Friday, December 30, 2011

Being Old is Good

A couple years ago, when this whole project was still new, I was cleaning my apartment and found a story. The first sentence: “Being old is good.”

I was shocked because the story points out with four simple words the core belief of our Best Day project (being old IS good!!) then cuts to the chase and confronts the core issues that our project tries to solve, such as isolation and loneliness – but the person writing it had no idea she was doing that. The person was just saying what she felt at the time. Oh, and did I tell you the person happened to be eleven years old? Yeah, it was me.

Crazy, right? It’s like, my heart was always built with a spot for my senior buds – it just took me a couple of decades to figure out how to invite them in.

Technically this project started in late 2009 with our first storytelling class and blog post, personally it started in 2006 with my first call with my grandma, but the first seed of the project might have been planted in 1991, with this story.

Yesterday, when I was cleaning again (to start fresh for the New Year!), I came across the actual physical pages of this story again. And so, I just want to repost it (click Here for a scan of the pages, along with the story's original appearance here on the blog) to say once more what I said at age eleven, as a sixth-grader in Hong Kong. Being old is good.

11-year-old Benita
Helping the Elderly

Being old is good. You are experienced. You know what is right and what is wrong.

But being old is bad in many ways too. Every morning, your family will go out, either for work or for play, leaving you alone. All you can do is knit or play mahjong with your neighbors. You cannot have a lot of fun, for even a little running will tire you out. Besides, you have to do everything slowly, making yourself impatient.

That is why we should help the elderly. We should visit our grandparents frequently to chat with them and help them with housework. We can also have breakfast with them at Chinese restaurants.

If I were a grandparent and if my grandchildren always stayed with me, I would be really, very happy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Brenda (The Dress)

It’s officially the most party-filled time of the year, and it’s time to get dressed up! Here’s Brenda showing us how to handle all our fashion disasters – confront it head on with a funny story and well, find another dress! And Brenda, you are beautiful just the way you are, in any size or color ;)

Brenda Bailey
The Dress

I was invited to a dinner party one Friday evening and I was so excited to get all dressed up. I never pre-try on clothes I already love so I knew my cute navy blue dress – that I had for several years – would be just fine. After showering and etc., I took my dress out of the closet, off the hanger, and pulled it over my head. But when I tried to put my arm in the sleeve, it wouldn’t go on. I then attempted again to pull the dress straight over my head, it went on but no further. Maybe I hadn’t unzipped the dress – but I had. I tried to step-in to the dress but when it got to my hips, it stopped! What had happened to my dress? Who had altered my dress? How could I get this dress to fit again? I was so upset! I picked another outfit I had just purchased and I knew it would fit, and went to the affair. The whole night I thought about the dress.

When I got home and undressed, I did the unthinkable – I looked at the tags and compared sizes – what a shock?! When had I gone from a 12 to 22? Had I awaken from a dream and became PHAT? I started to think about Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig + others but I knew these programs were too costly for me. So I guess I’ll retire my blue dress and find one I can fit in.

What a bummer!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Joe (Honey Girl)

And now, a Christmastime love story to cozy up with. Happy holidays to you and yours!

Joe Garrison
Honey Girl

It was on a Wednesday morning in early December 2006.  Debra had asked me to help her with a project she was working on.  And I would never say no to her.  I had already bought her Christmas present and was very anxious to present it to her.  But I also had something to confess to her.  For a while I had been wanting to tell her how I felt about her, but I wasn’t sure how she was going to accept it. 

We finished her project.  And had lunch afterwards.  I was waiting for an opportunity.  I finally got the courage to say what I had to say.  “I have something to tell you and I can’t hold back any longer.  I am in love with you.”

She replied, “I’ve been in love with you for years.”  And with that, we embraced and kissed.  It was then that I felt I had reached the high point of my romantic life.  I realized that I had found the love of my life, my dream girl, my million dollar baby.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Helen (Waiting for Santa Claus)

Well, looks like you guys have been pretty nice because look who is coming to town...! Little ones and big ones, time to get giddy!

Helen H. Lahr
Waiting for Santa Claus

In my neighborhood Santa makes his entrance on the Saturday before Christmas. 

So, on Friday night, prior to his coming, my granddaughter came over accompanied by her little ones.  How happy Deidre (my daughter) and I were!  Our home was full of joy and excitement, mostly because the great grands were having so much fun.

Finally, it was bed time.  Then, everything was quiet.  The adults sat around the Christmas tree.  The girls played CDs with Christmas music and carols softly while we snacked on goodies.  How we have fun just being together and reminiscing about happenings in the past.

