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.

Helen (A Mother's Pride)

Got a cup of goji berry green tea next to me, headphones in my ears. Listening to the tape from last week's class...

Helen's voice. She says she wrote a little at home about what she had told us in the previous class. Just to lay her memories down on paper. She asks me, "Do you want to see?"

"Three and a half pages, wow, Helen," I say.

And I ask, "Do you mind reading it?"

I remember wondering, would her story come out differently told vs. written?

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.
"Go for it, Helen," I say.

"Let me get out my handkerchief first," Helen laughs. I remember that she thought a little about her own joke and then a split second later really went to search for her handkerchief in her bag.

I must say that the following experience was ONE of the happiest moments in my life – the birth of my first baby. I had wanted a boy to be first and I got my wish.

I will go back a bit. My father, who was a construction worker – was asked by his employer to move to Lancaster, PA for 2 yrs. I will never forget how heartbroken my sister and I were to leave our schoolmates and friends in the neighborhood.
She stops reading to explain to us, "The neighborhood was right here in South Philadelphia."
You see we had never moved out of S. Phila. Upon our arrival, though, we soon adapted to the suburban life. Lancaster was small – everyone knew each other. We were asked to come to Sunday School, by a lady who came to welcome our family to the neighborhood. Of course, my mother gave her consent. Prior to that two Amish ladies (from across the road) came to bring a large basket of fruit.

Irene (my sister) and I visited the church school. Soon, we began to enjoy ourselves. Also, in the Public School, we met other children.

At that time, I had no way of knowing that at church I was to meet the person who was to become my husband years later.
Everyone starts giggling like teenage girls.
The pastor of the church was my future husband’s father and the lady who visited our home was his mother.

In the ensuing years, church conferences were often held in Phila., so, the Lahr family visited our home.

Years later, my husband-to-be enlisted in the service, intending to make a career of the Army. He was sent abroad to Trinidad.
She adds, "And that was for 24 months."

Around the table, you hear a few "hmms." Someone says in the background, "That is a long time."

Helen says, "To me, it seemed like an eternity."

The teenage giggles instantly turn into mad laughter on the tape. Hattie says, "That's beautiful." Her voice is quiet and shaky.
When he returned he proposed to me and I accepted. Soon after that, we were married. My husband, who was stationed in Savannah, Ga., sent for me. I stayed in Savannah on Victory Drive and my husband (a Master Sgt.) was allowed to stay in town every night.

Eventually, I became pregnant and returned to Phila. to register at the University Hospital. I stayed with my parents and sister during my pregnancy.

Finally, my wonderful baby arrived. A furlough was granted to my mate to come home. Were all of us happy! My husband was so excited that when he drove to the hospital to bring us home -
I can't help myself. I burst out, "I remember this part!" Helen laughs as she continues.
- he narrowly missed hitting a lamppost. :)

A few years later, my husband and I were blessed with another wonderful baby boy and a beautiful little girl. We couldn’t have been any happier.

Time passed, all too fast, and our family grew up. Our children won college scholarships. We were so very proud of them!

Our first born won the Guggenheim Fellowship and became a professor of Mathematics at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH.
Now everyone is shouting woohoo's and clapping like we are in an award ceremony.

Our second son became Personnel Manager for Wyeth Laboratories.
Helen says, "Because Trevor had majored in biology, he got that job. But I lost him five years ago. He had an obstruction on his intestines...." She voice trails away.

Hattie says the absolute most perfect thing that anyone can say, "He lives forever in your heart."

Helen sighs lightly. Her voice returns. Stronger than before.

Our daughter is a public school teacher in Philadelphia.

Life is full of surprises. My son, one day, was asked by the college to go (for 1 yr.) to Savannah State University to teach mathematics to the young blacks.
Around the table, you can hear ah's and wow's.
This was to set an example of what can be accomplished when you TRY.
Helen adds, "They felt that his life can set an excellent, excellent example for the young people in that college. And, oh, I didn't write that -"

"- you didn't write that he was going back to where he had been conceived. Is that the one that was conceived in Savannah? I remember you telling us last time," Helen is finishing Hattie's sentence for her, the way only a true friend can do.

