Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Our 2011 Resolution: Listening to YOU

Smells like… 2011!! Time to make those new year's resolutions! Ours? Well, you’re a big part of it. This year, we are making concrete steps to ensure this project’s long-term sustainability, and first things first: we’d like to interact more with YOU.

As our project continues to grow, we would love to hear your thoughts about what you’ve been reading, and really incorporate your comments into our plans for growth. For this reason, can you do us a huge favor and fill out a short survey? It is very short (shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes max!) and you won’t be asked to give any identifying information. You must be 18 years old to take part in this study. If you’d like to participate, please click this link:

Our project is a continuous communication loop, and it takes your perspective and honesty to keep the loop going strong. Don’t let your comments stop with the survey – let’s keep talking via Facebook and email!

To sustain the project long-term, we have also established “The Best Day of My Life So Far Fund” via The Philadelphia Foundation, to receive tax-deductible donations. Your contribution would be greatly appreciated. To donate or to find out more, please visit our Fund webpage at:

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hattie (Christmas 1964)

How about one more - can you guys handle one more Christmas holiday cheer? If you’ve got a sibling, I don’t know, you may pick up a couple Life Lessons and/or Tricks Up Your Sleeves in this story…! Have a fabulous day everyone!

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
Christmas 1964

When the children were young we always tried to give them at least 3 things they really wanted for Christmas. Karen was 11 years, she was the first born and an only child for 5 years and needless to say very, very spoiled. Her list always had to be shortened.

Kevin was 6 years old and sort of self-willed/ He selected 3 things, no problem. You can be sure, they were things he could have for a long time after Christmas.

Keith was 4 at the time and for weeks before Christmas all he wanted was a wagon.
As Christmas grew near Karen’s list started to get longer, Kevin’s list was solid and Keith just wanted a wagon.

A few days before Christmas, Karen’s list was surprisingly limited to 3 thins. Kevin’s list was unchanged . Much to our surprise, Keith’s list had really grown. He still wanted a wagon but he also wanted …
- An easy bake oven
- A Betsy Wetsy Doll
- A set of dishes
- A pair of skates
To this day Karen has a special relationship with her little brother Keith.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Helen (Our First Christmas In Our New Home)

When you think Christmas, do you think… bric-a-brac and unpacked boxes?! But somehow, when I visualize this story in my head, it all seems – as Helen calls it – so pretty. And so, from all of us, Hope you’ve been having a festive holiday season, and have a pretty little Christmas!

Helen H. Lahr
12/17/ 2009
Our First Christmas In Our New Home

We lived in a home where our children were born and grew up. Naturally, they grew up with other children on the block. When my husband and I moved in, other young couples did likewise. It was a lovely environment to rear children and they thrived.

Years later our sons had married and moved outside of the city and I had lost my husband. Our daughter and me were they only ones left in the house. Eventually we decided to relocate so we moved 27 miles away. The month was December, near Christmas time. You can imagine how hectic a time this was. Our home sold almost immediately and the people moved out of what was to be our new home, almost immediately. On the surface this would seem to be an ideal situation but in reality it was not. Packing, etcetera, had to be done right away. Finally everything was done and we were on our way to our new home.

Needless to say, boxes were everywhere. Members of the family wanted to see the house; even my son, who lived in New England, came down with his family. My grandchildren put the large Christmas tree together. When my children were growing up we always had a live Christmas tree; after the boys were married we purchased an artificial tree because we were to tired of dismantling the large tree, taking it down and cleaning up all the thistles from the carpet. I always kept my decorations up until Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.

Getting back to the unpacking, the boxes were all over the place. We had labeled the contents of each of the boxes but when it came time to decorate the tree we couldn’t find the box with the ornaments. My grandchildren improvised and decorated with other bric-a-brac and the tree turned out looking cute. Anyway, since we were filled with holiday happiness it all seemed to be pretty.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Our Right to Party

If you are a Facebook fan of ours, first off thank you for being awesome, and second, have you been checking out our latest class photos? Yes, we’ve got a lot of birthdays recently, almost one every other week. And you know how we roll: no bdays go uncelebrated!! How sweet does Robert look here in front of his millions of cupcakes, with his wife and best friends by his side? His daughter had baked all the cupcakes at home, then his wife brought them in, accompanying Robert to class for the first time. A full-scale family operation ;)

Food, fun, family, friends. Even though these are technically bday photos, is it alright to say that they embody the holiday spirit and our class’ constant party spirit as well?