Finally, we went to bed!  Morning came.  Noon came.  All of us went out on the lawn.  Soon what did we hear, but the sound of horns honking in the distance.  Then, around the bend came a large red fire engine with Santa on top, yelling, “Ho, Ho, Ho!”  Children from down the road came running up screaming, “It’s Santa, it’s Santa!”

My little ones (4 of them) were also screaming as Santa went by.  And you know what?  I was as happy and giddy acting as the children, although I’m a senior citizen.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Doris (A Small World)

Christmas week is suddenly here – can you believe it? I was rereading through my senior buds’ recent stories, looking for something to post today that would ring in the holidays with a bang, when I came across a pair of Doris’. Unknowingly I think I was looking for a spectacular story but it was these quieter ones stopped me in my tracks. Even though they aren’t specifically about the holidays, they remind me of how closely connected we all are, which to me, is a big part of what makes the holidays – and life itself – so merry.

Stick around… up next, to keep the holiday spirit rolling – a Santa story and a Christmas love story!

Doris Lang
A Small World

Fifty-five years ago my son was sick.  He was in Children’s Hospital.  I saw this young couple in the lounge.  We started to talk and I found out they were from Guatemala.  Only the husband spoke English.  He was a Dr. in Guatemala.

They had a two year old in the hospital.  They said their son shot their daughter in the head.

I invited them to my house for dinner.  They were very nice.

A couple of weeks later I carried her to the train.

Shortly after they called me to say she passed away.  They kept in touch with me.

One day I was surprised to get a knock on my door.  They sent me a native skirt and all my children native gifts.

My son was still sick.  Two and one half years later he was in Einstein Hospital.  The father wrote me a letter saying he was going to Florida to a convention and his wife could not go because she was pregnant with her sixth child.

My son was getting medicine in the middle of the night.  A nurse sat down next to me and said she just came back from Florida.  She met a man from Guatemala.  She met my friend.

It is a very small world.

Doris Lang
Chance Encounter

Twenty-five years ago, I had a store in Center City. A young woman came into my store.

I said, “You remind me of another girl that came into my store.” She said, “You say that every time. My husband plays for the Eagles and I live across the street. Here is my phone number. Call me when she comes in.”

When she came in, I called her and she came in.

They started to scream. I found out they were roommates in college and didn’t know
where they were located after school. They looked nothing alike and could not believe I put them together.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bernice (Just Being Here)

To my silly bud Bernice, I was so sad to hear that you got sick again but I am so happy you are in rehab and doing well – I am sure you are making all the nurses and therapists laugh as hard as you make us laugh in class with your funny stories. I liked saying hi to you on Beatrice’s cell phone when she put it up to your ear at the hospital a couple weeks ago, and I liked that you asked her to call me the other day so I knew you were getting better. I miss you so much!

Bernice Moore
Just Being Here

It is good to be able to see everyone because I have been home sick with my granddaughter.   She took good care of me. I missed a lot of my friends.  It is good to be around good people.  May God bless everyone.

Beatrice Newkirk
My Missing Link

My missing link is my sister. She is sick and in the hospital. She is now in rehab. She is coming along fine now. I am very thankful for everyone who has asked about my sister. She sends everyone her love. She misses the class very much. I tell her what everyone is saying about her.

She will be here soon. I can’t say when, time waits for no one. She was not talking at first. Now she is doing a little better. I felt real bad when she got sick. Everyone has a sick day at some time. God is the head doctor. He has the last say.

Have a nice day,
Beatrice Newkirk

Beatrice Newkirk
A Time to Remember

A time to remember is about good things. We never should forget the good things.  Remembering things that you should never forget.  Thinking about what happened years ago or what happened weeks and days ago. Like when my sister got sick and when I went to see her and she could not talk. But now thanks to God, she is alright.  She is talking up a storm and she is not on a machine. Time does not stand still. Sometimes I think about the good things in life, and I count my blessings.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Give the Gift of Best Day

Hello Readers,

Looking for an out-of-the-box holiday gift for a special someone? Consider contributing to The Best Day of My Life So Far Fund – in honor of or in memory of a loved one.

Your donation will help us open the voices of more seniors through storytelling while connecting them with younger generations worldwide. Simply go to and click on the donation banner at the top to contribute online or by mail. 

