I need is a little bit of money (smile). They really make my life complete.

Besides my children, grands, great grands and one great-great grand, I have many nephews who outnumber my nieces. Out of the five girls born to my parents, we each had one daughter. We had no brothers; they had no sisters.

The game of “suspense” played by family members – Who is Aunt Hattie’s Favorite. As I hug each one at family gatherings, I whisper to them quite confidentially, “You know you are my favorite.” Over the years they have come to know – they are all my favorites.

I am also the family clown or comedian. God gave me a good sense of humor. I love to be around happy people. It is impossible to be happy all of the time, but happy times are the best memories of my life.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Because Sometimes a Sentence is Better than a Thousand Words

After class, I always call my husband to summarize what has just happened because it is too amazing to keep to myself. Well, yesterday after class, I told him I had to read him a sentence from Mo's story, word for word, because a summary just won't do. After we both finally stopped laughing (we had so much trouble stopping), he said, "Wow. You have to put that on Facebook - make it like a teaser, don't give people the whole story quite yet, just put that bit in by itself."

So, all I gotta say is, (a) who doesn't like a good teaser and (b) how awesome is my husband - every day he teaches me to have more fun (c) check out our first ever Teaser on Facebook - it's a classic, it's like teenage drama captured in one innocent sentence... ok, I don't want to spoil it for you... I'll stop talking so you can go read it...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bernice (When I Was Seventeen)

 It's like when a rock star with funky electronic beats unplugs her guitar and suddenly goes acoustic on a special song. The nakedness of the sound is as vulnerable as it is brave.

You can hear everything. Every sigh, every breath.

I never knew a sentence could sound naked too. "I will never forget how much we cared about each other."

I've always known Bernice to be hilarious and witty and cool, but I'd never seen this side of her before. She laid her feelings about her late husband right out there in the open. It takes real courage to speak as plainly as that . I respect her for it.

And her husband - to be showered like this long after he's passed, what an honor.What a lucky, lucky guy.

Bernice Moore

November 12, 2009

My first date was with my husband. He was eighteen. We went to high school together. He was the nice boy on the block. He would always take me to a movie. At that time I had to be home before 11 o'clock. MY dad did tell us not to hang out too late. A few more years me and my husband was married. March 15, 1952. I will never forget how much we cared about each other.
We stayed married for many years. He died Jan 1 in 93. He was 63 years old. I had eleven children by him. 7 boys and 4 girls. One of my sons looks just like him. He is a policeman now. I miss my husband so very much. So much has changed since his passing away. I have 3 sons who was in the army and one daughter. I was very glad that I live to see the day that all of his children turned out alright. My husband will always be in my heart. His family and my family are still very close to one another. My husband's name was David L. Moore and his son David Moore Jr. is just like him.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mo (One Step at A Time)

Alright, we're gonna lighten things up with some elementary school memories here. This one is fun. So boyish, so real. But … how should I put this… let’s just say in the part about fifth grade… well, think fifth grade humor. I cringed, and then I laughed. And cringed again…


November 12, 2009

One Step at A Time

In 4th grade, a tall kid came and told us he was a quarterback and a pitcher. Although I was the shrimp of the class we became best friends and traded comic books. Some people wouldn’t take my comic books because my cousin Johnny kept getting peanut butter and jelly on them.

Johnny was 2 years younger but only a grade behind me. He started school at age 5 but was as big as kids a class or two ahead of him. By 4th grade I was headed to the town  playground after school every day. Sports became my easiest way to make new friends.

As an only child I was more eager to meet new people and sports at the playground was the first step. No adults were around so the older and/or bigger kids kept things kind of organized. No adults were involved during the school year.

By 5th grade basketball became interesting enough that we did work for the janitors at the public school in exchange for time on their basketball court. There was no gym at our Catholic school at the time.

Also in 5th grade a new kid tried to be a bully at the playground. He had flunked once or twice so he was taller and talked tough. My dad had taught me how to box so I punched the bully at the nose in the playground. He became a friend and stopped bullying people.

However he used a crayon from the art period to color his penis which he later exposed during a Spelling Bee. Some of us couldn’t stop from laughing and got kept after school because we wouldn’t say why we were laughing. The girls never let on they knew and I was too shy to even think of asking them.

In 6th grade a tall strong kid named Louie Spuielli came from South Philadelphia and became my best friend of all time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Helen (An Exciting Outing)

This right here is the stuff that memory is made of. Before reading, Helen said to us, “Deidre still talks all the time about this. This meant so much to her.” I know when I heard the story, I didn't want it to end.

Helen H. Lahr

November 12, 2009

It was Wednesday and Deidre, waiting with great excitement, could hardly contain herself. Although this was an outing that occurred at least twice a month, it was always exciting! You see, Mom-mom was coming to take her in town. In town was Market Street. This was a “private trip” including only a grandmother and a very young granddaughter. Finally, after what seemed like hours to Deidre, the bell rang and there was Mom-mom on the front porch.

I stood in the front door watching as they went down the street. Deidre was holding Grandmom’s hand tightly and looking up into her face as they walked along.

They came to the corner where they waited for the trolley car. Finally, the trolley came and they boarded it – by Mom-mom lifting Deidre up the steps. To Deidre the ride into Center City was thrilling. She never tired of it. Then they reached 13th and Market Streets. They exited the bus and entered Woolworth’s Store. They walked to a showcase full of luscious candies. Mom-mom asked Deidre what kind of candy she wanted. “I would like to have the coconut candy with the pink, white and chocolate stripes,” said Deidre. Mom-mom purchased some and gave her the bag containing the goody. Of course, this was like a ritual that was repeated twice a month. Mom-mom would also buy chocolate turtles and hard caramel candy. She always kept a bowl of candy in the center of her kitchen table for busy little fingers.

Next, they would walk into Strawbridge’s Store and head for the bakery where Mom-mom would purchase some of the delicious rolls. You see, Mom-mom would bake hot biscuits every day for Pop-pop. And because, today, she elected to take her granddaughter on an outing, she would heat some of these rolls for dinner for her beloved husband.

It was always a thrill to come to Strawbridge’s because Deidre got to either ride in the elevator or on the escalator steps. Up, up and away they went to the second floor. Mom-mom brought several pretty dresses for her granddaughter to see. Deidre didn’t realize that her grandmother made the final decision as to which dress was bought.

