Thursday, September 30, 2010

From Youtube to Email and Back to You

Thank you, everyone, for watching and sharing our new Youtube video! And keep goin'!

Ashley, our Event Director extraordinaire who is hard at work on our big November event (which will be a blast - I am guaranteeing that right now), shared the video with her friends, and this is what one of them wrote back. It's supersweet. Joy and Ashley have generously agreed to let me share this email with all of you guys.

To: Ashley Kerns
From: Joy Salvatore
Date: Wed, Sep 29, 2010 at 9:48 AM

Wow!  How wonderful to be a part of such a special project.  Thank you for sharing it.  I will definitely come to the event on November 14. 

I thought it was funny that the narrator mentioned that family and friends have written to her saying that their loved one has never looked happier or stronger.  I was watching the video thinking that everyone looked so youthful and joyful sharing their experiences with one another.  It reminded me of when I took an Italian class with my grandfather when I came home from Italy.  He had not spoken italian in decades, and he grudgingly agreed to take the class with me.  Once we started going, he loved it and quickly became the most popular person in class.  Each week, he came to my house an hour or 30 minutes before we had to leave, and I would drive us to class in his car listening to italian music.  I know I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to share that passion with him.  It allowed me and my family to see of side of him that was probably more prevalent when he was a young man.  I imagine that is exactly what you get to see when you go to these meetings at the senior center, and the people there finally get to express themselves, their personalities, and share their stories.  What an amazing project.  That is surely a gift to everyone...the people sharing their tales and all those who take the time to listen. 

Thanks again for sharing.  Cannot wait until Nov 14! :-)

Remember, our ears are always open. If you have something to share, feel free to email us (you can find our emails at the blog sidebar) or post a Facebook comment. If you aren't a Facebook/ Twitter fan, you're missing out! That's the easiest way to read blog posts as they show up, and that's where we post all our class photos. Please do consider fanning our pages if you haven't already. Our seniors check their Facebook/ Twitter pages often - they really love seeing your faces. It shows them you are out there listening.

Monday, September 27, 2010

We are on YOUTUBE!

How do I say this without screaming it in ALL CAPS? Uh oh, I can't! WE ARE ON YOUTUBE!!!!

Watch and share with friends. It would mean so much to us if you'd do that for us.

What we've put together for you is a glimpse into our weekly class, which is the heart and soul of this project, and the point of origin for the stories you read here online.

I am hugely grateful to our very-own(!) filmmaker and now my personal friend, Steve Gardner, who has been putting very hard work into this project and who keeps me company by coming to class with me most every week. Steve and I will continue to collect and edit video footage, which we will premiere - you guessed it - at our mega public event in November (see blog sidebar). Don't miss out! See you on November 14!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Brenda (The Four "H" Sisters)

A month ago, thinking out loud here on the blog, I realized the only word that comes close to describing how our class feels like is "family". I am not being dramatic – it’s true! And hey, I've got backup - turns out it’s not just me who thinks this way! On the teen blog, teens write that our seniors are like their second family. And Mr. Gordon the other day came right out and said, "There is true love in this room." Hugs are freely flowing left and right, and lately, Brenda has been dedicating entire stories to other seniors in the room. Except she doesn't call them classmates; she calls them siblings.

Brenda Bailey
The Four “H” Sisters           

I would like to introduce you to the 4 H Sisters, a.k.a. The Happiness Sisters.  They are not a group that takes care of animals or a vocal group (but I know they can carry a tune), or a dance group (because arthritis has put a stop to high kicks and splits they use to do), or a sports team playing basketball and tennis (I would love to see them try!)  No!  They are just a group of senior women traveling along life’s road.

The 1st Sister – The Writer:  Her prose bring a smile to your face when you think of her gift and command of the English language.

The 2nd Sister – The Fugitive:  The French police have given up looking for the American women who tried to squeeze under a turnstile in Paris.  I can just see them now all dirty from the grime of the street and having a ball.  Thank goodness the statute of limitation has come and gone.  What a hoot!

The 3rd Sister – Butterfly Lady:  She collects all thing butterfly.  Pins broaches, memorabilia – at last count 60!  Butterflies do make you feel light and free - not a care in the world.  “Madame B” has a happy smile when she says, “Hello there”.

