Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mille, Hazel, Norman (Here's to 2014!)

Here at The Best Day of My Life (So Far), it's the best day every day not because we only celebrate the happy moments, but because even in the sad or scary ones we discover humanity and meaning. To round out another year of diverse stories, and to celebrate the full spectrum of emotions that our seniors have so generously shared with us, here's an unlikely bouquet of stories: an intense one by Millie, a 
lighthearted one by Hazel, a sweet one by Norman. Here's to 2014 and another year of stories to come! Have a great time celebrating tonight!!

Millie Lily
Slow Motion

The town of Fairbanks, Alaska was an hour west of Eielson Air Force. On Sunday, weather permitting, the family traveled by car to a church. On the way back there was a snowplow facing us clearing the road on the other side, and behind the plow was a yellow full-size school bus. There was one car in front of our car.

The bus was going slow, but when the driver braked the back of the bus started swinging from a 12 o’ clock position to a 3 o’ clock position. We watch as in slow motion as the bus continued to swing until it smashed into the front of the car in front of us.

There was a man & woman in the car. Then woman was unconscious and injured with a gash at her throat. Her husband and my parents got her into the backseat of our car with my Mother applying pressure to her wound. My brother in the front side, my sister and I squeezed in the corner. There was another car behind us, the driver was saying he had to be somewhere and would not take the husband to the hospital. My Mother asked him if he was crazy since there was no room in our car. He took the husband and turned around toward the hospital.

It was very cold. My sister and I were in the waiting room, our legs and feet very cold from wearing Sunday shoes, when the husband came up to the desk asking about his wife. He then fell down to the floor. He had internal injuries.

Watching that bus make that slow progression was an extraordinary thing. It seemed like such a long time as it rotated across the road. I am sure the people in front could not believe what they were seeing. There was nowhere for them to go, the sides of the road were piled high with snow.

Hazel Nurse
Football Addict

Years ago, when my husband and I were working full time jobs, Saturday was always welcome.

Although it meant grocery shopping, house cleaning, and family time, there was a “toss-up” as to who would have time off for fun.  Would it be him or me?

This particular day, I was able to join my card playing club for a few hours.  After which we proceeded to enjoy a fantastic repast at a restaurant.

Returning home at early evening, as I opened the door, the television was blasting.  My three-month-old son, securely wrapped under his dad’s arm, was sound asleep in the easy chair.  A squad of about five empty nursing bottles was on the floor by the chair.

I grabbed my child and let the popular football game continue to traumatize my husband.

Norman Cain
My Friend Jimmy and I

When me and my younger sister were children we would be sent to South Carolina where we would live with my maternal grandparents on their farm.

The trip generally took place on  the evening of the 24th of June…the last day of school and would end two days before school started.

When we boarded a cab to take us to 30th Street Station, our friends would gather to see us off and when we returned in September, they would be gathered to cheerfully greet us back to the neighborhood.

Leaving the neighborhood for the summer was always a happy, yet, sad occasion. I loved South Carolina, but hated leaving the recreational activities of the street and my friends, especially Jimmy, who was my main pal and next door neighbor.

In South Carolina, we did farm work during the week, went to town on Saturdays, went to church on Sundays, and often visited relatives.

During the middle of August, my mother would come for several weeks. My sister and I missed her very much and anticipated her arrival. One summer day, when she arrived, I got the surprise of my life.

My mother brought Jimmy, my special pal with her.

I vividly recall our galloping towards each others, hollering and tightly embracing. It was a “Kodak moment,” one of the best presents I’ve ever received.

Jimmy was two years older than I. He was my mentor of sorts. He took me to various neighborhoods to meet his relatives, introduced me to jazz, showed me the ins and outs of sports, kept me entertained with riddles and jokes, showed me dance steps and kept me informed about what was happening with the crew. He had more freedom to travel about then I. I had to be in the house at seven while he could roam until ten or so.

Jimmy loved animals, especially horses. He arranged for us to rent ponies and we made decent change selling pony rides on the Northeast streets of West Phila. I had learned a lot from Jimmy. His visit to South Carolina gave me a chance to repay his mentoring by showing him how to maneuver in a new environment.