Finally, it was time to eat, so they went to one of the small tables on the main floor. “It was so much fun chatting with my lovely grandmother as we ate our lunch,” Deidre was to remark later.

Still chatting and holding on to her Mom-mom, Deidre was once again lifted onto the bus and was on her way home.

When they arrived home, Deidre rushed into the house to show me her beautiful dress.

Her little face was brimming with happiness!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Palm-Sized Portions

There is the kind of love that brings you to the altar and there is the kind that lets you live happily ever after.

I'm not sure Helen has never said outright, "I loved my husband." She doesn't need to. It's obvious. She still blushes and giggles every time she mentions his name. I've often wondered how she got to be so good at it, at the fine art of marriage. Turns out she got it from her mom.

My mom used to roll out a huge dough every week. Every morning, she would pinch off four little pieces, just the size of her palms, and lay them in the oven. That's because my dad loved warm bread for his breakfast. And of course my sister Irene and I grew to like it too.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chain Reaction

Starting to see a pattern. Whenever one of the seniors says something especially moving, you just feel thoughts bubbling around the classroom table, and then soon, extremely soon, almost immediately, another senior would speak what's on his or her mind, and the spontaneous followup remark, no matter how short, would always be moving as well, in some unexpected way. I guess when Helen finished reading her story, "An Exciting Outing," I was still "in" it, so I was caught off-guard when Mo opened up to us. And remember, Mo is the guy who is proudly Irish and has the thick skin to prove it, who I know can strike up small talk with strangers at the bar or anyone anywhere really, but who has told me he finds it hard to open up to people about his feelings. (That's why here on our blog, he has a pen name - yup, he made up "Mo" for the purpose of this blog - which disguises his nickname, which disguises his real name.) So picture this, Mo, the biggest man at the table, saying this, teary-eyed:

I'm ashamed to say I didn't cry during that story. It brings up so many nice memories from my own life. One day in this class I may cry. I've cried a total of five times in my life, most of them out of anger. You know, it's a privilege to cry.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Most Beautiful Theory in the World

Five minutes into class and the seniors were already into their rowdy party mode. Today's class was filled with capital-letter-m Moments, the type that takes just a minute to unfold but thoroughly blows my mind. I promise I'll get to them on this blog later this week, but this one right here, this one is so beautiful that I can't contain it any longer. I've got to write this down right away so I can remember it fresh and forever. After reading her story "When I was Seventeen," Bernice said:
 If you love a man enough, your son comes out looking exactly like him, so that you can never forget how much you love your husband. Same thing for when a man loves a woman, their daughter comes out looking exactly like the mom. When I see my son Jerome, all I can think of is how much I loved my husband. So much has changed since my husband passed away but I will never forget how much we cared about one another.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Never Fully Grown

Here's the thing with Philly. Sometimes strange things happen. And sometimes they happen so regularly that they get reclassified as normal. Like once a year, the public transportation system goes on strike for plus-or-minus a week. That's what happened last week so a lot of the seniors couldn't even get to the center. I felt bad, imagining them stuck at home in front of a window or TV. By definition the seniors who have made the choice to be part of this center is an ultra social group. They show up to make friends, learn new skills and just have a good time. They'll do what it takes, move around with canes and walkers but they'll get there, rain or shine. In fact, sometimes their fearlessness scares me. I catch myself telling them to be careful when the streets are slippery on a rainy day.

When I walked into the center last week, the lobby and cafeteria felt empty. Not eerily so, but just quieter. Usually the cafeteria is noisy - I can't even pick out one conversation from another, but that day I would say there were less than twenty people. Helen saw me at the doorway and waved me in. She introduced me to her friends Beatrice Bonners and Isadora Fields (btw are those two first-and-last-name combos fantastic or what?) and pretty soon more people joined and we all started chatting. And that's what we ended up doing instead of our usual sit-around-the-classroom-table class. You've gotta give the seniors props for being spontaneous.

So I don’t know how they got started on this, but some of them have high school reunions coming up (so that’d be like sixty-year reunions – I can’t even comprehend that length of time.) I asked them how much people change over that kind of time, and the consensus around the cafeteria table was clear: people look and act the same, but become a little more mature. I don’t why but I thought their response is both funny and profound. Maybe it’s the idea (the relief!) that people never fully mature – we just move a little farther along in that general direction.

Beatrice and Isadora started thinking back about high school, out loud. They actually went to the same high school, but in different years. “The marble stairway,” they squealed like teenage girls, “Remember the marble stairway?” Of course they both remember it vividly. Apparently anyone who set foot (as in literally, as in placing a single foot) on the marble treads got sent right away to the Principal’s Office. No one even knew why the stairway existed or where it led to. It doesn’t seem like Beatrice and Isadora ever bothered to find out the truth. The illusion of danger, I guess, is always more fun than the safety of fact.

They told us about all sorts of random bits and pieces about their school. Pretty soon, they drew a crowd in the cafeteria. A man with two cans of ginger ale rolled over in his wheelchair, making a joke about the extra can of soda and taking a dramatic gulp from each one. A lady with not-a-streak-of-non-white hair scooted her chair a little closer, wordlessly. The women at the table next to us stopped their own conversation and turned to look our way.

Beatrice and Isadora remember that first thing in the morning, they went to homeroom, where they did bible reading, the Pledge of Allegiance, and once in a while sang a little song. They remember the English Teacher who spat on you whenever she talked. And the Principal, he was very thin, too thin. When I asked them whether they liked their English Teacher, Beatrice nodded excitedly and said she tries not to remember teachers she didn’t like.

In a time-travel kind of way, towards the end of the hour, the high school conversation jumped back into the present. They all said that, sometimes, they still feel like they did as teenagers. “But you know,” Beatrice added, “I don’t let my kids know that. They already worry about me too much. I have to remind them who’s Mom. I have to tell them I’m grown.”

She said one time last year, the senior center had a field trip to Delaware. There, her heart problems acted up, so her kids sent her to a hospital in the area and kept her there for a few days. They said to her, “You are not going out of town again.”