The 4th Sister – Grand Dame:  Her big colorful flowers, hats and outfits make you happy just to see her.  Those sparkling eyes and smiling lips say hello before she does.  Her grace poise and classy demeanor say, “I am a Lady!”

Now can you guess who is who?

1) Henrietta
2) Hazel
3) Hattie (a.k.a. Tina Turner)
4) Helen

The next time you see them, you’ll see why they are called The Happiness Sisters.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hazel (Power)

You know that song “Proud to be an American”? It goes through my head every time I reread Hazel’s story. Except it kind of goes, “Proud to be - Human”. This story may only take 5 seconds to skim, but it carries the weight of the world. It’s been three weeks since I heard Hazel read it out loud in class, but the last sentence still keeps ringing in my head.


With the welcoming of returning soldiers from Iraq, memories of wars past crowd my mind. One in particular really makes a point. A veteran of World War II who was a paramedic was driving his ambulance across a bridge in Düsseldorf, Germany. Little did he know that the bridge was mined. The explosives blew him into the water below. Although we were fighting the Germans, two German ladies pulled him to safety until help appeared. He was flown to Valley Forge hospital, were he remained for nine months. He lived an extremely beautiful life to a ripe old age. Don’t underestimate the power of the human spirit.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bernice (On the Bus)

Some things in this world are simply perfect. Bernice’s personality is one of them.

I still remember my first impression of Bernice. We’re both goofy and silly and since day one of this class, we hit it off. She has a mad talent for jokes; we both have a mad appetite for laughing out loud. And then, as she started to share more and more stories from her life, I found out there are layers and layers more to her than just a funny lady (or well, tomboy!) First time I realized that was when she talked about how much she misses her late husband. Click Here for that blog post: the story struck me so much. I compared it to a rockstar (which IS what Bernice is to me) with funky beats suddenly going unplugged. It steals your heart. But that’s not all. She’s shared so many stories since, about her gratitude towards the aunt who raised her, her pride of her twin sister Beatrice, her theories (ALL of which I am a fan of) on life, like it’s a good thing people are different, because we are different like flowers. Oh, and you saw in a few blog posts earlier how she draws me a picture every week – that’s our inside joke. I mean, she is just so funny, fun to be around, loving, grateful, content, artistic, brilliant... and to top it all off? She’s kind. She’s got ethics, she’s got backbone. She knows right from wrong, and she acts on what’s right. Doesn’t matter she’s got a walking cane and a limp, she’s constantly helping strangers on the sidewalk and on the bus.

(Bernice, I am not sure you even know it, but I swear, you are as cool as people come. I love that I get to hang out with you every week in class.)

Bernice Moore
On the Bus

I was on the No. 15 bus this morning. Some people speak and some don’t.  A lady left her purse on the bus.  I see her all the time, and I told her about it.  She was glad I gave it to her.  One lady said I should have kept it.  I don’t believe in keeping something that ain’t mine.  It is so good to be honest. 

Another lady fell asleep on the bus.  A man tried to take her purse.  I woke her up.  He was mad at me.  I did not care about that.  It is good to help people.  There are some very mean people.  I am glad I am not one of them. 

The older we get, the more we see new things.  Everything has changed.  There are a lot of new people here.  We have to get used to them.  I love to see new people and make things change for the best. 

Bernice Moore           
On the Bus

Today, coming down on the bus, I saw a lady get sick.  She was taken to the hospital.  I hope she is alright.  Some people helped her until help arrived.  I sure hope she is alright.  When I was walking down 11th and Market Streets, a little boy came out of the store.  His mother was still in the store. I told him he was with the wrong mother – my baby boy is 60 year old. I was just passing through. So I stopped and looked into the store.  His mother was glad to see that he was alright.  Sometimes children get away, and their mother and father don’t see it.  I was glad everything was ok.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Beatrice (Where Do We Go From Here)

American Society on Aging's 2010 East Coast Conference

This project is becoming more “adult” yet more “teenage”. Growing up and growing younger all at once. The seniors and I are loving it.

