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.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

For Arthur from Jamie

Below are a few words in memory of Arthur, by Jamie Wright, whose dad was one of Arthur’s best friends and whom Arthur helped to raise as a child. Jamie reached out to me on Facebook last week, and we’ve been chatting on email since. When I first met her on Thursday, I couldn’t help seeing Arthur’s life-loving spirit through her beautiful, radiant smile.

Jamie Knight
10.8.11 via email

On September 11, 2011 God called another one of his angels home. I called my father to tell him we were on our way to give Archie the "right hand of fellowship' when he exclaimed, "my Archie is gone!"

On the night before he died we all (my mother, Darlene, father, James sr., and brother, James jr.) sat around singing songs to Archie and telling him how we thought heaven would be. Archie looooved Christmas, so when my mom got there we started a medley of Christmas songs. Archie's smile was big and bright through this. I took one last picture with Archie (still smiling)  when I first arrived and sang his favorite "Walk around heaven all day;" this was the first time I'd seen Archie cry throughout his entire sickness. In those few precious moments I thanked Archie for being there for our family all those years; helping to raise my brother and I, being a friend to our parents and giving us so many wonderful memories to cherish. When I thanked him he just shook his head with a smile and mouthed "no problem"  in true Archie fashion.

When Archie received his diagnosis he did not get depressed and act like he was already gone, he continued to live his life with that precious smile that we will all miss. He attended church on Sunday, went to a Phillies game, went to karaoke, played cards in the park and left here like a person who truly had faith in the master and his plan.

I'm not sure who I would be if my dad never met Archie; if they'd never went on the road; never became best friends and lived together after the road was over; then when my mom met my dad, and they broke up Archie would have never been there to talk him through it, and then I might not even be here! What a difference a life makes! What a difference this life made. Without Archie's smile I would not have had a reason to laugh after a full day of being teased by bullies at school; without Archie escorting us to and from school I might have been one of those missing children on the news, Without Archie showing me some defense tactics I might not have stood up for myself that very first time, without Archie pulling out his old bible telling me about the power of the Lord, my faith might not be as strong as it  is. I could continue on with a long list of "without…" but the point is without Arthur Raymond Murray I would not, could not be the same me. I will never forget him and all that his life taught me…RIP Archie

Jamie Knight
9.28.11 via Facebook

Hello Benita...my name is Jamie Knight. You don't know me but Archie helped raise my brother and I. he looooooooooooooooooooooved #thebestdayofmylifeSOFAR! I just read the posts in memory of him and it made me so happy. He was a very happy spirit and I am sooooooo glad the he experienced so much joy in his last days-you were a part of that joy.

Jamie Knight
10.06.11 via email

Hi Benita… I am planning to come to the special class today, along with, my mom, Archie's sister, my father, brother,grandfather....I even passed out flyers to his friends! Archie (as we all called him) loooooooooved ur class and all of the activities he got to do. I am looking forward to meeting you. The flyer said it begins @ 1:00 at the senior center :) I will be there.

For Arthur – In Your Words

Thank you to the 120+ of you who showed up to Philadelphia Senior Center’s auditorium on Thursday for our special class in memory of Arthur, and the countless emails, letters, Facebook messages that you all have been sending to our project and me directly.

In order to browse through more photos and messages, and add your own, please click Here to go to our Facebook page, then press the “Like” button.

You guys are amazing – thank you for writing.

Helen Sunga - former staff member at Philadelphia Senior Center
9.28.11 via Facebook

I am so sorry to hear about Mr. Arthur! He always had a smile. He made so many of my volunteer projects fun. I remember him dancing at our ice cream socials.

Renee Newkirk-Avery – daughter of Beatrice, a senior in our writing group
9.21.11 via Facebook

Hello everyone at the BEST DAY of MY LIFE SO FAR writing class and my Mom and Aunt Bernice. I am so sorry to hear about Mr. Arthur. I was please to have meet Mr. Arthur on my many visits to the Senior Center. Even my resent visit to the Senior Center in August, I was able to see his beautiful smile after my visit to the class. He was late and we were coming out from the class but I had chance to say hello for the last time. I love you all and I wish you all the best and God's Blessings.

Vanessa Darby Stroud – niece of Arthur
10.3.11 via Facebook

Dear Benita & members of "The best day of my life so far" class. thank you so much for the care you showed my uncle Archie. He spoke of this class very often. I know it brought him a lot of pleasure to be able to put some of his thoughts in writing. I will always remember him as fun, loving, kind, giving, caring, funny, full of life, never met a stranger.

Linda Riley – Philadelphia PA
9.22.11 via email

Hi Benita, I'm so sorry to hear about Arthur, he was very special - as are they all. I know he will be missed, and at the same time you'll find comfort in having known him.
Take care,

Courtey Polenick – Youngstown OH
9.21.11 via email

Hi Benita,
I was so sorry to hear of Arthur's passing. Although I didn't have the pleasure of knowing him, I really enjoyed reading his stories and it sounds like he was a very special individual.

Curtis Roth – Philadelphia PA
9.20.11 via email

Arthur was a fine, fine man.  My regrets and fondest thoughts.

Kao Kue – Philadelphia PA
9.12.11 via email

I am so sorry to hear that. Arthur was a wonderful person and he was so full of life and energy every time I saw him.

Jill Chonody – Adelaide Australia
9.24.11 via email

He’s the guy who beams when he sees you.
He’s the one who always has a kind a word for you.
He’s the spirit you hope to emulate.
He has the energy that makes you glow.
Whether a song or a chat,
Arthur had something to share.
He will be missed for so many reasons,
But most of all, because he was our friend.