“Of course I had to prove them wrong. The next month I went right back,” Beatrice said proudly. Helen was sitting next to her all this time, and I was sitting next to Helen. She whispered to Beatrice, “I think it’s nice they are concerned about you.” Beatrice flashed a knowing smile.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Best Day Blog is now on Twitter and Facebook

If you've been checking back regularly on this blog - thanks so much for the support. To make things easier for you from here on out, I've linked it up to both Twitter and Facebook. Be a Twitter follower or Facebook fan to get automated updates! That's right - our storytelling project is spreading its digital wings. The seniors' voices are too awesome not to be heard.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Helen (Happy Hunters)

Good-old-fashioned teamwork is happening every week behind the scenes of this little blog - I love it! Every week, staff at the senior center scan the seniors' handwritten pages then email them off to volunteer transcribers, and then the volunteers (thanks guys - you are awesome btw) email the typed text back to me to complete the loop.

Jen is one of our volunteers (you've "met" her if you've been reading along.) I like getting emails from her because she sometimes includes a little comment on the story she's just typed up. This is what she wrote me last night. It's so nice. And super well-said. "Attached is Helen Lahr's story from this week. There's something poetic about the way she writes, which I really enjoy - like when she talks about the "Happy Hunters" at the end of this story."  



I was always amused when my sons, along with my father, would go hunting.

Let me go back a number of years. My Dad adored my sister and I (as did our mother), but when my sons were born, he was thrilled. I believe I mentioned earlier that my father loved to hunt and would travel quite a distance to do so.
When my sons grew up, my Dad asked if they could go hunting with him. My husband didn’t mind, but I had always been afraid of guns. At first I refused, but my father was such a nice Dad, I gave in. He purchased rifles for both of them and were they proud of them!

On a morning when they were going hunting, they would get up at the crack of dawn, go down to the car and, ever so gently, put the guns and small stools into the car. All of this was done quietly so as not to disturb the neighbors.

Finally, they would drive away. Upon arriving at their destination, my sons, under the watchful eyes of my Dad, would load their guns with the bullets.

My Dad selected this particular area to bring his grandsons because there were no other hunters there. He and Dwight wandered off, leaving Trevor slightly behind. Remember, Trevor loves animals and had no intention of ever shooting one. He came along only because he loved my Dad dearly and because he knew my Dad loved having him accompany him. Then, too, Trevor enjoyed nature.

At noon, they decided to eat lunch, but just then, Mr. White, the owner of a lot of the farmland, came out and invited them to lunch. There was plenty of nice cool milk to drink!

Finally, it was time to return home. The Happy Hunters sang joyously as they wended their way down the highway. Although they hadn’t caught any animals that day, it had been a most satisfying day for Pop-Pop and his grandsons.

Helen (My First Cruise)

As usual, Helen had done "homework." She opened her notebook and read the title at the top of her first page: My First Cruise.

Immediately, Hattie said, "Oh, another romantic story!" She turned giddy.

"Actually, not this one," Helen said, smiling at her friend, adding to the suspense.

True, if you read the writing on the page, it wasn't intended to be romantic. But when Helen elaborated on it afterwards (just talking through it, not writing more) the story turned out romantic in the end. Helen loved her husband. That much is clear.

My First Cruise


When I was a teenager, I liked to read the society pages of the Sunday newspaper. I miss those days. There were articles describing the "coming out" parties and the "balls." Descriptions of the participants' gowns were given in great detail. I, also, liked to read about the weddings. Sometimes, a few years later, I would recognize the name of a former "ball" young lady. Often the article mentioned that the couple was spending their honeymoon on a cruise.

I hoped that someday I could go on a cruise. The opportunity came years later when our children were adults. An organization to which I belong made plans to go to Bermuda. My older son looked at me, smiling, and told me to start to pack my bags. To say I was elated is putting it mildly. It was to be an all-expenses-paid trip.

My daughter was accompanying me. She was as excited as I was. We had a lot of fun choosing what we were to wear.

In the designated day we boarded the huge Galileo ship. Almost immediately we were shown how to use life preservers. Then, we were free to enjoy ourselves. We soon forgot that we were on the water. There was even a movie, a library and a casino, among other things aboard the ship. Then we docked in Bermuda. The ship was our hotel.

Bermuda was beautiful - flowers, trees and plants were everywhere. The people were very friendly and we enjoyed broawsing. We especially liked the jewelry. At night we saw some very good shows in the theater. The Captain's Ball was fabulous!

When we returned home we couldn't stop talking about "The Cruise!"

The writing ended there. As Helen finished reading her last word, she looked up and in the same breath, continued telling us more. The highlight was really the Captain's Ball, she told us. The Captain was so handsome. He stood in the receiving line and danced with everyone who would dance. He had a white uniform on, complete with a white cap with gold trim. When Helen went home, she told her husband all about the Ball and the Captain.

He said, "I'm glad you came back to me."

She said, "He wasn't you."

Hattie and Helen (The Lighter Things)

I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but Helen and Hattie have become great friends through the class. I like it when they say that they are drawn to each other because they are both attracted to the lighter things in life. Devastating memories, bad days, give them anything - and they can give you a happier way to look at the situation. If you ask either one of them, is your life full? They don't have to think before they answer yes. Now that's very, very cool. When they talk about the imperfect bits of their lives - they have each lost a son - they just take a breath and say, well, not everything can be perfect all the time. (They'd say this in a quiet, focused way like they are just thinking out loud. They both do this.) They've told me about how they became friends a few times already - they just did, that's how. In the senior center, they spotted each other and just knew they shared that little something. I'm not sure there is a word for this. I don't think "optimism" covers it. I think it is much gentler, much lighter than that.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

For Hattie's Children

This sounds like the introduction to many more stories... can't wait.

And a quick note to Hattie's kids - hi there. If you only have time to read one post, pick this one. Your mom wrote this up especially for you to see. When I said, "Oh yeah, you'd better write something nice about them now that they are going to start reading the blog," her response was, "I only have nice things to say about them." Thought you might like to know that.

October 22, 2009

Truly, the best days of my life would be the birth of my three children:
Karen 11/10/53
Kevin 10/2/58 – 3/10/90
Keith 9/16/60

I feel that each of my children have been a blessing to me. They have given me much joy.

Karen was an only child for five years and remains spoiled to this day. She gave me my first two grandchildren, Wanda and William. After working most of her adult life, she returned to school and graduated from Rosemont College with a BS Degree at age 50. She wants to someday teach school. Kevin, my middle child was a delight. Karen’s little brother. He was like the “wise old man” – giving everyone orders or advice. He wasn’t the baby long because a year and 11 months later, Keith came along. To this day, Keith remains the most unspoiled of each of my children. He is the youngest but always the rock of the Ellerbe family.