Helen: "Yes, yes, that is exactly the way it was."

Hattie: "That is too awesome. Too awesome."

Helen: "Of course he consented to going there and teaching the young blacks. And oh, I also didn't write in here about my landlady back when I was in Savannah the first time. Well, it was a couple. Mr. and Mrs. Stripling. They were so kind to me. Well, now this is when my son returned there years later. She was by the time a retired school teacher. She still had connections with Savannah State, and saw in the registrar my son's last name. And she said it clicked. She went there and investigated about his history. And she found out I was the one who stayed with her many years ago. At the house on Victory Drive. She saw that name, "Lahr," in the registry and decided to investigate. And mind you, my son at that time, was married. His wife had this little baby. You know, there with him. So Mrs. Stripling went there for dinner. And was so happy. Meanwhile my son had sent for me. I was down there. So it was like a little -"

"-reunion!" We all chimed in.

"And when she went out to get her car, the car wouldn't start. And then my son went out to work on  it, and then she went home."

Helen is remembering more and more.

"I hadn't seen her for so long because I lived in Philadelphia and hadn't been back to Savannah. Oh, I forgot to write so many things. I forgot to write that when I had the baby, at that time, they had the point system in the service, and since my husband was a volunteer, he had amassed all these points for the baby - I forget now how many points you got if you had a baby. So he decided not to make a career of the service, and he came out. Maybe I told you last time in class? My writing here is disjointed because I wrote a little here last class, and last night, I added more. There is a lot more about my son on the websites. Like I was telling Hattie before class, when I first went to Temple University and even when my son went, they did not have Phi Beta Kappa, that is the highest fraternity you can be in. And in later years, they did have it and they do it, so they found out after he graduated that he had qualified for that honor. He and a white businessman were both qualified for it. So when it came time to choose Man of the Year, the two of them were tied and they received Men of the Year awards. And I attended. Me and my sister, and my son Trevor, and my daughter. And Dwight was on the stage. He had to make a speech. And he said, um, what stood out in his mind was that I as his mother was there when he attended Temple and received awards and I was there that night. I was in this balcony that overlooked the stage and he had me stand up. And -"

On the tape her words stop abruptly. But I remember what she was doing in class. She put both palms on her face to gesture proud tears rolling down.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Day Words Came Tumbling Out

For a while, it was as though the wide-lined notebooks that I hand out before every class were the seniors' safety nets. They felt better thinking before they wrote and writing before they read out loud. It seemed that way at least. I used to see more crossed-out words on their pages, like they were mulling over sentence structure and grammar behind the scenes before their stories came out in the verbal spotlight. But sometime between then and today, something changed. Today, after getting a paragraph out on paper, one by one they let go of their pens and just started speaking. First a quick thought, then a couple sentences, and then words came tumbling out of the their lips. They said things out of sequence and didn't mind, they changed their own subjects and didn't worry about where the stories were headed. Even when they read, their interrupted their own writings with tangential little subplots. Helen spoke tenderly, Hattie spoke warmly, Bernice spoke rapidly, Mozell who is hard of hearing listened and nodded when she was excited about something. There was a lot of laughing (that was Bernice's doing - she was talking about racism in the 50s but even in her fury she was hilarious) and some crying (that was Helen's doing - before she started talking Hattie joked, "Let me get out my handkerchief first,"  because it's a proven fact: things Helen says are always, always touching.)  Our class went half an hour overtime but we stayed around to look at Bernice's pictures (this tiny but thick stack) that she carries in her purse, and then I took a picture of them and Hattie took a picture of us. (By the way, sorry the picture is fuzzy. My fault not hers. I didn't set the camera right before I gave it to her.) Standing next to me, with that white daisy pinned to her hat, Helen turned to me and said, "You know, I am really enjoying the class. I love being here." And I guess that right there was when I could use a handkerchief too.