I showed him how to feed the goats, cow, mules and chicks, how to chop wood, and use a hoe sickle and rake. I also showed him how to hitch our two mules to a wagon, shuck corn, and how to take the goats out to pasture. From my great uncle Charlie, he heard Uncle Remio’s stories and he was able to meet a host of relatives on both sides of my family.

I taught him how to recognize the constellations on dark, bright nights, how to recognize what snake prints were visible on the dirt road, and how to distinguish the sounds of the various birds in the area.

It was a pleasant summer. When we returned to Philadelphia, our neighborhood friends cheered us back into the community.

Each time Jimmy and I met in later years, we would always reminisce about our experiences in Philadelphia and South Carolina.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Joe and Brenda B (Memories of Christmas)

It’s hard to believe but it’s true. Suddenly we are a week away from Christmas! My husband and I recently got a baby congrats card from a longtime friend (yes Laura, that’s you!) that says, “Two’s company; three’s family.” We love that. As we celebrate the holidays for the first time as a family, with our not-so-newborn-anymore and nothing-short-of-perfect baby, I look at our seniors’ stories about this time of the year with a new determination – I am determined to give my son the kind of magic that Brenda and Joe both remember from their childhoods. In a way creating magic is a tall order. But in a way it’s simple. In a way the answer is right here in these stories.  We’ve got to stay true to the things that matter most – family togetherness, and the choice to “just love our fellow man and enjoy our lives.”

With that, on behalf of my wonderful team and our inspiring seniors, I wish you the happiest of holidays!

PS - Get ready for a huge Best Day of My Life (So Far) year ahead, as we will be expanding nationally starting with Pitman, New Jersey, AND announcing the production of a storybook for all ages. Sign up for our mailing list to get the scoop and email us at info@bestdayofmylifesofar.org to get involved. Yup, our team and seniors have been about as busy as Santa himself  ;) !

Joe Garrison

Holidays were always a big thing when I was a child.  They were something the family always looked forward to.  When I was coming up, one of the things I looked forward to was visiting my Grandma on the holidays, especially on the Fourth of July and at Christmas.  Just being around her was such a pleasure.  Her house was always nice and cool, and she always fixed us a wonderful dinner.  Fourth of July fireworks never excited me because to me it was just a lot of noise and reminded me of guns going off.  If I could see the shapes and colors, I would probably appreciate fireworks more.  When people describe them, it is still hard to imagine because if you’ve never seen colors before, you have no reference to go by.  So Fourth of July was something different for me and was more about family.  Also when I was young, it was always a tradition for the family to have some kind of cookout. But nowadays, because families are more fragmented, it is hard to get everyone together in one place.  So without the same family experience, cookouts and picnics don’t excite me as much anymore.  I hope kids today can find some sense of holiday enjoyment and family togetherness with whatever they choose to do that particular holiday. 

Brenda Bailey
Memories of Christmas

When I was a young child, Christmas was a magical time.  After Thanksgiving, all the decorations in the city would start to appear in Wanamakers, Gembels, Strawbridges and Lit Brothers.  No matter how cold it was outside, we would spend hours and hours looking at the various Christmas scenes in the windows.  We always marveled at how they could make the movement of the characters look like they were alive.

At my house the only decoration was Xmas cards that lined the mantel and the smells from the kitchen on Xmas Eve.  We would take our bathes, put on pajamas, and try to sleep waiting for Santa Claus.  Sleep did come and in the morning we would run downstairs to a Xmas wonderland.  The tree was decorated with lights, ribbons and bows on the windows and most of all were the wrapped presents under the tree.  Our hearts almost came out of our chest with excitement.  Santa had really been busy.  The whole morning was spent opening and playing with toys and eating all kinds of goodies.  Oh for the grand old days.

When I married and had children, I tried to recreate the feeling I felt as a child, but the world had changed.  It became harder and harder to keep Santa alive because so many children were told there was no Santa and our kids became confused.  But we still kept the excitement going.