Happy holidays,

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Robert (An Old, Old Man)

Sometimes when the mood strikes, a senior would write two or three stories in class but pick just one to read out loud. Then after class, he or she would still hand me all the stories to share here with you guys on the blog. I still remember the first time I noticed this happening. It was actually a while ago. The story that Beatrice read out loud was fun and sassy, but the one she handed to me – unread – was intense. It was about a letter that she had written and still hadn’t given to one of her sons, because she was still waiting for the right time. You can check out that blog post Here. It made me realize that telling your stories to your peers is one kind of wonderful and telling your stories to the world is another kind, and it’s having the opportunity to do both, or either, that makes our seniors a little happier each week. A few weeks ago, Robert wrote a long story and a short story. Both are soulful. I love both equally. And I think there’s something awesome that the short one is the one he chose to read out loud.

Robert Leung
An Old, Old Man

Today is November the 17th, 2011.  The times have sure gone by very, very fast.  Next month is going to be Christmas and, of course, right after Christmas it will be New Year’s, which means another year has gone by, and after the New Year, I will be one more year older.  Would you believe it, I will be 71 years old.  Oh, my Goodness, I’m going to be an old, old man.  I mean how can I be that old?  I remember when I was still in school.  If I heard someone mentioning an 80-year-old man or woman, I would say and think, I will never be that old, never mind that I will be in that state. Now I am, I must face the fact.

And just to think of it, it has been a long, long way for me.  First, I was in the 2nd World War, then the Japanese War (from 1940 to 1948) then I went through the Chinese War (from the Got Man Don to communist China.)  It sure seems like I never had a quiet, peaceful year. And would you believe it, right after that, I immigrated to other countries.  I came to Canada at first, but that country was never meant for me, because it’s in the northern part.  And I hate the snow – and cold and windy places – so I came to the US, which meant I had to learn another world and system.  So just think what kind of life I have been and gone through.  All in all, thank God I been through and developed a wonderful one.

Before living here, I was the 1st Chinese and the oriental jockey in this country’s system -  back then there were no jockeys who were blacks or other colors.

Robert Leung
The Best Day of Our Life

As we reach the winter times, it’s very windy and cold but we still wanted to come anyway.  We need to support our reading club.  Mo and Mike (Michael) and I walk about 3 miles – 14 blocks – because I don't want to miss our reading club.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Come with Us to... Kansas!

Hey super readers,

I'll be speaking live (via Skype! did you guys know I am a Skype fanatic?) TOMORROW AROUND 3PM CST at University of Kansas' Digital Diversity Summit, co-hosted by Online News Association, featuring innovations in storytelling and social media. You can watch the entire event at I will give a never-seen-before presentation for around 15 minutes, then take your questions for another 5. You can post questions via Twitter (#digitaldiv) for me to answer live - I would love to hear what's on your mind!

Click Here for ONA's press release about the event:

See you in Kansas this Saturday!!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Miss Mo (The Great Haircut)

Speaking of fightin’ tough, here’s Miss Mo (not to be confused with Mo from the previous blog post, who happens to be a big guy – this here is our supertiny lady Mo) fighting for her right… to get her hair cut!! I laughed my head off through the entire story when she read this out loud.  Her tone was feisty the whole way through.  My fave part, is how she titled the story The GREAT Haircut. As in, Take that, Society (Miss Mo is 91 so this all took place in the early 30’s): If a girl wants a triangle on her head, a girl gets a triangle on her head!

Missouri Grier
The Great Haircut

I had a job at a beauty shop where my sister used to get her hair dressed. My father did not like girls and ladies getting their hair cut. In his world, only men did that. My sister got hers cut and he was very angry but said to her, she was a grown-up.

She suggested it was time I started to take an interest in how I should look as a teenager so she started me there to get my hair done. This went on for a year. One day she said, “Are you going to get your hair done today?” She gave me money to get it done, but did not say anything about cutting. I lied, told the hairdresser she said I could get my hair cut. I sat at the dinner table with a triangle on my head from Monday to Friday. My father looked at me and wanted to know why I kept my head covered, reached over and took the hair net off, asking, “Where is your hair?” Answer: Upstairs. “Why is your hair up there, when you are sitting down here?” Answer: I got it cut. He was so mad. He said, “I will never buy you anymore hats.” At 14 years old, who cares. Mother said, “Leave it alone, it will grow back.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mo and Joe (Friday Night Fights)

Boxing is my absolute favorite workout (oh yeah!) so when Mo told a story about the sport, I was all ears. And as you know, what’s cool about this project is things keep getting cooler and inspiring unexpected things week after week. So guess what? Mo’s story didn’t just end that week – it prompted Joe to tell his own story about a boxing match the week after. When Joe dedicated his story to Mo, Mo beamed and everyone cheered. Everyone was so loud – I love it when they get crazy like that. It was almost like we were at our own mini boxing match. Whatever battles they are fighting in their lives, during that moment, in my mind, they have won.