Something I've Got to Ask

So here is something I really wanted to ask Bernice after class but I wanted to go home first to make sure I wasn't imagining things. Twice, she spontaneously started drawing at the end of class and when she was done, handed her paper right to me. First time, I thought, funny lady Bernice, of course, drawing in a writing class, I wouldn't expect anything less from her. When she gave me the paper, she also gave me a look like,"Here you go. This should speak for itself." So I took her cue and didn't ask. The same thing happened today, same spontaneous drawing, same "self-explanatory" transfer. And immediately I thought, isn't this the same exact image?

I ran home to my mini archive for this class (a folder of notebook pages.) And sure enough, it was like she ran her drawing from two weeks ago through a xerox machine and just pressed "80% smaller." Who is this? Is this person real or a figment of her imagination? The ultra-feminine super-dainty profile on the page looks nothing like the Bernice I've come to know: rowdy, tomboyish, mischief coming right out of her cheeks. Everything about this pair of drawings is a mystery to me. I laid them side by side and stared at them with my mouth open. My husband and I discussed them like paintings in a museum. We've never seen anything like this. We don't know what to make of them.

Bernice can really talk. Once she starts, she goes around and around like a rocket that you can't stop. Fiery opinion. Fiery humor. But here I am left with her soft, wordless pages. I wonder if I shouldn't ask her about them, and see if I get a third one the next time I see her.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hattie, Nancy (and Jen)

Volunteer transcribers are stepping up to turn the seniors’ handwriting into typed text, for me to enter here on to the blog. There is something surreal about the seniors’ stories leaping from the table we were sitting around into the hands of volunteers, then passing through their fingers into the invisible email jungle, then landing on this blog and finally reaching your eyes (hello, you out there!) as you read this blog now, somewhere back in the physical world. Like a mini physical-digital-physical dance.

Below is what Jen typed up and emailed to me last night. I’ve never met her but through this project we’ve been getting to know each other a little bit online (and by the way how cool is that?) She said it’s ok for me to share a couple sentences about her here: “I got involved as a volunteer with the senior center a little over a year ago when I helped to launch the center's digital storytelling initiative, which brought seniors' stories to video. I’m excited to be part of this new initiative to bring seniors' stories to a whole new medium online.”

Hattie Lee Ellerbe

October 1, 2009

What I do to Relax

Most of the time a long Bus Ride relaxes me.

There doesn’t have to be too much scenery, only the sky, hills and trees. It gives me time to think and to be at peace with myself. While riding I can draw pictures of my family and friends, in my mind.

Most of the time if negative thoughts or pictures occur, I can quickly erase them. Many times I just think of God and ask Him for guidance in my daily living.

Looking at photos would be my second source of relaxation.

Nancy J. Blair

October 1, 2009


Walking is my favorite form of exercise. I started walking at first to deal with my depression. There are a lot of exercises I do – such as stretching and toning. But walking is the best for me.

There are several places I like to walk, but beside the waters is the best thing for stress and nervousness.

I love the city of Philadelphia because there are so many different historic places and parks and also there are so many different sections like Old City, Center City, South Philly and so forth. Each has its own type of people and customs. You never get bored because there is such variety.

I was brought up in a small town, so moving to a big city was very new and exciting for me in the latter stage of my life.

I have trouble with my knees and my feet – but I always try to take good care of them. So I will be able to continue walking for the rest of my life.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Really. I promise to stop talking in a second so you can hear Helen's story, uninterrupted. But can I just slip this one thing in here? Somehow I really want to remember this about her. That day, she was wearing more bracelets than I could count, and with every movement, no matter how small, they made the world's subtlest, most unpretentious music.

OK. I am pressing play on the tape recorder now. Here's Helen.

That's refreshing. I mean, it's refreshing you want to listen to us. Some young people think that as older people, we've never lived. In a way. That we've never known how it was to, say, to really love someone. They think we just exist. That's all. It seems that way. But we've had a lot of experiences growing up.
What I wrote here. It's true. But it's like a story. I'm not done yet. The story got too long. I started writing about the most important, or what was it, the best day of my life, but I kind of went off on a tangent. But I can tell you about it and finish writing at home.