One Xmas Eve I went to the mall, bought an ice cream cone, sat on a bench, and just watched the shoppers hurry about.  Man, were they stressed!  What to buy, where to buy, who to buy for and the most stressful of all: how can I pay for it?!  And remember lots of the toys were already in the trash when the bill came.  But the most stressful time for me is how people want to be greeted!  They want Merry Christmas, because this is Christ’s birthday.  But this city has so many different religions that it becomes impossible to say, “Merry Xmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanza, Happy Buddha, Happy etc.”  So, Happy Holidays seems to cover it all.

This life has so many things to be stressful about, health insurance, keeping safe, scams, identity theft, etc.  So let’s be a little more tolerant and just love our fellow man and enjoy our lives.  After all, this is what Christ was born and died for.  The statement youth is wasted on the young is so true now that we are old.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sharon (Why I love the Best Day of My Life So Far Program)

It’s my pleasure to introduce you all to Sharon Yesner today. Since our founding in 2009, many individuals and senior center staff have requested us for training to start groups in their cities, but she has always stood out to me because of her personal story about her grandmother, her passion for seniors and her commitment to our program.

It was a no-brainer whom I had to call when we needed a perfect person to kick of our national expansion… Sharon!! I am thrilled to share that we have selected her venue, Pitman Manor, New Jersey, as the first site to receive an exclusive copy of our brand new Facilitator Training Guide!

One of the best things about Best Day So Far is the “excuse” to meet some of the most warm-hearted, people-loving people in the world, and Sharon you are most definitely one of them ;)

(Email us at info@bestdayofmylifesofar.org if you or your venue is interested in receiving a guide. We are on the lookout for 9 more very special people.)

(Click HERE to see the stories by Joe, a senior, and Olivia, a teen, which so inspired Sharon.)

Why I love the Best Day of My Life (So Far) Program
Sharon Yesner, Coordinator of Volunteer Services
Pitman Manor NJ

I, like Benita, had the opportunity to hear my grandmother’s stories.  However, unlike Benita, my grandmother shared her stories with me when I was still in elementary school.  Though that was years ago, I can still remember her sharing the stories like it was yesterday.  On my office desk, I have a picture of me and my grandmother.  I usually reference her a number of times a month when I speak to my volunteers.  Her stories impacted me and my mom, who was her daughter-in-law; i.e.- My grandmother shared with us that she never felt like a child since she assisted her mom in raising her 5 younger sisters.  She said she never had a doll when she was a child.   In response to that my mother bought my grandmother a baby doll that was always kept on her sofa in her apartment.   When my grandmother moved in to a nursing home at age 96, the doll went with her.  When my grandmother passed away in 2005, I got the doll and I still have it today!  After my grandmother’s death, I learned she hadn’t shared those stories with my cousins.  I am so glad she shared her stories with me!

When I first read about The Best Day of My Life So Far’s Seniors’ Storytelling Day at the Free Library of Philadelphia (Nov. 2010), I was intrigued.  I went to the blog and read more about the program. Through shared contacts, I got in touch with Benita and her team.

In the spring of 2011, I was invited to their Launch Party at the Free Library for a summer expansion of the program.   I attended the event with a co-worker who also was interested in Best Day So Far’s program.  We loved the launch event and the opportunity to learn more about Best Day So Far firsthand from the program’s participants.  One pair of stories in particular really made an impact on us.  They were about Vision!   First we met Joe and heard his stories about being blind.  Next, we heard from Olivia, a teen who attended the session where Joe first shared his story.  Olivia’s reflections on the story and the impact it made on her were amazing.  It made us even more inspired to get involved!  I share their stories whenever I tell someone about the Best Day So Far’s program!

Earlier this year, I was honored when Benita invited me to be part of the review team for their new Training Guide as they prepared for a national expansion of the program, and again, when Benita asked me if Pitman Manor would be interested in being the site for the first satellite group of the Best Day of My Life(So Far)'s national expansion.  Pitman Manor is a senior continuing care community located in South Jersey owned and managed by the United Methodist Homes of NJ.  The Homes are in their second century of serving seniors and are currently in the process of launching a Vibrant Living Program for our residents. Starting the Best Day So Far program at Pitman Manor in February 2014 for our residents is a perfect addition for such a program.  It can increase  our residents' communication and creativity with each other and our staff!  We will also be networking with our South Jersey neighbors.  Students from Rowan University will be the facilitators for the Best Day So Far Program. Our residents range in age from 65-107 years of age with approximately seven residents over the age of 100.  The oldest resident has lived in Pitman all her life, is only a year younger than the town and still plays bingo weekly!  We have residents who are veterans, retired teachers and nurses and so much more!