Mo McCooper
Friday Night Fights

At the corner of the main street in town and a street 2 blocks west of the only red light, was the town bank. Next to the bank was an electric store, which sold radios, phonographs, and record albums. When TV came (maybe in the late 1940s), they would place a set in the store windows which we could watch from outside.

Our favorite show was the boxing matches on Friday nights. We had learned the names of the fighters by listening to the fights on radio for years and it may have taken to the fifties before we could watch them on the Danenhower Electric Store TV screens. We missed the great Joe Louis, heavy-weight champion, but we saw the incredible middle-weight champion, Sugar Ray Robinson, and the feather-weight champion, Willie Pep, fighting Sandy Sadler. And we saw heavy-weight Rocky Marciano.

Joe Garrison
The Kid’s Last Fight

For nearly 12 years, Joe Louis was the heavyweight champion of the world. His nickname was the Brown Bomber. He was the first prizefighter that I can remember as I was growing up. His final boxing match was in late September 1950. His opponent was Rocky Marciano, a young upstart heavyweight.

By the end of the fifth round, it was easy to tell that Louis lacked the power of his earlier fights.

I was at home watching. I was nervous, because I could sense that Joe’s strength was gone, and I was rooting for him. He wasn’t reacting to Marciano’s punches. The end finally came in the eighth round, after Marciano threw a right cross that knocked Louis through the ropes and nearly out of the ring.

At that moment, I felt more emotional than anything. I didn’t scream or do something physical. But I knew it was the end of an era in sports’ history. I was eight years old. It made me realize that even a champion has to succumb to defeat; however, it didn’t change my mind about being a fan of boxing for many years.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hattie and Helen (Love by the Pound)

Super Girlfriends! Nov 17, 2011

New Girlfriends Oct 29, 2009
My grandma’s best friend Mrs. Wu once told me that happiness is a choice that you have to keep making over your entire lifetime. I see that in her, and as you all know I see that in my grandma. I see that in Hattie and Helen too.

Hattie and Helen have been a part of the group since its earliest, tiniest days. Hattie was there on our very first day on September 24, 2009, and soon, as she realized she liked it, asked her best friend Helen to join. Back when our attendance was small, sometimes it was just the three of us at the table.

This past Thursday, after class was over and the many other members finished hanging out and eventually dissipated, Hattie and Helen stayed behind and we just got talking about how big and full of personalities the group has become. We were all smiling so much. Basking in their radiance, I realized what a miracle it is, that these two beautiful women who happen to be optimists to the core, also happened to be two of the earliest members of our group. I realized that the positive energy of the entire group has everything to do with the positive people that they are.

This Thanksgiving, I’d like to give thanks to all the beautiful people around me who choose happiness and let me soak in a lil’ bit of what they’ve got.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
Love by the Pound

My little 3-year-old great-great-granddaughter, Ari Anna, stepped on the scale the other day…looked up at her mother and asked, “How much do I cost?”

My answer would have been, “Priceless!!!”

Helen H. Lahr
A Rose is a Rose

Some years ago members of my family & I were riding through a certain neighborhood when after seeing a lot of very lovely homes, we came upon a decrepit old house. Grass & weeds & trees surrounded it. Some of the windows were broken & the basement windows (also partly broken) were covered with debris.

Then, to my amazement I saw a beautiful rose growing up out of all that chaos. To me, it was one of the loveliest sights I had ever seen!

Afterwards, a line from a poem came to mind.

“Blossom where you are planted.” This tells us that no matter where we live or what the situation, we can attain the goals that we have set for ourselves. All we have to do is try.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The best two years so far. Help make the next two years even better!

Dear Participants and Friends of 
The Best Day of My Life (So Far),
Last Monday, I was greeted by this subject line in my inbox –

"Please Thank Isadora for Me"

The last story on our blog, written by Isadora, was dedicated to her daughter and was written one week before Isadora's daughter passed away. Isadora's story prompted Christine, a blog reader from all the way up in Montreal, to reach out to her mom and to email us. The title of the story is "You are My Sunshine".

Isadora’s story and Christine’s email, along with hundreds of others that I have received, remind me of why I started The Best Day of My Life (So Far). At the same time, they surprise me with how deep, and how big, this project has grown.