Bernice (More War, More Love)

So as usual, Bernice the serious writer and Bernice the comedic talker were two different people. I don't know how she got started, but before class she was telling so many stories about her in high school, big earrings, short skirts, crazy about boys. She told us about her eleven o'clock curfew that her dad strictly enforced. About the coolest girl in school who thought she could get any guy she wanted (with a skirt whose bottom seam kept riding up to her navel) - until a new girl started school who turned out to be much cooler, and the real "hot dog". Bernice told us about how boys used to carry girls' books and lunches for them in the halls, and she had this one boy carry her lunches for her, which led her to assume he liked her, but it turned out he only liked her lunches - because he ate them all. Ok, so when the seniors sat down to write, I had every reason to think she was going to write about silly high school episodes but no, she went right back to war:


Bernice Moore

My story of yesterday

In the 1930s we lived in Jersey. My father had a farm of horses and pigs and chickens and they had laid eggs. My father had people helped with the farm. One day the farm was on fire. It was  very bad a lot of the animals got killed. In those days other people was like your own family. Everyone look after one nother. Then my father came here to Phila. In North Phila. the people was different in color. We made many friends during the war year. We kids called collected Cherry Plum Paper cigarette paper and can left overs which was soda cans at this time the war was going strong. We was at two wars Japan and Germany. Many men and women was killed. My brother was in the army. He ran away from home and join the army. He did come back home later safe. He told us of friends who got killed. It was very sad to hear about it. In all war these things happen.  Today we have a war that is not ending yet.

When she was done, I told her I love hearing more about the war from her but was kind of hoping to read about her dating stories too. She looked at me with a look like glad-you-asked-you-want-it-you-got-it and got right to work on her second piece of the day:


Bernice Moore

Dating story

Goes back to when I was 17teen. My husband was my first date. On weekend we went to the movie and took lunch to the park, we met other group who was there. We had a lot of fun. The  boys acted very nice. They make sure we got home on time which was 11oclock. We could go any place and was safe. Sometimes we would run into our teacher there. Woodside Park was a park where they had games and rides on different things. Hot dog was 10¢
then and sodas was 5¢ the bus fare was 15 and 25¢ fare. Rent was 50 dollar a month. Hamburger was 15¢. Hot dog 10¢ movie 25¢.

The "Something I've Got to Ask" Drawing Series

Well, now that it's become an official inside joke between Bernice and me, looks like there is no end to this mysterious drawing series. After I finally found the right moment to ask her who the person (same exact person every time - I still don't get it!) in the picture is, and she said, "No one in particular," leaving me more mystified than ever, she now hands me the same drawing with a sneakier grin (I mean on Bernice, not the woman in the drawing) each time. I am now convinced that she likes to do this just to get a reaction from me! (I crack up every time.) So what I am going to start doing on this blog is to round up Bernice's drawings every few weeks. I wonder how many of these drawings I'll collect. Here are the ones from Sept 24, Oct 8, Oct 15 and Oct 22.

Mo (The Nuns)

You could see it in the way he held his pen in his hand - Mo had been mentally preparing for our class all week. I went around the table asking the seniors one by one, "Let's see, what should you write about today?" and when I got to Mo, he didn't miss a beat. "I was thinking I'd pick up where I left off last time, " he said, "start right at first grade."

After class, he told me, "I've never done anything like this before. I don't belong to any church groups or anything so I never get to tell my stories or hear anyone else's stories like this." When I asked him if he'd told his son about all this yet, he said, "You know, I thought a lot about telling him. But haven't yet. Only my lady friend and her chihuahua know I'm doing this. I've been telling them about how much I'm loving this." I don't know why, but I kind of like that he's been keeping this class a private thing. Maybe because I think of him as an extremely talkative guy. It's natural for him to tell acquaintances about his daily going-ons; it actually takes more effort for him not to tell. At least that's my impression. I feel like it means that the class is precious to him.

And in case you're new to this blog, "Mo" is his pen name for the purpose of this very blog, and he loves the fact that he is sharing his stories to the world while retaining perfect anonymity. Even as we all read his stories here, the experience of writing remains private and personal to him. What a thrill in a way so be so public yet so anonymous.

October 22, 2009

Mo McCooper

The Nuns

Aunt Nancy had taught me to read before I was four years old.  After my fifth birthday in June 1940, she asked me if I would like to go to first grade in September or wait another year.

Fortunately, I chose to wait and I was still the shortest and lightest boy in my grade all through the eight years of elementary school.

When my mother introduced me to the wonderful principal the first day, I couldn’t wait to get home and ask Mom why the “sisters” all dressed like witches.

The nuns were very patient with me but I never scored above “A” in “self-control”.  Nothing interesting happened until a new boy nicknamed Cannonball by the older kids threw up on his desk which instantly cleared the room for early recess.  He went home and never came back to the catholic school.  Don’t remember ever seeing him again.

By fourth grade, we’re at the town playground every afternoon playing football, basketball or baseball.  Being the smallest kid was tough but my Dad had taught me to box pretty well so things were “ok”.

Ridith (Baby)

I wonder how it feels to be seventy, eighty and still be considered the baby of the family. Ridith was new to the class last week, and when I asked her to tell us about herself, she said, "I am the baby of the family."

Helen usually reads first since she always comes in prepared with pages of "homework." To keep the class exciting, we changed things up this time. I made little slips of paper with one senior's name on each slip. The idea was the name that gets drawn is the person that gets to read next. Well, Ridith finished writing first. (She wrote easily - the whole time she was writing she was smiling. You know how when some people write about the past, they frown trying to squeeze out memories? Not Ridith, memories flowed right out of her onto the page.) Because Ridith finished first, she got to pick out a slip first. And of course, she picked out her own name! Youngest in the family, newest in our class but first to read. She wasn't shy at all. She read as easily as she had written. What a natural. When you listen to her, you don't realize it at first but you drift right with her to another time, another place. When she describes her family on the farm, I am right there. I feel like I can smell it.

October 22, 2009

Growing Up in a Large Family

I was born in the state of Georgia.  I came from a family of 11 children.  There were 6 girls and 5 boys.  And also, I was the youngest in the family.