(Christmas is in 5 days! Can you believe it’s here so soon? Yup, we’ve got a Christmas story for you. See you in a few. And a friendly reminder: for loads more photos, "like" us on Facebook!)

Robert Leung
The Best Day of My Life Story

My name is Yuk Tsun (Bobby) Leung. I call this story the best day of my life because after I joined this wonderful class in the senior center, I’ve met a lot of different peoples of all kinds and all colors. Because we are all human beings and we live in the same world, I come to the class each week and learn a lot.

I told my family and my children. They are all very, very happy for me. I look forward to each Thursday of every week. When I go to class, we all have a good day so that’s why I call it “The Best Day of My Life.”

Yours Truly,
Robert Leung

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mr. Gordon (Thanksgiving Holiday)

I LOVE Thursdays because of our weekly writing class, you all know that… but ok, I’ll admit it, there is one more reason why I like Thursdays. NBC’s Thursday lineup. (If you are reading this outside of the U.S.: NBC is this big TV network here and for whatever reason they have started putting all these comedies back to back in one night. “Comedy Night Done Right” is their latest slogan… and oh yeah they’re doing it right!) Anyway, the reason why I mentioned all that is, in the past couple weeks, every sitcom is doing holiday episodes with a twist – basically no one ever depicts a peaceful holiday, because mishaps make better comedy. So all we get are dysfunctional families and groups of friends saying, Hey we’re dysfunctional but everything is all good and dandy because we all love one another. I mean, that’s trendy. And it’s really funny. And so, in a counter-intuitive kind of way, how unusual, and how refreshing it is to hear a peaceful story about a six-generation family all getting along during the holidays?

(Yup: SIX generations!!)

Arlin Gordon
Thanksgiving Holiday

I went to the great states of North Carolina and Georgia for a family reunion, during the Thanksgiving holiday. We had family coming from all over – even Florida and St. Louis. Our family was gathering to give unity to the family and keep us all connected.

I met my great-great-great nephew, who was 6 months old. At this family reunion, we had six generations of family coming together, for the first time! As usual, we all gathered in the kitchen. The greatest love always gathers in the kitchen!

I am the oldest uncle in the family, still living. As I sat there in the kitchen, my niece came up to me and asked, “Uncle, tell us about our great-great grandparents!” I replied, “Are you sure you want to know about them?” Then I asked “Why are you asking me?” She replied “Because you grew up with them.” So, I began to share with the family the history of their great-great grandparents. They came from Durham, North Carolina and had a lot of wisdom and very educated. Great-great grandmother always baked our bread and I didn’t even know that you could buy bread in stores. She worked for Dr. Kuchner, a mid-wife, who delivered babies. She would travel with the doctor and learned everything from him. I wound up working for the same doctor, cleaning his offices and would also ride with him at night, going to the houses. We both learned a lot from the doctor.

Great-great grandfather woke up early every morning. He got up at 4 am to work on the railroad, as a track layer. He had oatmeal for breakfast and rice for dinner every day. He would check our homework every day. He was 102 years old when he passed and I was so surprised to learn that he could not read. I remember, after checking our homework, he would say to me “This doesn’t look right and it’s not neat. Go back and do it again.”  And upstairs I would go to do it all over again! I learned a lot from him. He would say that, as Negros, men had a responsibility to our race, to raise our families in a godly manner. He was not a religious person but he respected God.

Holiday time was always the children’s time of the year, at our home. Adults had to wait until the children finished the meal before they could eat. We would all listen to the radio programs, The Lone Ranger and The Shadow since there was no TV.

I spent the Thanksgiving holiday talking to family about their great-great grandparents and was totally amazed when they asked to hear about them. I found some pictures to share and we all agreed to get together once a year to talk about family history.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hattie (My Good Fortune)

I think the same thing every time I see Hattie - and it's exactly what I thought the first time I met her on the very first day of this class: What a Smile.

It glows from the inside out and warms the room - and when you're anywhere near it, you feel actual "nurturing vibes" (don't you love that description btw? That's what a volunteer wrote me on email after coming to class one day and scoring a seat next to Hattie, it was months ago but I still remember that description because it's so right-on.)

Beauty from the inside out. We all want it. Hattie's got it. What better way to try to get there, than learn from the very best?