The young woman whom I have invited to be our group's facilitator has been an intern at the Manor since October, writing for her class and helping our staff with press releases.   The one thing she always wants to share with her readers is the knowledge she is gaining from the residents she interviews.  Now by being a Best Day of My Life So Far site, we will be able to have more residents share their knowledge and wisdom with others through the stories they will tell by participating in this great program!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Story Letter Issue 4: Celebrating Togetherness

Hi Readers,

Did you know that this blog is just one of the ways we deliver our seniors' stories to you? If you are already on our mailing list and received this week's issue of our Story Letter newsletter, I hope you like it! If you aren't on the list yet, please sign up by clicking HERE or choosing "Receive our free Story Letter" on our blog sidebar. And while you are at it, be sure to invite your friends and family to do the same.

Every issue promises to bring a big smile to your face - with a specially curated trio of stories on an inspirational theme. And this issue, we hope your smile is extra big as our holiday-focused theme is "Celebrating Togetherness," featuring stories by seniors Mr. Gordon and Hattie and family member Gloria, and a hello from volunteer Madi!

If you missed out, no worries, you can take a peek at it HERE and you can always email us at info@bestdayofmylifesofar.org to send you a personal copy.

Thank you for reading and sharing our stories, and Happy Thanksgiving!!

All my best, Benita

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hattie (A Farewell to the 70s)

A few months ago, Hattie turned eighty! Hattie was one of the four seniors who attended the very first session of our group, on Sept 24, 2009, and watching her reach eighty means a lot to me. Looking through her recent stories, it’s impossible not to admire her attitude towards aging, and really, life in general. I am reminded of how I felt when I met her: "It's that beautiful-from-the-inside-out kind of thing. She has that thing." (To reread that blog post, click Here.)

I am convinced, that as you get older, you are just more and more of who you really are. And for Hattie, that simply means more and more beautiful.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
A Farewell to the 70s

Today is the second day of the month of May. I am 79 years of age. In eight more days, May 10th, Lord willing, I will reach my 80th birthday. I could tell you a lot of things I’ve done over these 70 years but I would have to put you under “gag order”... hmmmm.

God has really blessed me with family and friends. I love you all.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe

After living in my own house for 57 years, at the age of 80, it has become necessary for me to relocate.  The house has become a bit much for me to manage.

Recently my daughter found a lovely senior apartment for me.  I have been there for about a month.  I used to say, “all I need is a bed, a chair, and a TV”… to make a long story short, that is all I have—“HELP.”  It will take a lot to get used to my new dwelling.  The people seem very nice.

Pray much for me.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
The Most Beautiful Sights I’ve Ever Seen

(1) November 10, 1953
(2) October 2, 1958
(3) September 16, 1960

The above dates reflect the birthdays of my three beautiful children.  I was not in hard labor for long and what I remember most is seeing each of them for the first time.  They each weighed a little more than 7 lbs and were not wrinkled at all.  They were beautiful.

Now more than 50 years later, I count them as the most beautiful sights I have ever see.

Love you all,


Hattie Lee Ellerbe
The Golden Rule

I have always tried to live by the Golden Rule: “Do Unto Others as You would Have Other Do Unto to You.” We learned this verse many years ago in Sunday School. It has followed me all through life and now at age 80, it still goes before me.

I want my children and grandchildren to keep this verse before them and keep God first in their life.

God bless you all.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Bernice, Norman, Hazel (Veterans Day)

Our seniors’ voices have a way of drawing history closer to us. When I listen to their stories, there is no such thing as “once upon a time”, because it all feels so real and so present. Today, on Veterans Day, I thought we can read and reread some stories that let us see the more personal sides of war. From learning about new cultures, to surviving roadside bombs, to seeing soldiers and sailors on city sidewalks, here are Bernice, Norman, and Hazel sharing their personal memories of “the war years.”