Growing up in such a large family and living on a farm, there was always something to do.  For instance, we raised chickens, cows and hogs.  There were always chores to do like feeding chickens, hogs and milking the cows.  On the farm, we also planted corn, cotton, peanuts, peas and watermelons.  As each child became older, we had to work on the farm.  My brothers had to do the heavy work.  We had horses and mules, which were used on the farm.

My mother and I would take walks to visit neighbors down the road, since I was the youngest child in the family.  Growing up in the South and on a farm, neighbors always shared with each other, especially the vegetables that we grew in the garden.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Look at Those Smiles

I am in such a good mood every time I get back from the senior center. Yesterday, I finally decided to try out the self-timer on the camera - our first group picture. Helen is standing up because she is just about to show us pictures of her grandkids. At this point we were already 20 minutes over class time, but no one seemed to care.

Bernice (On Love and War)

If you've been reading along, you don't need me to tell you - you know Bernice is funny. Like the other day she mentioned her principal in high school. She said something like she was tall, and when I asked how tall, she said without blinking, "Around ten feet." It took me a second to picture how gigantic that is in the cramped halls of a public high school. Loved the picture.

So how ironic is it that, week after week, such a light-hearted lady who can make everything funny keeps churning out writings about the most traumatic subject of all time: war?

October 15, 2009

My brother was in World War II.  He was also in Korea.  He came home before he went overseas fighting the Germans and other people.  He came home early.  He was shot in the leg.  He came home and went  back over there.  He had brought home 10 men who was in the war with him.  When he went back over there 5 of the 10 men was killed.  I felt very bad about it.  They always brought us candy and things.  One of them was just 17 years old.  I cried about him and others getting killed.  I don’t see why wars have to be. If only people would care about one another.  There will always be people who has hate not love in their heart. Christ brought enough love into the world look what they did to him.  There are so much hate in the world today.  There got to be a change.  Only believing in god and Christ can change things.  The older we get the more things we see that is not right  in life. It got to be a change.

October 22, 2009

(Stay tuned for more posts... Adding more of Bernice's writing on the blog in a few days - it's getting typed up by one of our volunteer transcribers as I type this. Teamwork!) And yes, she wrote about wartime again on Oct 22. But! I asked her if she could write another piece about something fun too, and that she did  - I won't say what it is about yet so when you read it and you'll be surprised.

Hattie (About Grandmom)

The story itself is a thing of gentle weight, but it's what came after the story that blew me away. In class the seniors took turns reading out loud, in the order they had finished writing. Hattie was the second to the last, before Mo. So there was a stretch of time between her reading and before the end of class. After class I stayed to organize the notebooks, xerox the handwritten pages to distribute to volunteer transcribers, rewind the tape recorder, nuts and bolts like that. I looked up from that state of mind, and in walked Hattie.

"Hey! You're back," I said.

"Yes, I just came back to say... I want to come back to tell you this. Just now, in my story, I ended so abruptly with my grandmom, but there was more that came back to me, and I want to tell you."

"I'd love to hear more."

"So we were at the hospital. I was saying something to Grandmom. I don't remember what it was about. She smiled. Then she took a breath, like this," Hattie took a deep breath. "And her dentures slipped out a little. Her mouth softened, you know. I said to her, Grandmom, you aren't dying, are you? You know I am scared of dead people. And Grandmom looked at me and smiled. That was how she died. I cried. I told her I love her. All these years... and I've never been able to talk about it like this."

October 15, 2009

Hattie Lee Ellerbe

PSC Writing Class

On Friday afternoon it was time for Mr. Ferguson to come to our house. He was our music teacher. For $2.50 a week, per household, he taught all of us.

Grandmom was determined to have us all learn to play the piano. Growing up we always had a piano in our house. I never really learned to play but three of my sisters did.

Grandmom was so proud of us; she had us playing at church and anytime we had company at home. I am the middle child of five sisters. I admit, I was different. Grandmom wanted us all to be little ladies. I was a "Tom Boy" and was always having accidents by falling down or hurting myself. I was always on punishment.

Everyone, including myself, thought Grandmom "picked on me" and whipped me the most.

We had sufficient clothing and Grandmom worked very hard as a factory worker to see that we never went to bed hungry. She stressed education and religion. I never missed a day of school in 12 years.

It wasn't until I became a grown-up that Grandmom and I became close.

In later years, November 26, 1974 approximately 8pm, Grandmom died in my arms, with a smile on her face as I tearfully whispered - I love you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mo (Only Child)

Say you want to cast a character for a movie - a character who would talk to strangers at a bar all night, small talk, light debate, the outgoing but impersonal kind of chitchat - you would cast Mo. He's kind of that type. But faced with a pen and a notebook, he becomes another person, almost suddenly. Vulnerable. Sensitive. Introspective. He even said to me, "I've never done this before. Writing or anything like that. Not even in school. This is my first time."

October 15, 2009

Mo McCooper

Only Child

The man who delivered beer to my father’s bar was down on one knee asking my Aunt Nancy to marry him.  She said yes and they became one of the happiest couples I have ever known.

Nancy was my mother Katie’s little sister who entertained me and taught me to read from my birth until I entered first grade at age six (6).

Other than dropping metal soldiers from our 2nd floor apartment railed porch to the street below at the age two, the rest of my pre-school fun was accompanying my cousin Joey on various adventures within a few miles of the bar apartment where I lived.  All that walking from about tree years old prepared me well to become a play-ground rat for the rest of my life.

Visits in my father’s pick-up truck to my grandparent’s cozy rowhouse in Philadelphia’s East Falls neighborhood enabled me to become closer with about twenty other cousins some of whom became more like brothers and sisters to me.  At the time, I didn’t realize they were the best cousins anyone ever had.

Thanks Grandmom and Grandpop!

Something I've Got to Ask - Continued

The "Something I've Got to Ask"mystery evolves around the same portrait that Bernice (a) compulsively draws and (b) inexplicably hands to me class after class. I tried to play it cool and not ask for several weeks but it'd been driving me crazy. I had to get to the bottom of it.

Last week, I told the group whoever finished writing could check out this blog, and it came to Bernice's turn. I was standing next to her at the computer, just scrolling through for her, when she spotted her own drawings.

"Ha! That's cool! You put these pictures in there?"

"Yes. You always draw the same person - who's that?"

