Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Roller Skate Stories

 And now… (drum roll please) it’s my pleasure to introduce to you… not one but two… trouble makers on roller skates!

You know what this means. Miss Mo and Doris get major street cred in my book! I think a little trouble makes them extra cool, don’t you? Hey, but still, don’t try either at home ;)

Missouri Grier
Dog Lessons

As a little girl in my neighborhood, there were not many things to keep your mind busy. So with nothing to do but play with my dog, I decided to teach the dog how to skate. We went into the backyard, and the lesson began, and the skates were put on the back feet—and I was in trouble. The dog tried to run, and I tried to get up off the ground where she left me.

The lesson was a failure.

Doris Lang
Don’t Lie

When I was a child there was a rule in our house that we could not ride a bike or roller skate.  But at 9 years old all my friends were skating.  One day when I knew my girlfriend would not be home, I asked her mother if I could borrow her skates.  She asked me if my mother knew, of course I lied and said yes.

When I put on the skates I immediately got into a race.  I never skated before.  I was going down the street as fast as possible and right in front of me was a pile of leaves.  I didn’t know how to get around them.  I tried to go thru.  I fell.  I nearly slid down the sewer.  My left hand was killing me.  I knew if I went home my mother would pinch me.  That was her form of punishment.

I sat at the curb crying.  My brother came out to get me.  Everyone was waiting for dinner.  My father put Sloan's liniment on my arm and nearly burned all my skin.  After screaming all night my Aunt took me to the hospital. 

I broke my arm in three places.  I was in a cast for 3 months.  That was the last time I wore skates.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

2 Magical Birthdays

Today's class was magical. Arthur's sister Ardelia showed up.

I had talked to her younger daughter earlier this week when she called me on the phone, but I didn't realize Ardelia was showing up. We hugged, no words needed exchanging. I felt like I knew her already.  Turned out, in a way, I have always known her - when I introduced myself, she smiled through her tears. And paused. And told me her older daughter's name is Benita. I couldn't believe my own ears. The “coincidence” was too beautiful to believe.

Because she showed up when the group was already writing quietly, I waited for her turn in the "reading order" to introduce her gently to the class so as to not make her or the group too sad, and she stood up and said that being there today was the best birthday gift she had ever got – then she told us that today was her 75th birthday. I mean, for me, that meant the entire universe. THIS "coincidence", the magic, the meaning of that, is too huge for me to ever understand. The fact that she was standing there in place of her brother whom we all loved so much, and in place of his passing told us it was her birthday.

Needless to say, I didn't know what to say - so I sat there with my jaw open while the seniors did the perfect thing. Without missing a beat, they began singing. Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear... SISTER, happy birthday to you. In total unison. Totally spontaneously, just like that. It was one of the happiest moments in the life of this entire project. It was so pure and so perfect.

Robert had brought flowers for the table in honor of Arthur so he gave them to her. Literally, from memorial flowers they transformed into birthday flowers.

There were a few stories today about Arthur, all extremely moving, from Mo, Loretta, and believe it or not, from Robert too (our 2nd Robert, Robert Mitchell... btw he got crowned with the nickname Mr. Robert today whereas our 1st Robert is getting called Bobby more and more officially now) - saying that even though he didn't know Arthur well (because Mr. Robert joined our group after Arthur got really sick) Arthur made an impression on him. And a story from Henrietta too called “A Farewell to Arthur: Smile” and signed, Writing Sister. And Henrietta made a collage for Arthur too. He didn't have an organized burial or memorial service, so Ardelia told us our "Special Class" on 10/6 will be really meaningful for her, it's exactly what she needs.

Meanwhile, around the table - and it was one of our higher attendance today - there were stories on all things, and a lot of funny stories. My senior buddies are so perceptive, they knew the group needs humor and cheer, and one by one they stepped up to the plate through their writings and did just that. And Helen who said she was just listening today, said she was so happy to see how big the class had gotten since our first days down in the basement, and then I looked at my watch at the date and realized two days from today, September 24th, is our class' 2-year anniversary.

Happy Birthday to Us ;)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Special Class for Arthur

Hi everyone,

We're hosting a Special Class in Memory of Arthur on Thursday Oct 6th from 1-2pm - please consider attending if you are in Philly. Your showing up would mean a lot to us.

In the meantime, please consider adding your comments on our Facebook page and we'll read them out loud on your behalf that day. It's easy to post a comment: simply click Here to see our page, then click the LIKE button and jot down whatever is on your mind.

You can also email me directly or mail a handwritten letter to the Philadelphia Senior Center (509 South Broad Street, Philadelphia PA 19147-1005) to my personal attention. Be sure to indicate "Special Class for Arthur" on the envelop.

To remember some of Arthur's stories, please click Here.