Two years ago, my grandma's friendship inspired me to start a class and a blog. Since then, our class has become a true family, joining together 100 seniors with ages from mid-60s to 90s, 20 teens, and 40 international volunteers with ages ranging from 16 to 78.  Our blog, which streams stories directly to Facebook and Twitter, have become our extended family, surpassing 16,000 hits by readers from over 60 countries.

In two years, we have hosted and participated in 10 events, bringing our seniors’ stories to the stage and the screen for 900 audience members. We are regularly featured in the press, on radio programs and at public conferences. This summer, we launched a satellite class in partnership with AARP. We have received the Leeway Foundation’s Art and Change Award, and were listed as finalists for Deaconness Associations Foundation’s Innovation Award and National Center for Creative Aging and Martek Biosciences’ Beautiful Minds Award. Along this journey, a growing list of individuals and organizations from all over the world are reaching out to us requesting advice and resources to start similar classes.

We want to keep going.

We want to keep stories like Isadora's going strong.

We want to see more seniors and younger people experience our project’s diverse benefits, from quality of life, family reconnection, computer education, civic engagement, to mental health.

In the next two years, we plan to capture our storytelling methodology in a compact form, and take it worldwide – so that stories like "You are My Sunshine" can be told around the world, and so that the people who have stories to share can experience the joy and support our seniors in Philadelphia have. We want to strengthen the class that we have here, and help these seniors become the role models for a global effort.

I would like to personally ask for your help to help us accomplish our work and mission:

$10 would make possible class supplies for a senior for a full year.

$100 would make possible administrative costs for one ongoing class.
$1500 would make possible one public event.
$2500 would help us build a more sustainable and interactive website.

I believe in this project. I believe our work has just begun, and with your help we can make great changes at a much larger scale.  Donations of any size would be appreciated. To contribute, please click Here or the donation banner at the top of our blog:

Please consider forwarding this letter to friends whom you think may be interested in contributing. And a reminder to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter – those are the easiest way to read stories as they get posted and let seniors know you are reading!

Every time Isadora writes a story in class, she begins with, “The best day of my life is today,” regardless of what that day’s story is about. Her final dedication to her daughter was no exception:
The best day of my life is today. This sun is shining. No clouds in the sky. You are the sunshine of my life. That’s why I am always hanging around you. From the top of your head to the bottom of your feet, you are my sunshine. Morning, noon, and night you are my sunshine, my only sunshine. I can’t stay away from you. You are irresistible. You are my only sunshine. You are my beautiful daughter.

Thank you so much for your support,


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Christine (Please Thank Isadora for Me)

Yesterday, I was greeted by this subject line in my inbox -

Fwd: Please thank Isadora for me.

What unfolded was a very special email conversation between Philly and Montreal, all inspired by the blog post that precedes this one – where Isadora wrote that her daughter is her sunshine the week before her daughter’s passing.

Christine, I love that you reached out to us like this, and that you are reaching out to your mom via Isadora’s story. And Emily, you are such a superfly PR Manager. You guys, I can’t even tell you how much sunshine your emails have brought me, personally.

(And yes, for you all outside of Philly, the sun is outrageously gorgeous today.)

On Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 10:26 PM, Christine Ares wrote:

Hello dear Ms. Isadora,

I am deeply moved by your message of gratitude.

I loved what you wrote to your daughter. I even printed it and will show it to my mother
tomorrow. I know she feels the same way about me, too.

Ms. Isadora, I salute you for your courageousness. I salute you for caring enough to share your
thoughts. Most of all, I salute you for your strength.

You are in my prayers.

God bless and thank you,

Christine Ares (Montreal)

On Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 4:21 PM, Emily Antoszyk wrote:

Hi Christine,

Thank you so much for your kind words! I will pass this on to Benita, the class leader and project founder, to make sure that Isadora gets the message. Please continue reading and spreading the word about the project, and thank you for your support!

Keep in touch,

Emily Antoszyk

Public Relations Manager

On Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 6:38 PM, Emily Antoszyk wrote:

Also Christine - would it be possible to use your lovely e-mail on our blog? We are so honored by your note that we would love to share! 


Emily Antoszyk
Public Relations Manager

On Fri, Nov 7, 2011 at 10:54 PM, Christine Ares wrote:

You may absolutely use my name.
It's the least I can do for the privilege of reading their stories.
Thank you, Emily, for the reply and you, too, keep up the good work.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Isadora (You are My Sunshine)

There was one final thing Isadora needed to tell her daughter, who had been struggling with cancer, and she did it by writing this story in our class. The date was October 20. Her daughter passed away exactly a week later. One day after that, I received an email from the senior center telling me that the family heard about the story – I would assume this is because Isadora told them about it – and would like to include it in the obituary.