"Oh, that? That's no one in particular. Just someone in my mind. She's in my mind."

No one in particular? And yes, I believe her 100%. I just don't know how something so unreal can be so permanent in her mind. I was left feeling more mystified than before I asked.

We looked at some more posts together. When we got to her story about "black and white" grits and "black and white "soldiers, she laughed and said, "That's so funny," to which I said, "I know, because you were the one who told them!"

And then, of course, after rejoining the group at the table, Bernice immediately got to work at her next portrait and yet again, even more inexplicably than ever, simply handed it straight to me.

Helen (A Mother's Pride - continued)

Helen likes writing at home in her own time. During class time, after she reads out loud, she likes to just relax while the other seniors write and then listen to their stories when they are done. She is very patient. When the other seniors write, she and I just talk softly, most of the time about her kids and grandkids, and always, always about how caring they are. Actually, now that I think about it, I have never heard Helen complain about anything in her life.

Helen is so shy but so proud when she pulls out her filled notebook every week - and she doesn't disappoint, she always has a good story to tell. Some people go to years of school to construct storylines like hers, storylines arcing from intriguing beginnings to satisfying endings. But she is a natural. Her writing and her voice - or is it a combination of the two? - when she reads out loud to us, she pauses at every punctuation mark as though to reflect on her own writing - always leaves something in the air even after her stories end.

This one is about her son Trevor.
Some of my happiest moments are when I’m reminiscing about happenings in the past.

It all began when my younger son entered kindergarten. He walked over to an aquarium and there was a hard-shelled turtle! Trevor was fascinated by the turtle. When school closed for summer vacation, he brought it home with him.

As years passed, Trevor bought a rabbit, long and short haired guinea pigs, hamsters, chameleons, white rats, and a cat. Eight hard-shelled turtles were collected from nearby countrysides.

The one thing that I had specifically forbidden him to bring home was a snake. One day, I was in the kitchen when my son came home from junior high school. Instead of coming into the kitchen, as he usually did, he stood in the vestibule with one hand in back of him. I called to him and asked what was the matter. He didn’t answer, so I walked to the vestibule. Tears began to run down Trevor’s cheeks. I asked to see what was in his hand. It was a boa constrictor snake. I told him to take it back to the pet shop immediately. My husband walked in at that moment. I knew he was on his son’s side (because he had also liked pets as a boy) but he didn’t say anything because he knew I was deathly afraid of snakes. Trevor pleaded and pleaded. Finally, I relented when he promised to keep the boa in the basement in an aquarium.

Trevor kept the boa through high school and college, two years of ROTC, marriage, and two children. While the children were in their teens the snake caught pneumonia and died.

I neglected to say that Trevor also had three large bee hives at the back of his yard. He had joined a national bee organization. At first he bottled honey for the family, but some people actually asked to purchase some. It’s surprising the influence that a hard-shelled turtle had in shaping the career of a little boy upon entering kindergarten.

In college Trevor majored in Biology. Later, he became Personnel Director of Wyeth Laboratories.

And This is How We Party

Class is getting more and more amazing. Apparently, the nasty early autumn rain outside couldn't stop our party inside. That's right. The seniors have started to call our class a party - their word, not mine!  (Later, when my husband heard the tape recording of the class, he agreed: "You guys are rowdier than I thought.")

Before I get into a full recap as usual, I want to sneak a highlight in here - can't keep this from you any longer ... I "unveiled" the blog to the seniors for the first time, and they were so beyond happy. I said whoever was done with their in-class writing assignment could come to the computer to see a surprise. You should have seen the sizes of their eyes. One by one the seniors made their way from the table to the computer desk. After they settled in the cushy seat and pivoted around to face the screen, I simply scrolled the blog to something they had written, and asked, "See? Remember writing this in class?" With some confusion, their eyes would scan the computer screen. It took them a while to realize what was happening, and then suddenly they just got it - they fully comprehended it without me having to explain anything. And then they would just look up at me (I was standing up) like little kids who just had seen the most magical thing.

Helen who tells perfect stories and speaks in perfect sentences told me, "This is perfect. My son, he is in New Hampshire you know, has been asking me what I've been writing in this class. And it's hard to explain. I was thinking of making photocopies to send him and my seven grandkids, but now they can go all on the computer and see." I asked her where her grandkids live, and they are spread all over the place - two in West Chester in PA, and one each in New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia, Chicago, New Hampshire.

Here are some of the seniors checking out their very own blog. Of course Bernice our favorite comedian actually posed with her hands on the keyboard to look like she was busy blogging and just so happened to be caught in a snapshot.

The moment I knew it was going to be a good day was when I saw Bernice in the hallway before class. She spotted me first and said out loud, "That's my girl!" Everyone heard - the hallway instantly turned into a burst of laughter. I was a little embarrassed by the attention but in a sweetened-up way.

As everyone funneled into our small classroom, chatting began. More than I could ever remember in previous classes. And for the first time, they asked to find out more about me, and not just related to writing. They wanted me to list every place I've lived. So I said, Seattle, Hong Kong, Seattle again, Boston, Philadelphia, oh, and Mexico and Rome. Immediately the group went ga ga over Rome. And of course Rome led to questions about whether I am married. I showed them my rings and pictures of my husband on my phone, and they went ga ga over him. They called him a movie star. We chatted for a while like that. I wasn't watching the clock. The mood was too nice.

Meanwhile, Hattie said, "I brought something to show you." She took out a huge pile of photo pages (the thick kind that you can take in and out of three-ring albums with peel-off plastics on top.) Now that was what got the group really rowdy. Bernice kept saying, "Hot Dog! Hot Dog!" I took that to be her way of saying "Goodlooking! Goodlooking!" Hattie showed us her sisters through the years, her parents, and of course her legendary grandmother. And then the picture that she had told us about last week, about being on the train when she was three, that picture, she held in her hands, and we all knew immediately what the picture was of. We nodded and laughed. Helen at seventy-six laughing out loud in a colorful sweatshirt and holding a black-and-white picture of Helen at three. Now that is a mental picture that will last forever in my mind.