Thank you for all your encouragement. We need it!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mo (Pike's Peak)

Who can use a pick-me-up blog post today? Mo’s stories to the rescue! If you’ve been following along for a while, you know that he is one of our adorable Three Musketeers (click Here to read more!) but have I ever stopped to tell you how caring he is to all the other seniors in our class and all our young visitors as well?

Recently, in chatting with one of our volunteers on email, I realized that some of the physical weekly experiences that are so apparent to me, are the very things that I forget to tell you about on the blog. And Mo’s presence in the class is one of them.

It’s in the most subtle ways that he shows how much he cares. On days when there is a higher attendance, he would politely write less or says that he is listening, so others, especially newer members, would have a chance to speak. On days when there is a lower attendance, he would find ways to compliment the members who are around the table, especially of course his best buds Michael and Robert. A lot of times he would give spontaneous speeches about Michael’s integrity; or tell a lovingly funny story about something witty that Robert told a passerby on their way to class.

Also, whenever another member of the group needs a title for a story, Mo would always offer a suggestion, but only gently and when asked. And – not sure if the other seniors even know this – every week after class when Dee and I stay to pack up the pens, paper, and handwritings, Mo keeps us company. He’d clear cookie crumbs off the table (you guys know we love birthday snacks!), straighten out the chairs, and help us carry our supplies back to our storage closet.

With Arthur’s recent passing, I feel like I should take the time to notice and appreciate these little things that Mo and other seniors do, and share them with you, just as I share their stories here.

Mo McCooper
Pike’s Peak

On the edge of town, we lived the an apartment over a tavern on the highway and  my cousin Joey, who was 3 years older than I, would come to take me places.  Sometimes my mom, his Aunt Katy or my mom’s little sister who I knew as Aunt Nancy would give Joey some change for ice cream cones at a place a few blocks away.  Teenagers also went to dance there.  We could stand around the juke box and watch the records spin.  The girls were called “Bobby Soxers” and the boys “Jitterbugs”. 
Joey was saying something funny all of the time.  He made everything we did together a lot of fun.  I idolized him. 

The name of the place with the dance floor was “Pikes’s Peak”.  Later in life I learned that it was named after a famous early American Landmark.

Mo McCooper
Ins and Outs

Ours was a baseball town.  Most of us started to play with older relatives or friends in grammar school or junior high school at any empty lot big enough for the bases and a little outfield.
The first ones there would place their hands around the bottom of the baseball bat.  Others added their hands until the last hand went over the top.  That last hand became the first batter.  Then, came 3 more batters, a catcher, pitcher first baseman then the other positions.

When a batter struck out, flied out, or grounded out they would go to right field unless there were other players waiting.  All other players would move up one position after an out.
If you caught the ball in the air you went right up to bat and the ex-batter took the place of the one who caught the ball.

No adults were involved.  The game is called “ins and outs”.  Kids learned every position.  We all quickly learned the double play so 2 of us could move up 2 positions.
Most of us ran or rode our bikes to the games at the big town playground which had sometimes 4 games going at once.

Mo McCooper
Brookline Pool

My cousin Joey and 1 other older kid took me on 2 buses to a town in Haverford township Delaware County to go swimming in a 2 pool swimming club.  Somebody was a member.

Grandmom taught me to swim when I was 3 years old in the Atlantic Ocean at a beach called “the Inlet” in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  We also jumped into creeks and small ponds in towns close to the Schuylkill River but no one was able to practice swimming there.

At Brookline pool, we didn’t want to go to the little kids’ pool so we practiced in the shallow end of the big pool where a lifeguard watched the deep end and sort of kept an eye on the rest of us.
More later.

Monday, September 12, 2011

In Memory of Arthur

It is with tears in my eyes that I type this. Our friend Arthur passed away yesterday in his sleep. Back in June, he told me that he had cancer but I didn't think it was my place to share about that here online, but now I feel like it's time. He was always a teenager at heart, he sang karaoke till midnight and always invited my volunteers and me along, he lived life like one big party, he liked taking videos of us with his phone, his hugs and smiles were always genuine, and despite all the weight he lost in the past few months his integrity and spirit powered on. Back when we had Seniors' Storytelling Day last November and I was nervous before we got on stage, he held my hand the whole time. I am really, really sad as I type this. I really don't know what else to say. This is the last story that he wrote in our class.

Arthur Murray
This Wonderful World of Ups and Downs

What makes the world go around

Keep right with the Almighty
(to be continued)

And Don’ts
Do not make the staff mad, why because anything can happen. Already some people just be working not because they are dedicated to their job, some that are loyal, some are impatient, some let the Jonses get them down, in other words if their job are being better then they might lose their composure and if that happens the way things are now-a-days, there’s always somebody that wants a job and they out in the cold, if you know what I mean. It’s just a matter of time. Just to think Martin Luther King lost his life, why, because somebody somewhere had larceny in their heart. Well when someone felt threatened they either hired someone to do dirty work for them, watch your back these days, it must be in the food, air, drugs, or whatever. All I can say if you’re the victim, I pray for you. Count your blessings. Don’t get caught up in that trend. I’m not trying to be something that I’m not. You can’t be yourself because people only care about themselves. Where is the love? When will we learn? In my few years I’ve been on this planet, I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs. But, I’m going to try my best to live a positive life as long as our Father uses me as he see. He, the “Almighty God” for this I’m so thankful. Amen.