Bri Kurmue – senior member of our writing group
Handwritten and passed onto Jamie
Emailed from Jamie to Benita 10.8.11

Tribute To Arthur Murray


Kind spirited
A gentleman
A good friend
Always had a good word to say to you
Sharp as a tack!
Enjoyed great food
Loved dancing and singing
A good guy
Praises lived in his soul
Smiled until the very end

You will be missed Archie. Rest in peace

Peace… Bri K

Henrietta Faust – senior member of our writing group 
Handwritten in class 9.22.11
A Farewell to Arthur—Smile

To a Writing Brother Arthur.  I miss your infectious smile.  Your laughter.  And how you could take an awkward incident and make it into a major joke of the day.  That day when you shared the joke we all saw the humor in the moment.  Like that day of the tray struggle?  Two people were struggling over a food tray?  You made it a good joke of the day.

Miss you Arthur.  You loved singing, acting, writing.  So I must say farewell to our www.thebestdayofmylifesofar.com Writing Brother

- Writing Sister, www.thebestdayofmylifesofar.com, Henrietta Faust

Loretta Gaither – senior member of our writing group 
Handwritten in class 9.22.11
Arthur Murray Was a Friend of Mine

I knew him from the Uptown Theater and knew he liked to sing and dance.  My husband and he were good friends, went to Simon Gratz High School together.  Arthur was a barber, he used to cut hair at a shop at 29th and Dolphin in North Philly.  And when I came to Philadelphia Senior Center, that was when I saw him again.  Oh, I can’t remember how long it was when I saw him last before that.  When I saw him at the senior center after all those years, he kissed me on the cheek right away.  He said, “I love you, Loretta,” and I said, “I love you back.”  He loved singing and he really, really loved our writing class.  He is going to be missed by our writing class and the whole center.  I am going to miss his smile.  He is going to be missed.  I don’t know how to put this all into words.  But I feel better that I wrote this story about him.

Mo McCooper – senior member of our writing group 
Handwritten in class 9.22.11
Arthur Murray

About 2 years ago, on a day when there was confusion about which room the writing class would be in we were waiting on the large room next to the registration desk.  At the piano on the far side of the room a man was playing the piano while another man and a lovely lady were singing any words they knew to the songs.  After a little while Benita, our writing teacher, and I joined in.  We were encouraged to sing by a tall, thin man with a winning smile who also played the piano.  Arthur Murray made sure we enjoyed ourselves and learned how to harmonize at the same time.  Soon after, Arthur joined our writing group adding his positive attitude and ideas for extra socializing to the agenda.  On the charter buses to and from the NPR TV and radio studios and the Free Library of Philadelphia, among other writing class events, Arthur led us in “sing alongs”!!  I’ll miss him BIG TIME!!!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mr. Robert (Putting Your Mind to It)

You all know Robert Leung - one of our 3 Musketeers, but guess what? We now have 2 Roberts regularly attending class every week! And yes, my silly senior buds have been trying out new nicknames on them: “Bobby” for our original member; “Mr. Robert” for our newer addition.

I’ve liked Mr. Robert ever since he joined our group in August. The first time we met, I was immediately struck by a special quality he has – you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then, this past Thursday, as I listened to him read his story out loud – about friendships he’s gained and lost over the years – I realized what that quality is called.


It’s hard for me to say exactly what makes a strong man, but I feel like the ability to be in touch with real feelings is a big part of it. That’s the kind of strength that Robert’s got, and to various extents, that’s what a lot of the male members in our class have got. Our men – they’re really, extraordinarily strong. I am so proud of them.

Robert Mitchell
Putting Your Mind to It

To be where you’re at.
To get where you want to go.
To be thankful for what you got & family.

At an early age being a toddler (age newborn-5 yrs) our household utilities were: electric can oil lamp, gas, a pot belly stove, also too that was the heat of the house in a 3-bedroom house for 5 kids (mother, 3 sisters & 1 brother). I was taught to be respectful of elders, be courtesy, have manners, and always speak when spoken to!!!

My teenage years, we lived in a 3-bedroom house. Our second house had electricity, gas & coal heat. My room was furnished with a single bed, a dresser, mirror, clothes closet, no, I repeat no!!! radio, t.v., air conditioner, or all the luxury that the kids now have today.

I was drafted in the military after I turned 20 yrs-old and did a 2 yr. tour of duty during the Vietnam War. Back home again and I got married for the second time 2 yrs later.

Once I was in the work field, all the luxuries that I didn’t have when I was young  were in my reach. Once I put my mind to getting them: a house, a car, a garage, 5 kids, a wife with both of us working. You can get all these amenities & more once you put your mind to it and strive to do whatever it takes to make life a blessing for you and your family; with God in your life you will make it.

Robert Mitchell
Growing Up

I was raised by my mother, however, my father wasn’t around – why, I don’t know, I guess it was a man thing. My mother taught me love, family, respect, discipline, speak-up when spoken to, and to get along with people, don’t kiss their (back side).

Let me break it on down;

Love- Love yourself before you love someone else.

Family- Be there for your family when needed.

Discipline- Without discipline, you have no sense of direction in life.

Speak up when spoken to!!- When you are asked a question, speak plainly so the other person can hear you. Don’t mumble.

Kissing Backside- Just to get along with people, don’t give up your pride and dignity.

With all that she had taught me, I add 2 more. Have compassion for others cause you’re not better than them, and respect other peoples’ opinion, cause they have freedom of speech.