I must say the following experience was one of the happiest moments of my life. The birth of my first baby. But I have to go back quite a bit. My family consisted of my father, my mother, my sister and me. We grew up right here in South Philadelphia. My father was a construction worker, and one day his employer asked him, would he move to Lancaster, Pennsylvania? At first my father said, no, he'd rather not, because he didn't want to take Irene and me out of our schools. But then he talked it over to my mother, and she said, maybe we can try it out for two years, perhaps.

Well, Irene and I cried, because we didn't want to leave our school friends and our neighborhood friends. For the first time, we were moving out of Philadelphia. But when we got to Lancaster, we were happy to see... well, it was a suburban town, and we liked that. First week we were there, these Mennonite ladies rang our bell. If you are familiar with Mennonites. They welcomed us to the neighborhood and had baskets of fruits. They were nice. And then another lady rang our bell. She was from the black church that was there, and asked my father if we could attend Sunday school, and my father said yes.

There, of course, we met other other children, and I also met the fellow that I would eventually marry, although we were too young to know that then. It was his mother who rang the bell. I was really young. Eleven or twelve. I had no idea that the first time I went to Sunday school was when I would meet my husband. Absolutely no idea.

Anyway, Irene and I slowly came to enjoy - and so did my mother and father - we all enjoyed our stay for two years.Well, I neglected to say that my husband's father was the pastor of the church.

So we moved back to Philadelphia. Every so often, the church conference would be held here, in Philadelphia, and other parents from the church would visit my family. And of course, on and on, my husband and I saw each other, and finally we began to look at each other differently.

I graduated from high school. I had taken the academic course because I thought surely my father would let me go to college. He was a lovely father but somehow he didn't. So what I did was I went to what was called "evening school." I didn't continue the academic course. Instead I took the commercial course at evening school. Learning things like typing and shorthand. To make a long story short, that was my education. Then I went to work for the Board, and in the meantime, my husband would come down to visit. We would go downtown. He would take me out. We didn't get married right away, because as I said, we weren't serious for a while. I was twenty-one when we got married. So.

Every so often, as Helen speaks and pauses, the whole room rolls in unison into a big, full laughter. At this point on the recorded tape is the first time anyone really interjects. You can hear Hattie in the background: "Starry-eyed, still starry-eyed when she talks about him."

And um. So he volunteered for the Service. This was before the draft and everything. He had volunteered before we had become serious. And we was going to make a career of it. But then we got married and he began to change his mind.

He was stationed in Savannah, Georgia. I'll never forget that place. We went down to Georgia. I loved that place.I just loved it there.

Hattie in the background: "It was him. Didn't matter where you were." We all know Hattie is right. That's including Helen.

I got pregnant when I was there. So right away I came back to Philadelphia to the prenatal clinic. I was living with my parents while he was still stationed down there, and for a short time he went to Trinidad. When he came back, the Army had the point system. By having the baby, he had more than enough points, enough for him to get out. So that is what he did.

Now I want to tell you this. I gave birth to the baby at the hospital, and when my husband came to pick us up, he almost ran into a...
Here Helen laughs and can't stop...

He almost ran into a post. He was so nervous. He was driving my father's car. But we were okay. I had to tell you that.

And in the ensuing years, I had another little boy. I had wanted a little boy, so I got my wish. And I had wanted a little girl. I did not get my wish. But I got my Trevor, my second son. I love him so much. And then I had a little girl. They are all college graduates. My oldest son, he is a professor of mathematics, the one I conceived in Savannah. Mathematics at Dartmouth. My younger son, he was a Personnel Director for Wyeth Laboratories but I lost him five years ago... um...

Um...with colon cancer... that he had discovered... and um, right away - it was two months - right away he was gone. I still haven't gotten over it yet. I don't think I can ever get over it... And my daughter, she is a teacher here, in the public school system. Yeah, so.