I had a great time speaking as a panelist at American Society on Aging’s esteemed 2010 East Conference on Aging yesterday. Thank you, Creative Arts and Aging Network, for including me on your panel. Thank YOU to current readers who took the time to attend, and welcome to new readers (YAY!) who got “hooked” by my cliffhanger about my grandma’s story and are now here on the blog digging up the rest of the story!

Alright, alright, you want it, you got it. Click Here and Here ;)

And the growing-younger bit? Well, TODAY in less than half an hour our very first Teen Writing Group will kick off. The coolest part? This is entirely our teens’ idea, not mine. They said that now that school has started and they can’t visit our weekly class at the Senior Center midday on Thursdays, they want to start their own group to read and discuss their reflections to the seniors’ stories. If you haven’t checked out this project’s Teen Blog yet, you’ve absolutely got to. Visit and check back regularly!

Enough about how excited I am. Check out how excited Beatrice is!

Beatrice Newkirk
8/19/2010 and 9/9/2010
Where Do We Go From Here?

The best time of my life is now, being in the writing class. We have a wonderful class: people of different races, people of different faces. We are learning a lot of things from other people.

We write our stories and read them, and then hear other people’s stories. We are even doing things with the younger generation. Having young kids in my family, I can understand where they are coming from.

We go from here into the future, not knowing what will happen next, but we hope for the best. We do have to get ready for the future. We have to keep up with the news. Because what is happening now will effect everyone tomorrow – mostly the kids.

I have heard a lot of stories from the class.  Everyone’s stories are different.  Some stories are sad.  Some are happy.  Everyone’s stories make you feel something.  Sometimes you want to put yourself in their shoes. 

We are the generation of today. Our kids and grandkids are the grandkids are the generations of tomorrow. What we do today will affect them tomorrow. Whatever decision they make will be up to them. We can't ask them to look in the past, but to understand the past, so they can plan for the future.

There are so many good kids doing the right things, including the kids who come here to join us, the seniors, at our writing class.

I am so glad I came to this class.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

In Remembrance, In Celebration

Months ago, Mo invited Michael to class, then Michael invited Robert, and now the three of them get together for lunch before class and show up together. It's quite possibly the world's cutest sight to see them come through the door every week and all wave synchronized hellos to the rest of the group. And their nickname? You guessed it: "The Three Musketeers".

Today, on the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I'd like to take a moment to celebrate the strongest kind of peace that we absolutely do have in our world: Friendship.

Robert Leung
A Very Good Feeling       

I have a very good feeling whenever I come down here to this class, because I have a chance to meet all kinds of different people.  Young and old.  Women and men.  They are very friendly. We talk and exchange ideas.  I come with my friends, Mo and Michael.  And, of course the friendly lady, Benita, who is in charge of all the meetings.  Today we have fifteen very kind people and you couldn’t find a nicer day than today.  Outside, the weather is very, very nice.  It’s about 75 degrees.  Not too cold and not too hot.  It’s a perfect day.  I look forward to coming here for the meetings.  Hope to come here again and again. 

Robert Leung
A Thank You Note

Today I want to say thanks to Mr. Mo McCooper who is the friend who brings me and Michael to come to this nice senior center writing class. We have met a lot of nice friends here. I look forward to each Thursday of the week for these meetings. This sure is a nice and wonderful senior center. I very much appreciate it.

Robert Leung

Michael (Man-Tin) Chan
This Friendly Group       

My name is Michael Chan.  I came to this country from Hong Kong in July 2006 to live with my eldest daughter in Rosemont.  I met Mr. Mo McCooper in Chinatown soon after my arrival.
Gradually, he brought me to join the senior association’s writing group.  I find that all the members of this group are very friendly. I like that all of us get together every week to share the happiness together.

I sincerely support the activities of this group. Let us continue our gatherings and activities!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Can Draw Must Draw

Who says a writing class is just a writing class?

Sometimes our seniors draw; sometimes they make collages. Sometimes they do these in advance at home; sometimes just right there in class, whenever inspiration strikes. It's incredible, really - right there, in the middle of all the riotous talking and writing and laughing and crying, you'd spot a senior spontaneously drawing. It's like our seniors have so much emotion to get out that words don't suffice - they gotta draw too.