Links to some other stories that Arthur wrote.

Life is So Wonderful



Friends are More Important than Money

Broken Hearts

Ups and Downs

Click Here to see how I first met Arthur. I still remember that day.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pat (Aftermath) - a poem for 9/11

We stand united remembering 9.11.

Pat has been a part of our class for a few months now. In previous weeks, when it was her turn to read at our table, she would usually recite a poem from memory. Before beginning, she would take a full second to close her eyes as though to tune out the world and travel deep into her memory bank, and when she has picked the right poem for the day, she’d open her eyes wide. The room would hush. Word after word would arrive loudly and clearly, marching straight from her core and filling the room. Her voice is like nothing else you’ve ever heard. Rich, complex, deliberate, with not a single misplaced word or ill-timed pause. I’d always sit there wishing that one day she would write down her poems in her words so you too can – to the extent this blog and our imagination allows us – hear her voice too. Today was that day. This is the poem she wrote. I just got home from the senior center, and knew I had to share this one with you right away. Pat’s courageous voice must be heard.

Patricia E. Williams

The Nerve of them,

after passing the lady with the torch,
after dining on democracy,
and consuming freedom,
to think that this great nation
could not rise above the ashes
of those three buildings and lost lives,

Because of the unity of us,
the courage of us,
the strength of us.
we shall prevail.

The nerve of us.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Robert (Lots of Fun)

In the previous blog post, we heard from Dorothy about how much she enjoys reading and typing our seniors’ handwritten stories, especially her dad’s. Now, let’s hear from Robert about how proud he is of Dorothy and how much he loves his new grandson.

People always ask me why I named this project The Best Day of My Life So Far. Why So Far? The question is not easy to be to answer, I can fill pages about my full reasons, I have many, and I promise you I am working on filling those pages, which one day I will share. But when I see Robert’s last three sentences, about things he plans to do with his grandson when he is older – I think to myself, Yes! That right there is what I’ve always meant by So Far, that’s always been my hopes and dreams for my seniors buddies, that’s why I started this project in the first place! It’s about a thirst for life, and a choice to be happy and excited for the future. Robert’s got it. And I can’t even explain how happy and excited that makes me.

Robert Leung
Lots of Fun

As usual I came to our meeting today, Thursday.    It is such a nice and beautiful day.  The sun is shining and the air is fresh and clean.  No smog like in California, the place I used to live.

The reason I came here to Philadelphia was to visit my daughter, Dorothy and my grandson Andy.  He is almost 1 and a half years now and as quite as can be.  I love him so very much.  He loves me too. 

I cannot wait until he is a little older so I can go places with him, like doing tagging and running and then I can teach him to swim. 

I look forward for the summer to come; it will have lots of fun------

My daughter, Dorothy, is working at the Penn Hospital.  Her work is very important and she has a high position.  She is in charge of the hospital and all the doctors.  She and her husband, also a doctor, met at Stanford University in California.  Her husband is Italian and their son, Andy, is as cute as he can be, I love him to death.

I can’t wait till the summer again so I can go to the park with him to do some running and go to the library and teach him to read and write.  Of course, I’ll also teach him some Chinese and the Chinese language is not easy to learn.  I also plan, when it is time, to teach him to ride a bike.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

We Heart Our Copy Editors!

Denver, Colorado

Youngstown, Ohio

Hong Kong, China SAR

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Today’s blog post comes to you from all around the country, and better yet, the world.

Our project has never stopped growing since it started just under 2 years ago (9/24 will be its two-year anniversary actually!) Right now as I type this, hopes and dreams and actions plans are being created – hopes and dreams of how to make our project right here last forever and forever, and plans which I am looking forward to sharing with you in the next few months.

Right now as I type this, I am also thinking about what a super class we had today and how the trust in our class is stronger and deeper than ever, just as attendance continues to grow in numbers and diversity of all sorts. No matter how crazy my own life or day is, I know every Thursday when I sit at the table with my favorite group of seniors, I can find peace again and see life clearly again and through their stories collect enough happiness again to carry me through my week.

Right now as I type this, I am also thinking about how happy I am about our 8-week summer storytelling program which was our first public experiment of taking the essence of our original class and turning it into a compact, customizable format. Session 8 was yesterday and it contained nothing but sheer joy. Click Here for the program’s blog www.ourbestdaysofar.com to see what a difference 8 weeks can make.