Every time Isadora writes a story in class, she begins with, “The best day of my life is today,” regardless of what that day’s story was about. For months now, most of her stories have been about the status of her daughter’s cancer. On October 20, whether she knew or not what the next week would bring, she began her story the way she always does.

Isadora – please stay strong during these difficult times. We missed you in class the past couple weeks and are thinking of you, and we feel your daughter’s radiance in the room. See? Today, the sun is shining. No clouds in the sky.

From: Estavia Jefferson
To: Benita Cooper
Date: Friday, October 28, 2011 12:12 PM
Subject: Writing Class Member

Hi Benita,
I received a call today from Isadora Fields family member informing us of the passing of her daughter yesterday. Ms. Isadora wrote a story last Thursday, October 20th about her daughter called “My Sunshine.” Is it possible for you to email me the story so, that I can pass it on to the family to put in the obituary?

Thanks in adavnce,
Estavia Jefferson
Activities Coordinator
Philadelphia Senior Center

Isadora Fields
You Are My Sunshine

The best day of my life is today. This sun is shining. No clouds in the sky. You are the sunshine of my life. That’s why I am always hanging around you. From the top of your head to the bottom of your feet, you are my sunshine. Morning, noon, and night you are my sunshine my only sunshine. I can’t stay away from you. You are irresistible. You are my only sunshine. You are my beautiful daughter.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Greta (Walk with Me)

Lately, I am constantly shocked and moved by things I see and hear.

Sometimes it’s an email encouragement that a volunteer writes to another volunteer when life gets tough – even though they may live in two different countries and have never physically met and their ages happen to be forty years apart. Sometimes it’s a sentence that one senior would say to me after class, about how visibly happy another senior has become – when the senior telling me this is herself a million times happier than the first time she showed up to class.

Last week, it was what Greta shared about her grandson.

Greta has been coming to our class for almost a year now, and mostly she likes to listen to her friends’ stories. But last week, she opened up more than I had ever heard her open up before. She told us that the mission of our project – to connect generations through storytelling and writing – got her to start a conversation with her grandson at home. The two don’t usually talk about their interests or anything like that. The conversation was simple. She told him she is in a writing class, and asked if he writes too. He said he did. She was surprised. He went on to print out 2 poems out for her.

“Walk with Me” is one of them. It is an intense poem about civil rights and black history. Lester is 23 years old.

After reading it out loud for us in class – enunciating every word and raising her voice every time the phrase “Walk with Me” returns – Greta said, with tears streaming down her face, “This is very deep to me. I hope I did honor to it in the manner with which I read it.”

A grandson pours his feelings towards culture and history into a poem. The poem travels as a physical print from his hand to his grandmother’s, then as a verbal reading from his grandmother’s lips to her peers’ ears, then as typed text from a copy editor’s fingers into my email inbox then here via this blog onto your computer screen. The title just so happens to say, Walk with me.

All of that is so shockingly moving to me.

Greta Adams
My Grandson Lester Buffaloe/ Walk with Me

Come on let’s take a walk real quick.
Walk with me
Walk with me through the hot days and cold nights
Through the tough storms and bright lights
Let’s go back before I was born
Way back where my ancestors had to fight for their rights
Even before, walk with me where my ancestors were captured
from the motherland of Africa.
By devils that pulled them on the ships where they were living
unhealthy like animals bunched together.
For many nights, many days, and many months they were traveling
through the middle passage through every weather.
Walk with me through the Underground Railroad.
Walk with me to the wars of the world.
Where Hitler killed the innocent mothers, fathers, boys, and girls
Walk with me to the white bathrooms and black bathrooms.
And water fountains. And many more.
Walk with me to the lynching of black people.
Denzel said the white people weaken your mind
and strengthen your body so you can be inferior.
Walk with me with the great debaters to seek for rights to be equal
Walk with me; come on you can make it
Walk with me while I walk with Malcolm X
“By any means necessary”
And Martin Luther King Jr. “non violent, non violent”
Walk with me to sit on the back of the bus with Rosa Parks.
Walk with me to the sixteenth street Baptist church bombing
where four little girls were killed
and twenty people were injured.
Walk with me through the Watts riots and the riots
where blacks got sprayed with water hoses,
attacked by dogs, and beaten by cops.
Speaking of beating by cops, let’s walk a little faster to the future.
To the Rodney King beating that led to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots
and to the Sean Bell murder before his wedding.
Walk with me, to the neighborhoods
that’s infested with liquor stores
and crime on every block.
Walk with me to see the project where I have never been.
Walk with me through to see the crack heads and prostitutes.
Walk with me to talk to the kids who don’t have a mom or dad
because of bad choices.
Walk with me to find a solution to why money
is more important than the person.
Convenient stores where people walk in
to buy Cigarettes and leave with death
got a pound of marijuana from his friend that the government
technically gave to him
How do you think crack and heroin
got on the streets (government?)
I like how they want to decrease the population by putting Aids on
the streets and overpricing condoms
where some people can’t even  afford them.
And hard working students that just graduated from college
can’t get a job but yet they’re getting letters quick for loans
that they have to pay back right away.
Walk with me to the future, the end of the world.
Walk with me through the hot days and cold nights
through the tough storm and bright lights.
Walk with me to find what’s right.
It’s over for our journey but I’m going to keep walking,
Will you?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Aileen and Gloria - Our Mother and Daughter