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
My Good Fortune

I just ate a fortune cookie….  When I read my fortune, it said, “Your personality is fueled by the fascination you feel for life.”

I am truly fascinated by my life so far.  My zest for life is fueled by my family’s encouragement and patience with me over the past 77 years.  The people I have met along the way have certainly enriched my life. 

My thanks to all who have put up with my twisted sense of humor and corny jokes. 

Love to all.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe

Looking back over my life, it seems incredible that I survived childhood (smile).  I never wanted to grow up.  I wanted to be a little girl and play, play, play.
We grew up with lots of toys and dolls (there were five of us girls).  And, even though we had toys and dolls, we made up games, we had music sessions, singing as Dorothy played the piano.

We had to concentrate on our school work, of course, and sometimes we even played school.

We were supposed to be poor but thanks to the care of our parents (mother died at early age), paternal grandmother and maternal Aunt Belle (in New York), we were wealthy.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
Ant Bell

When there was a large box marked “special delivery” brought to our house, we were so excited. As young as we were, we knew it was from Auntie Belle* who lived in New York.

*Note: We used to call her “Ant Bell”. She’d ask, “Do you see any crawlers on me? Do I look like a bug or an insect? Don’t call me ‘Ant Bell’.”

The box would be full of dresses, underwear, books and other items she thought we might enjoy. This was always a happy time.
In summer, Aunt Belle would send for the three older girls to come to New York City for the week. Sometimes we would go to visit her for special occasions.

Aunt Belle was very proper and always let us know she was our only “blood-aunt” and the rest were in-laws on our mother’s side. She always referred to our paternal grandmother (who raised us after our mother died at age 28) as Mrs. Hudson and Grandmom called her Miss Belle. Aunt Belle’s packages were always special but her visits were even more special…I’ll write more next time.

Oh, did I mention I have a wonderful son named Keith? (Smile)

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
Guessing Game

In my family, there is a guessing game going on, especially among my grands, and nieces, and nephews.

1.    Who is Grandmom’s favorite?
2.    Who is Aunt Hattie’s favorite?

This is because I whisper to each or them ”You know you are my favorite.”  They laugh as they see me whispering .  My nephew Artie sums it all up by saying…when I die, I am going to have it inscribed on my tombstone…”I know I was Aunt Hattie’s favorite.”  Then he says…Can’t you see my big brother Robert scrambling through the dirt, raising up from his grave to erase it?

Truth be told…You are really all by favorites.  I am so Blessed to have such wonderful children (Karen, Kevin, Keith), 5 grands, 5great grands, one great, great grand and of course my numerous  nieces and nephews.  I am also blessed with two wonderful daughters-in –law.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Yet again, two blog posts in a row, content that I am unable to summarize. Thank you, Brenda, for allowing me to post your note publicly. Thank you so much for reaching out to me, and let's keep in touch!

From: Brenda Whiteman
To: Benita Cooper
Sent: Wed, December 8, 2010 10:30 AM
Subject: Thank You from Ernestyne Bush's cousin

Thanks, Benita, for writing about my dear, late cousin Ernestyne Whiteside Bush.  I just read your beautiful blog.  I googled Ernest Whiteside Bush and it popped up.  What a blessing it was for me.  My family and I attended her home going service yesterday at St. Matthews A.ME. Church.  It was a wonderful service.  There were so many warm, spiritually uplifting stories about the bubbly lady  that I called my aunt.  She and my mother were very close, just like sisters.  Aunt Ernestyne was a native of Dothan, Alabama.  As a child, she lived in Chattanooga.  My mother lived for a while in Chattanooga, also.  I am going to send this to my mother, Evelyn Durham, your blog. 

Your story blog about your relationship with your grandmother is so inspirational. I admire the fact that you are an architect and writer.  Keep up the great work!!!     
 -- Brenda Whiteman

From: Benita Cooper
To: Brenda Whiteman
Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2010 4:18 PM
Subject: Re: Thank You from Ernestyne Bush's cousin

Hi Brenda - I am so sorry for your loss. Despite the sad reason for your writing, what a beautiful, wonderful letter you wrote! In honor of your aunt Ernestyne, I began a new section in the blog sidebar "In Memoriam" (scroll to the bottom and you will see it) - I added her name as well as my own aunt whose passing I mentioned in a blog post last year. I was also going to do a blog post to let readers know about the new section of the blog. I kept thinking about it but I wasn't sure what I should say because I don't want to be overly sad or overly celebratory, and then I realized what you said in your email is so heartwarming and perfect.... would you want me to post some version of your email as the blog post - a sort of public eulogy? I know it's very personal so no pressure if not, but I think readers will really stop to think about their own families and their own lives when they read it. Let me know what you think. Benita