My head is like that, floating from cloud to cloud. I am a dreamer at heart - my blessing and my curse ;) And so it’s with utter respect and admiration that I present to you the bread and butter of our project, the bedrock that allows me to stand here and dream big and reach high: my beautiful copyediting team. Coordinated by the best copyediting coordinator anyone can ever dream of, Tanya Krawchuk, here are the voices of some of the hardworking hands that transmits our seniors handwritings to your computer screens week after week. Thank you copyeditors, you are the reason that our project can choose to dream.

Courtney Polenick, Youngstown, Ohio  
Hello to All!

As a new copy editor (going on a month now!), I am so excited to be a part of The Best Day of My Life So Far, and I can already feel the infectious enthusiasm and dedication of all team members and class participants.  Here is a little bit about me, and why I became involved with this project.

I am a recent graduate of a master’s program in behavior analysis, where my research and practical experience focused on older adults living in residential care settings.  My research interests include assessing the potential benefits of social and creative activities for older individuals.

I first learned about The Best Day of My Life So Far through a chance discovery of the project’s fan page on Facebook.  As I read the seniors’ stories, I was deeply moved by the realization that, even though I don’t know them personally and I may never meet them, they can reach out to me and to other readers through the words that they courageously and graciously share.  At age 29, there are several decades between the senior writers and me.  But I can fully relate to their expressions of humor, grace, and wisdom.

Although I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the stories that I have received as a copy editor, one of my favorites is entitled “Flying Dutchman and Lone Ranger,” by Joe Garrison.  Joe beautifully echoed my sentiment that music, as well as other forms of art, can touch our lives in a way that is timeless and universal.  As a musician and artist, I wholeheartedly believe that engagement in the arts, including storytelling, can positively impact quality of life for individuals of all ages, and can increase feelings of social connectedness across cultural, societal, generational, and even geographical boundaries.

The Best Day of My Life So Far uses modern technology in a way that reminds us of an age-old truth: Everyone has a story to tell.  The writings of older and younger class participants encourage readers to pause for a moment in the frenzy of daily life to partake in this simple, yet powerful aspect of the human experience that unites us all.  Providing an outlet for generations to connect and share their stories and perspectives with each other and with the wider internet community is clearly beneficial for everyone involved.

Again, I am thrilled to be on board, and I have a sincere admiration and appreciation for all who make this project possible. 

Dorothy Leung, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Copy Editor Insight

I used to receive at least two to three letters a week from my dad.  His notes became so frequent and predictable that I neither realized nor appreciated being the recipient of his kind words.  That is, until those letters stopped coming.  A couple of years ago, my dad stopped diligently taking care of himself, and I noticed a decline in his mental and physical health.  When I moved him from California to Philadelphia, my sister and I were worried that he may not have a community of friends, so it was a pleasant surprise when I learned he was attending a "writing club."

When I attended the writing workshop and presentation last year at the Philadelphia Free Library and learned of the depth and breadth of this wonderful class, I knew that I needed to support it in any way I could.  I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be on the copy writing team.  I am able to read about and learn from some remarkable seniors whose stories are touching and honest and so funny!  I love having the chance to "listen" to the lessons from those who have lived through incredible challenges, those who still have little materially but whose hearts are richer than most.  And, I especially love when I am assigned my dad's stories, to know that he is once again lifting that pencil to the paper and expressing himself through words.  I don't think I will ever get him back to the vibrant way he once was, but I do see - through his slanted, all-caps writing - the spirit that still wants to shine.

I don't always know how my dad keeps busy on most days, but I never have to worry about where he is on Thursdays.  I love being able to log onto the blog and see his smiling face among the many people in the class.  It's exciting to see him excited about his friends and the wonderful volunteers who make this possible.  Although he doesn't write as frequently anymore, in many ways the weekly stories are even more meaningful than any letter of the past...and these stories are ones I will surely not take for granted.

- Dorothy Leung, 29
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Director, and New Mom

Mary Ann Krawchuk, Denver, Colorado
Copy Editor Insight

The Senior Stories are often windows into the world of what Tom Brokaw has labeled, the Greatest Generation.  These individuals contributed so much to this country, and their stories are part of their legacy.  It is also a window into the aging process, and the challenges and joys that one faces.  While it is obvious the seniors enjoy sharing their stories, they also allow the rest of us to deepen our understanding and love for the people behind the stories.

Sandra Leung, Hong Kong, China SAR
Copy Editor Insight

Here’s a blurb =)

Been involved for half a year now – heard about the program from my good friend Karla and just wanted to contribute back to society!  Simple =)  Has definitely been a very rewarding experience to give back and have actually been learning a lot from these stories!  It especially feels great when seniors write that the best day of their lives is while writing at The Best Day of My Life (So Far)! =)