As you know, our class feels like one big family. There’s no other way to describe the feeling at our table. And for those of you who’ve been following along, you know our “fam” includes a couple pairs of real-life siblings. We’ve got Ellis and Marci whom you heard from in the last blog post; and our famous twins Beatrice and Bernice.

Well, guess what, we’ve got a set of mother and daughter too! Aileen and Gloria have been attending for months now, and everyone in class calls them Our-Mother-and-Daughter. Like Aileen is everyone’s mom and Gloria is everyone’s daughter – I can’t help smiling whenever I hear their combined nickname. So simple and innocent, but so totally magnificent.

Gloria cares for Aileen around the clock every day, and when they first joined months ago, I remember Gloria taking a backseat saying that she was just there to help her mom out. Gloria would write but for weeks Aileen would just listen. Then Aileen began writing too, and her words became more playful each week. Still, for a while, her reading voice was timid, and when she came across a harder-to-decipher part of her handwriting, Gloria would jump in instantly to help. But then, Gloria began giving her mom more space, and it’s like… it unlocked something – Aileen’s reading voice literally grew clearer and louder week after week, and Gloria’s own voice became happy and excited, and now the two of them just sits back and gleams whenever the other person reads. And THAT right there, watching each of them sit back and give the other person space to be herself, is a totally magnificent thing. Love comes in a number of forms, and I’m pretty sure that’s one of them.

Aileen Jefferson
New Stops On An Old Train

New faces, New Experiences
And above
All speed – finding at this market
Money saving bargains

You’re seated on the train and
10 minutes later, you’re there. Where?
The market of course. Tremendous
Advantages – strawberries for 75 cents
A pint of candied ginger, 50 cents
A pound, if I proceed, you won’t believe it me.

In the writing workshop, I can
Imagine hearing, “Where? Tell me
Where? How do I get there?”

And before me
I see fresh blueberries picked from the farm
50 cents a pound

And will you tell me why
This is my first visit to this
Miraculous market? Proximity!
…All this in the neighboring township.

Gloria Washington
Balm for the Soul

I dream about food.

I really love to daydream about lamb, specifically roast lamb shoulder in a savory sauce, comprised of garlic, spicy brown mustard and orange marmalade.

I really like to eat lamb shish kebabs, lamb chops, lamb burgers.

Often I visualize the whole process
    procuring the seasonings
        a spicy garam masala
            spelled Garam
This is an Indian spice with many ingredients, from cayenne pepper to cloves and garlic.

I also like Chinese 5 spice. This is a piquant spice that embodies ying and yang of seasonings.

Did I say I love lamb.

Once I went so far as to buy a shoulder of lamb, freezed and carried it on an airplane to visit friends in a part of the country where lamb is not so easy to find.

I also experienced a Mechoui where a whole lamb was roasted on a spit. This was in the Carribbean or a French island.

Lamb, lamb, lamb.

When you rearrange the letters in Lamb
                        Lamb you get

The anagram Balm, perhaps that’s what lamb is for me,
                            a balm for the soul.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ellis and Marci (A Night Together)

The World Series kicked off with Game 1 yesterday, so let’s do a pair of baseball stories, to get us all in the mood! Best part is, these stories are about so much more than baseball.

When Ellis read his out loud, about his night with his sister at the game, Marci was sitting next to him. I remember watching her watch him. He was holding his paper tightly but gently and looking intently into his written words with his reading glasses on; she was soaking in his voice and focus with a slight smile – that’s how love between siblings look and sound like, I thought.