Life is very strange, because, while my oldest son was teaching up in New Hampshire, they asked him, would he go - listen to this - to Savannah, Georgia for at least a year to set an example for the black children in that area. And he consented. Yeah! Life is weird.

He sent for me to come down there. And my landlady, she came to visit me there. It was weird, you know. It was strange he would be asked to teach there and stay for a year. I stayed for several months.
That is beautiful, just to picture the years go by and come right back full circle.

That's why whenever anyone mentions Savannah, I really flip. Inwardly, you know. And whenever anyone says they are from Georgia, I always say, do you know where Victory Drive is? Because that is where I stayed. Victory Drive. It was lined, lined with palm trees.
Hattie begins crying. Crying with a smile. Nancy asks her first question, "Do you have grandchildren?"

Yes, I do. My oldest son has five kids and my younger son had two. And the blessing I have is that my sons reared their children to be devoted to us. My family and I. Although they are all young adults now, with the exception of one, she is thirteen, they are so devoted to my daughter and I. They come and visit. And now two of them are married, and they are parents, and they bring the babies. My life is really, really full. With the exception of my son. The one that I lost. But I guess you can't have everything perfect all the time. But I do have a lot of happiness. All of my grandchildren have completed college and everything, except for the one who is thirteen - she is in middle school. I am blessed. And we go up to New Hampshire every summer. We can go more often. But you know, my daughter works. And sometimes we make an exception and go up at Christmas, but if we don't go up there, they come visit. It's nice.

More of My New Friends

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dance Tickets

Worked late tonight but I don't feel tired. All day I couldn't wait to chill out here, on this little blog. I have so much to write that I'm afraid I can't get it all down while my thoughts are still fresh.

Had our second session today! One of the seniors' stories was so moving that her friend sitting next to her got all choked up, and then she got choked up too. The rest of us had tears coming but held them in.  Helen's story wasn't sad, not at all. It was just so very basic that it was beautiful. I am glad that the senior center gave me a taperecorder. Helen wrote half a page but it was her talking that moved us. She talked for a while. 20 minutes? 25 minutes? We were speechless. Oohs. Aahs. Laughter. Warm laughter. That was all the rest of us were capable of. I think this weekend I have to sit down with the taperecorder and transcribe her story here.

But until then. Maybe I should start back at the beginning of today's session. Or, actually before that, when I chatted with Ernestyne before class.

The sun was for some reason bright even though it had been windy the rest of the week. When I first stepped inside the senior center today, my eyes had to adjust. The entry vestibule opens to the lobby, which is filled with chairs and tables. Seniors like to cluster there, some talking, some content with just sitting at the same table with their friends. At first it was hard to pick out faces. I spotted a waving arm. It was Ernestyne. She was in one of those chairs I associate with middle school, the ones with the writing surface connected to the seat. She looked so tiny, like a plant peeking out of a pot. She had a newspaper opened in front of her, to the crossword page. It was not filled in yet. "Hi," she squealed. It sounded like squealing to me. She introduced me to her friend who was in a sporty blue outfit. "Class was very fun last week. I am sorry I can't go today. The van is coming soon to bring me to the hospital." I gasped and asked what was wrong. "Just for a treatment," she said. "Not a big deal."

Turned out that her knees were acting up, but it's just arthritis which she is used to. "My grandma gets that too," I said. "Hers swell up like grapefruit when the weather changes." Ernestyne told me that hers act up a little differently - they feel like they are loose inside. "My bones just separate," she explained. I probably looked a little worried, so she changed the subject. She asked if I am married and when I said yes, we traded huge smiles. Taking my hand in hers to look at my rings, she asked if I live nearby, asked where I am from, and finally out of nowhere, she asked, "Have you heard about the dance? Do you want to come? I am stationed here because I am selling tickets." I was blown away. There was something so earnest in her face. She was about to be at the hospital but she was sitting there selling tickets for a dance for the senior center. Dance tickets. She was way too adorable.