After more goofing off, we settled down again. I thought I would give them individual writing assignments rather than ask them all to do the same thing. By now it was clear what each senior cares about because every week their stories returned to those things. For Bernice who had been writing mainly about life during the war, I thought she could write about after the war. For Hattie, I thought she could tell us more about her grandmother. For Mo McCooper (Ok, if this name sounds fake, it is! This is our new student Xxxx's secret pen name... the first pen name in our little class. And I promised him that's what I would refer to him as on this blog. No joke - he started with my married name "Cooper" and then added "Mo", and then added "Mc.") Anyway, for him,  I thought he could tell us something he had never told anymore. He seems like the kind who likes a more abstract challenge. And for Helen, I was just about to suggest writing about her kids growing up, when she said, "Last night I wrote about my son Trevor growing up."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bernice (Black and White Grits)

Helen's story that began and ended in Savannah left everyone in the room in a dreamy mood. Everyone but Bernice, that is. She waited till the last round of ooh's and aah's passed, then launched without warning into unstoppable speech. Honestly, right now I am listening to the tape of her talking and transcribing it (with the speed control dial set to "slow,") and I still have to hit "pause" every second just to catch my breath. If Helen's stories are slow waltzes, Bernices' are fast and furious break dances. Actually, I am kind of serious. When she talks, she moves her whole body and breaks into little dances in her seat. And when we laugh too long at one of her jokes (she has many) she taps my elbow, and says, hey, hey, listen to this, you gotta hear the rest of this. Oh yes, she rattles something in you. She takes you right with her. And ready or not, here she goes...

Georgia! The year was 1953, 1954. I was in Georgia too. Not Savannah though. My husband was stationed in Fort Bennie. Army Base. Columbus, Georgia was a town about nine miles from there. I got there. One corner, the black USO. Another corner, the white USO. So I went to the white USO looking for my husband. Why not, right? I asked him for Private David Moore. He told me I was in the wrong place. He said, what color is he. I said, red, white and blue. He said, you mean, your color. I said again, red, white and blue, six feet tall. He said, the black soldiers are two blocks up. I had a white soldier and a black soldier walking me there, carrying my suitcases up. So I tell you, I had black and white soldiers. That time my daughter was three years old, my son was four years old, I had them and two suitcases. My husband was supposed to meet me at the train station. The train station was five blocks from the camp. When I was at the train station, he was not there. Another soldier had to carry my suitcases to show me where to go. When I saw my husband, I said to him, you are not my husband, he is. I meant the white soldier because he was at the station to meet me and carry my suitcases for me. My husband said, I couldn't meet you, because I have to stop somewhere. Where he had to stop, I didn't know.

Hattie, laughing wildly: "You didn't tell him how glad you were to see him?"
No way, I let him have it. Two suitcases and two children. All the soldiers there were laughing because I made sure he knew I was mad. I said, where were you? Sure, I was upset. He was there two years by himself. He knew more women's names than he knew mine. He probably forgot what name I had. Yeah.
Hattie: "How can anyone forget you." It wasn't a question. You can't forget Bernice.

This woman I saw flirting with him, she said, are you David Moore's wife? I said, yes, I am glad I'm here. I hope you're finish with him.

Hattie: "Ooo, we may need to turn that recorder off."

I said, I am the wife, I can take over from here. My husband couldn't get mad at me. He was there for two years all by himself and I just showed up with our kids. I ended up living there for three years. I couldn't get used to the black and white signs everywhere in the stores. I went into this restaurant. I was the only black person there, and the white people were cracking up. The waitress said, what do you want to order? I said, give me some black and white grits. She said, we have no such thing on the menu. I said, you have a sign here that says black, and a sign there that says white, so I want both. I want everything black and white. And I had all the people laughing. I pointed to the white section and told the waitress, see how good the meat looks? I am paying the same price. I don't want mine all cut up. I don't want something you're about to put in the garbage. Some leftovers from yesterday? Uh, uh, baby, not me. Slice me some nice stuff. I told her, I am no garbage disposal.

And I went to the grocery store. I was the first black person there. A woman there said to me, don't you know your place? I said, don't mess with me, I am from the south. Ha, I made more enemies than I made friends! Hey, hey, listen to this. I said to her, where do the colored people hang out? She said, there are a lot of trees out here. You know what that means, they hanged a lot of black people in the trees. Back in the 20's and 30's, they hanged a lot of black people because of the color of their skin. They couldn't stand smart black people. You had to be a dummy.

Black men couldn't be seen with white women. Some white women were crazy about black men. But they had to cover their secret. It shouldn't be that way, but that's the way it was. It goes way, way back. Some grandmas, some great-great-great grandmas, they hated blacks. White grandmas would tell their white kids, I don't want you seen with black men. Lumps of black coal. At that time, if you were white, and you were married to a black man, you would be dead. This racial thing goes all the back to when there were slaves. And the dumbest thing about it is the white men could go to bed with black slaves. They say, those slaves are mine, I can do whatever I want. They bragged about it. But not the other way around. If black men went to bed with white women, they would be hanged on a tree.

Now things are better. It's all colors now.

Back then, during the war, you knew the soldiers had sex with the women, that couldn't be helped. Black men were stationed everywhere without their wives and they met other women. It couldn't be helped. And they had babies with the women. Mixed color babies. During the war many things couldn't be helped. Some enemies treated you nice. Others treated you terrible. Now in World War I, my grandfather was stationed in France.

And war is a terrible thing. Just imagine you are the enemy. You are eighteen. I am eighteen. We are both young. My brother was seventeen in the Japanese War. Now they didn't kill my brother. They let him go. War is a terrible thing. It goes back to the Abraham Lincoln days. They had a war between the north and the south. Now if I am from the south with a brown uniform, and you are from the north with a blue uniform, I have to kill you, even though we are young. We are brothers.

Some people say you shouldn't talk about the past. But I think we should talk about the past in order to learn about the future. Nobody should be slaves. God didn't make slaves. God made people. I talk to my great-grandkids. I show them army books and tell them I saw bombs. War started because people don't get along. That's all. There shouldn't be war. But people think they should get what they want. That war is their way of getting what they want.
Helen glides in, in her slowly waltzing kind of way. (Yes, even on heavy matters, she can glide.) "What I did experience - I had never been to the south before - it was ok, you could sit where you wanted on the trains, you know, leaving from Philadelphia. When you got to Washington, then the southern train that you had to board, you had to sit at the back of the engine -"

Hattie slips right in, precisely and gently as always. She says everything with a smile. I like that. "My father blamed me for that. I will have to tell you later."