And then, it was Marci’s turn. And guess what Marci read about – the same thing, her night with her brother at the game, from her perspective. Marci beamed, because she knew she successfully surprised us all, especially her brother. We all laughed. And then I remember watching Ellis watch her. There was again, the look and sound of the love between siblings.

It’s not just what is written and how it is written - but how it was read out loud. On the surface the words below may be about a baseball game, but to me they’ll always be more.

Ellis Zelmanoff
A Night Together

On Wednesday, August 17 my sister and I went to the Phillies-Arizona O Backe night game which started at 7:05 P.M.  We were all set for an exciting night of baseball when our hopes for an early night of baseball were dashed at the computerized ticket processing machine.

I made the mistake when buying tickets that I never had made and will never make in the future.  I bought 2 $20 tickets two weeks ago for Tuesday, August 16 and we were denied admittance to the Wed. Aug 17 game.  Next a panic ensued in which we were faced with going home without seeing our game last night.  We sat down and examined our options. They were (1) go home somewhat depressed without seeing a battle for first place, (2) come up with more money and go to the nearest sales window open and ask what the cheapest tickets were.  We overcame our shyness and the sales person found $25 tickets (2) and a big rock was removed from our backs.  We could attend the game and got to see our heroes in person. 

The game was tied going into the bottom of the 7th inning.  The Phillies rallied for at least 3 runs in the 8th and 3 or 4 runs in the eighth.  All our dreams came true and we found we had a tremendous time among other 45,000 fans.  It was relaxing; no one was drunk and unmannerly.  When we got home we reminisced about our great night at the game.

Marci Zelmanoff
Night Game

Last night my brother and I went to my very first game that I saw a game.
An earlier date, my brother bought tickets for a game a day later I had to dig up my debit card to pay for valid admissions for the two of us.  I had no choice – we were there already!

Bad start.

The start of the game wasn’t fun and games.  In fact, for the first 6 or 7 innings – the Phillies were behind the Diamondbacks.  Then in the 7 inning, Wilson Valdez hit a double off the wall and brought what was to be a Phillies landslide victory.  In fact, the Phillies went on to win a 11-2.

Then came the ride home.  There were dozens of taxis lined up outside the park.  My legs tire and feel pinched due to neuropathy.  I momentarily yearned to be among those who could afford the fare and easy ride home.  There were a 45,000 people attending the game and I freaked out, envisioning a mob scene exiting.  I was wrong.  I miraculously saw that others were exiting peacefully and I started to relax.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Isadora, Henrietta, Josie (This Is Me and This Is What I Do)

A couple blog posts ago, I gave a shoutout to the men in our class, for being strong enough to put raw, complicated feelings into words. Well now, ladies, let’s show those boys what you’ve got. Isadora, Henrietta, Josie, and all you other beautiful, resilient fighters in our class, your strength makes me proud to be a woman.

Isadora Fields
Fight this Cancer

The best day of my life so far is today. My daughter has just found out she has cancer of the liver. She is going to take chemotherapy. Her half brother recently died of cancer of the liver. She is going to fight this cancer. Everyone is praying for her.

Henrietta Faust
This Is Me and This Is What I Do

My name is Henrietta Faust, and I am healing myself with writing class.

I am shy to a fault. And also know, God’s chosen are shy. I am quiet. A-diddly-quiet at times. This frightens the world.

I miss social cues, morals and lead ons. I may seem aloof, and seem to ignore you. This is me. This is what I do.

But in reality, I am a Helper. My gift is the gift of Helps. I care deeply for people and have been fatally wounded by people.

My healing is to turn shyness into being an extroverted personality. And find safe people I can trust. This is me, and this is what I do.

I speak this to the atmosphere. I decree this. I believe this. I say this to the atmosphere. And I believe and decree, I shall be. This is me, and this is what I do.

Josie Miller
I Never Wore a Store Bought Dress

I love coming to writing group because everyone is so pleasant and I love hearing the stories, written by group members.  This is about my fourth session and my enjoyment has increased with each class.  Also, with each class I discover something new about myself.  One week I wrote a story describing what I saw, as my grandmother made one of my many dresses.

When I finished, I read the story to the class.  Seeing the attention they paid as I read my story and hearing their sounds of appreciation, filled my heart with joy.

I’ve never before belonged to a group and trusting people in groups had never been easy.  That’s why when I finished my story about my grandmother’s sewing and the group suggested I title my story “I Never Wore a Store Bought Dress” I could not accept their suggestion.  Later I thought about how often I have rejected ideas from others, simply because I didn’t believe in what they were saying.  I wish I had accepted the title the group had given me, because it was a perfect title.