Click Here to read about the first time Ernestyne and I met. It feels like yesterday.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pen Pal Wanted

Hello world – I need your help! OK, so I promised Arthur something in class last Thursday but I need your help to make it happen. His request? Well, see for yourself below – it’s the most adorable thing. I can’t do it justice with any sort of summary. If you are interested, please post a comment on Facebook and/or email us. The sooner the better, so I can go back to Arthur with good news. Our contact info is in the blog sidebar.

As you may remember, a few blog posts ago Arthur answered a question that not one but two of you asked, about how to deal with a heartbreak. You guys are just so fabulous that apparently Arthur can’t get enough of you!

Arthur Murray
Just Being Yourself
I would love sincerely to be able to be a pen pal to anyone.  All I need are questions.  From the best of my knowledge I would return a response.  I’m seventy years old.  I love all God’s children (excuse the expression) from 1 to 100 or more years.  Love all of you.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mo (The Big Surprise)

And now, the answer we’ve all been waiting for… What went through Mo’s mind at our event when we pulled the huge surprise on him? Huge literally. We showed a beautiful video on the big screen that Kathleen, one of his daughters in California, had made specifically for the event. Listen to our podcast on the blog sidebar and you’ll hear the audio portion of the entire video!

For several months prior, Steve (our project’s filmmaker) and I had so much fun scheming this surprise with Kathleen from opposite sides of the country. And I gotta say it was very tricky not to spill the beans about something this exciting – I’m one of those people who can’t keep a straight face, my husband has timed me and determined that my face can stay straight for, oh, like two seconds max. So yup, Kathleen and I are still giving ourselves virtual high fives over email for pulling this one off!

P.S. Shoutout to Mo’s other children as well: so cool that you are all so supportive of your dad. The fact that you’re so proud of him makes him so proud of you – he tells us that every week.

Mo McCooper
The Big Surprise

This past Sunday was one of the more rewarding days of my life.  As part of our Writing Group appearing on stage at the Library’s main auditorium, I was asked to sit down for a moment because Mrs. Benita Cooper, our wonderful teacher, had a surprise for me. 

When directed to look up and behind me at the huge screen, I was immediately amazed to see my lovely daughter, Kathleen, explaining to the audience how much she loved our program and Benita’s wonderful efforts to develop our website.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I just wanted to pick Benita up and give her a huge hug.

My kids called me all week to talk. Kathleen told me that her husband was the one who filmed her in the backyard. He did a fantastic job.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Loretta (Our Big Day/ I Don't Give Up)

Besides on paper, our boldest audience members at our event asked our seniors some brilliant questions out loud. I am glad we squeezed in a last question at the end. For the young lady who asked it (hi there if you are reading, hi and thank you for sharing), I could tell the moment was a special, soul-baring one – even from the bright stage, I could see it in her eyes. What I didn’t realize was how special it was for Loretta as well – until she shared about it in class the next week. And you know what, thinking back, Loretta did “finish” the young lady’s sentence, as they say. Like the two of them shared a real connection and understood exactly what the other person was trying to say. And to witness that connection stream across a room between two previous strangers makes that moment special for me too.

Loretta Gaither
Our Big Day/ I Don’t Give Up

Our event on Sunday was really nice. We were on stage at the Free Library and lots of people were in the audience. A young lady, in the audience, asked a question about how could she write her story when she has problems physically writing. I told her to get someone to help her write – somebody who she knows and connects with could write it for her as she tells her story. I told her that I have problems with my hands so writing is difficult but I know what I want to say – it’s all in my head. I told her not to give up in getting her story out to other people. I don’t give up and I keep on going with the Lord’s help.

I was glad to tell my story about being on Montel’s TV show – I prayed to get on and the Lord answered my prayer. I thanked Benita for being able to tell my story at the Free Library. I was not nervous on stage because I knew that God was on my side to show me that I could do it – even when others thought that I could not. It made me feel good about myself when Benita introduced me and told everyone that I made my skirt. It was a beautiful day for everyone!