Helen continues, "I was really angry. Inwardly. Because I had never experienced anything like that. But I did it because I didn't want to get into any trouble. And when I was in Savannah, if I went into town, I sat in the back of the bus, because I wasn't the kind to make any ripples."

Everyone teases, "Not like Bernice!"

"So I just sat at the back of the bus. They didn't put signs up. They didn't make me. But I knew. I knew."

I say, "It's weird for me to imagine being in that kind of environment. Things aren't like that anymore. In a way. I've only read about this in books and in movies, but to hear this from your experiences. It's just very weird."

Hattie gives us the rest of her story. "I was about three years old. We always went to Washington to visit my grandmother's mother, which was my great-grandmother. My two sisters who were older than me - they were perfect little ladies. I was about three. Three, five and seven, those were our ages. And on the train, I ran up and down the aisles. I jumped on the people's seats. I scared them. I put my hat over my face. And did all kinds of things."

"But you were probably so cute!" I say.

"Yeah, right! When the train pulled into Washington, I was sound asleep. And my mother asked my father if he would carry me out. And he said, no, I am not even going to walk with her. No wonder why this train has Jim Crow. 'Cause of her." Hattie bursts out laughing. "I have a picture. I have to show you the picture."

"How do you know this happened?" I ask.

"They never stopped talking about it. All my life. And I have the picture, where my mother is walking me in the station, with a look that says, when I get you to where I am going, I'm going to kill you. No one else is in sight. Not my father. Not my sisters. He was ashamed. Embarassed by my behavior! I had a sailor hat on, and I would put it over my face. And I remember vaguely doing that. But like I said, the fact that they talked about it so often, and somebody took a picture, that's how I know. So my father blamed me for segregation and Jim Crow, everything that ever happened to colored people. I have to bring that picture that week."

I can't believe it, but here we are talking about segregation, and everyone in the room happens to to black. Yet no one is mad. Everyone is laughing. Warmly. There's something amazing about this. Meanwhile, Bernice got her second wind. She is back with steam and more to tell. No more war or segregation stories though. She's onto something else.

Now the happiest day I had was the day I met my twin sister for the first time at the train station. I didn't see my twin sister till I was eight years old.

Hattie: "Oh my goodness, there is another tear jerker."

So when I saw her, I said, hey, you look like me! I had my Raggedy Ann doll, my Raggedy Doll - they are worth money now - and I met my twin sister for the first time. I said, Mama, why does that girl look like me? She said, 'cause you are Twins! And me and my sister have been together ever since. We are  both seventy-six years old. She is the mother of twelve, seven boys and five girls. I am the mother of eleven, seven boys and four girls. Yeah!  I've got seven sons and four daughters. She's got seven sons and five girls. That's right!

No joke. I remember this part vividly. Bernice has her arms in front of her, rocking out in a mini dance party of her own. I love that!

My oldest daughter. She is fifty seven. Born in 1952. She is big and tall and she calls me Mama. All my kids are bigger than me. My youngest son, he is forty-four years old. My baby is forty-four.
We are all laughing. It's become officially impossible to stop laughing at this point. Hattie teases, "So every two weeks you had the baby!"

The head nurse remembered me. Every time she saw me, she said, you haven't stopped yet? You are here again. Bernice, not again! My oldest daughter, I had no trouble with her. The first birth, that's the hardest one. I felt so sorry the other day when I heard about someone in labor for a long time, for her first child. My oldest son, he died, but he was eight pounds too. Ah yeah, cancer. Forty years old, when he died. And then my daughter, she was thirty, she died. Heart tumor.

And then I got my granddaughter, she died of drugs. Drugs. I had met her that morning, on my way here. She said, Grandma, Grandma, you got another money? I didn't think she was buying drugs. I thought she needed some food. But she bought drugs. And it killed her. I gave her ten dollars. Next thing I know, one of my neighbors called me up, she said, Norma is at the hospital. And when I got to the hospital, she was dead. Her eyes were open to the ceiling.

People get the needles from the drugstore and shoot stuff up their bodies. The drugdealers don't care. They are making money. I tell my kids, my grandkids, why have a habit that can kill you? Something that can destroy you? Everyone's gotta die. But why die unnecessarily? Why die before your time? When I die, I want to die in my right mind. Everyone's gonna get old. But get old gracefully. Everyone's gonna drink a glass of wine, but not half a gallon. You should only put a little bit in your glass. Me and my twin sister are both seventy-six.
I notice that Hattie has something to say, "Hattie?"

She says, "Can I just sneak something in before class is over? I wrote something that I want to share.

Today was one of the happiest days of my life. When I came down the stairs I noticed the mail had arrived.

I didn’t recognize the return address….as I opened it, there appeared a beautiful “Butterfly” greeting card….the handwritten message warmed my heart. As I share it with you, notice, the sender was Helen Lahr.

Thank you Helen, it certainly is beautiful.

Bernice: "Aw, the card is cute!"

Hattie: "I love butterflies. But most of all I love beautiful people."

She reads from the card: "Dear Hattie, Knowing you helps make everyone brighter. Sincerely, Helen."

Helen: "I didn't know you were going to try."

Me: "Oh, Helen!"

Helen: "She loves butterflies."

Bernice: "That's pretty. That's got pretty colors!"

Hattie and Helen start telling about how they met at the senior center, that they just met and were immediately drawn to each other, because they are both drawn to the lighter things in life. I tell them about my grandma and her best friend, who told me once that being happy is a conscious choice she makes every day. We realize that Bernice has started drawing. We talk about how talented she is. And hilarious. For a second she stops drawing to finish her story.

1937. That Raggedy Ann doll I had with me at the train station? Yeah. I gave it to my sister when I saw her. And I haven't seen that doll since. Yeah, I love my twin sister. We have fun.
At the end of class, she hands me two pages. One contains the drawing (you've got to see a separate blog entry for this one, yes, it was so amazing that I had to dedicate a blog entry to it.) The other contains this dense but short little paragraph:
The year was - 1953 &4. Happy things in my Life was as a child going to the store for older people and helping water the Gardens and cleaning their houses and making sure they was alright. As I got married I still helped people. My husband was at Fort Bennie, Ga. I could not get used to the black and white sign on the door. I made many friends. One day I almost got lost. I was in a all white section but they acted very nice and showed me the way home. I was there 3 yrs.