Oh, and want in on an inside joke? Bernice, who has been coming to class since day one (!) draws me the same portrait every, and I mean EVERY, week. Of course she didn't give me an explanation at first - she just started handing me page after page, leaving me more mystified each week. (You can read all about that by clicking Here to see the first of three "Something I've Got to Ask" blog posts, and browsing our October Blog Archive for more).

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Amy (Trauma)

Speaking of ordeals, got one more to share with you…well, that plus a laugh.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know Amy plays double duty as our project’s trusty copyediting coordinator, and as one of our up-and-coming seniors (best of both worlds!) I know Amy well so I already knew it’s true: but this story sure shows that she has the uncommon strength to turn every “trauma” on its head - and beat it. You go, girl!

Amy Henson
May 14, 2010
“Traumatic Stress Syndrome” and How I Got It

Some things have changed through the years so when I write a story I laugh a little to myself wondering if some of the things that happened might be unusual to hear about.  Take for instance the following story:

During my childhood it was possible for adults to purchase cigarettes singly.    My mother asked me to go to the corner store to buy two cigarettes for her.  I was 7 years old at the time but there was no issue with Miss Bessy, the store owner, fulfilling my request.

Now you probably think I am going to tell you how I snuck a puff or some other “adulthood” wannabe behavior but first a little more of the circumstances around my trauma.

We lived in one of two houses on a corner property.  The other house was occupied by the landlady of our property.  Even though we lived in a small town, she raised chickens in a special coop also located on the property.  These were known as Banty chickens and required two Banty roosters to be in attendance so that the chickens would provide eggs.

Banty roosters, and most people don’t know this including me, tend to be ornery.  On my way out of our yard and walking past the next door neighbors house was a waist high white picket fence.  There is a rail on the inside of the fence that keeps the upright posts of the fence together,  just enough room for a Banty rooster to decide to take a stroll along side of me as I passed.

Somehow a foreboding moment occurred to me and I began to walk more quickly.  This somehow enticed the animal and he flew onto my shoulder. As I turned, screaming and running toward the house my mother came to see what was wrong.  She brushed me off and seeing no harm was done told me to go to the store.  It took every nerve that I had to be a good daughter and I obediently ran the errand without further trouble from the bird.

The incident was almost forgotten as I sat down to dinner.  Sure enough mother served a beautifully cooked chicken for dinner.  One might have thought that the live creature was standing in front of me ready to attack.  I shrieked and ran from the room, stomach directing me to the bathroom.

It was over 10 years before I would even attempt to eat chicken again.  There is another story that tells how I got over my trauma, so maybe another time.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hazel (Twist)

Let’s kick things up a notch with a little controversy… how do I put this… this is a piece with some serious social undertones. Ok, I won’t beat around the bush. What I mean is some discrimination is implied, having to do with age or race or likely a combination of the two. Can’t say for sure. But while reading in class, Hazel gave the group a look kind of like, "You know what I mean."

As our seniors, volunteers and I pick out stories (a challenging task!) for our big event on November 14 (you’d better be there!) we’ve been talking/emailing a lot about just how cool it is that the seniors feel comfortable enough in class to expose some really touchy experiences.

No one says life is fair but at least in our classroom once a week the seniors get to feel vindicated, justified. I think everyone needs that sometimes.

Hazel Nurse
August 19, 2010

One Saturday in February several years ago, I went to see the movie, Sideways.  However, I never dreamed that I would end up sitting “sideways” in a police car. 

The lady seated beside me uttered, “You have to move.  This seat’s taken.”

“Yes, it’s taken because I’m sitting in it,” I replied.

Soon after, the manager arrived and agreed with the patron’s request, threatening to put me out.  I suggested she call the police.

In the vestibule, the cops uttered, “She told you to move, didn’t she?” I refused to agree, and tried to return to my seat as he blocked the swinging doors saying, “You are under arrest!”

After denying my request to make a phone call, the policeman collected my jacket and purse, returned my ticket stub, and placed a $3.50 fare in my pocket.  After being handcuffed and ushered into the police station, I reported to a hearing.  I could have chosen to plead guilty and pay $150 or go to court.  I chose court.

After hearing both sides of the story, the judge said that the policeman was wrong and had no business doing what he did.  The district attorney claimed that my real vendetta was against the movie.  All charges of disorderly conduct were dropped and I was relieved.