I love, love, love what Bernice says about how things have changed since: “Glad more people are like flowers; different colors and different breeds, and different worlds.”

And so, as we salute our veterans, we offer up these stories as a toast to peace.

Bernice Moore
Yesterday’s People

I am always drawing pictures, even when I was in school. A lot of the time I drew difficult things like houses, trees, cars, boats and many other things.

It is fun when you know how to draw different things. You can see so many things if you keep your mind on what is really happening. You cannot live in this world alone, so many things to do and see.

Everything has changed since the war years; we still have wars in different places. Some people still can’t get along. Glad more people are like flowers; different colors and different breeds, and different worlds.

Bernice Moore

Soldiers and Sailors

Back in the forties, where there were quite a few people walking, most of the time you saw soldiers and sailors. It was the war years, and some were coming home and some were going away. Some people were sad because they had lost their loved ones.

It was like two wars: Germany and Japan, and many soldiers were not coming home. Today they change out of their uniforms because they don’t want to get robbed. It was nice to see a lot of soldiers and sailors coming home. There were all kinds of people from other countries also fighting in the war, and because of that, the war was won. Over and over again, we will always have wars.

Norman Cain
Cultural Shock

In the fall of 1965, I completed military police training at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia and was assigned to the 549th police unit in the Republic of Panama.

En route to my destination, I stopped at the Charlotte, South Carolina air force base. There in the canteen, I saw a buxom, tall and dark black woman who evidently worked there and who spoke with a West Indian accent. I assumed that she was of Gullah descent—black folk who had been isolated on islands in the vicinity of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia for well over 100 years. They retained many elements of African culture and language patterns.

When I arrived at Fort Kobbe Air Force Base on the Pacific Ocean side of Panama, I received a shock, for in the canteen, I saw a tall, buxom, black woman who evidently worked there and who seemingly spoke the same dialect as her look-a-like in Charleston.

Just when I thought the cultural shock was through with me, another incident happened. Waiting at an outside train station for a train to take me to my assignment on the Atlantic side of Panama, I encountered twelve young shoeshine boys. Eleven had the physical attributes that we associated with Hispanics and one had attributes associated with blacks. When the black kid spoke rapid Spanish, I could not believe my ears. I had been accustomed to the way things were in America and what I had seen and heard in the media.

The trip to Panama opened my eyes up to the fact that language and culture can transcend ethnic groups and geographical locations.

Hazel Nurse

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

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Beatrice P (My Mom Bea)

The Best Day So Far family circle broadens in the most unexpected and beautiful ways…. Amazing Facebook comment from one of Beatrice's daughters, also named Beatrice ;) after reading yesterday's blog post:

Beatrice Payne
My Mom Bea

I would like to share a story if I can. I could never understand why my parents had such a large family. My mom (Bea) had really no mom to help her or tell her or even show her what she needed to know when it came to caring for us. She had to learn on her own. Today I treasure the things she helps me with when it comes to my own 5 kids. She's been the strength when I needed it. The shoulder to cry on when I didn't get it right. The answers when I didn't understand. She taught me that you are always a mother no matter how old you are.

Which reminds me of another story Beatrice (mama "Bea") recently wrote in class:

Beatrice Newkirk
The Best Thing Anyone Done for Me

The best thing anyone done for me is my kids.  Giving me grandkids and great grands.  Finishing school and doing the right thing.  Working and helping other people.  Respecting themselves and other people.  Not making the wrong mistakes.  Helping me and helping each other.  Remembering where they came from.  Giving me thanks on Mother’s Day – Mother’s Day is every day.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Marie, Greta, Beatrice

Any family of our senior buds’ and volunteers’ is family of ours!

As some of you know from previous blog posts, while I hang out with my baby boy these first months of his life, the fabulous Lea has been taking my place as lead facilitator at our class. What you may or may not know (because we have only been hinting at this for now… email info@bestdayofmylifesofar.org for more info!) is Lea is also co-authoring our Facilitator Training Guide with me so you guys can start senior storytelling groups at your neighborhoods too! What this means, is outside of class time, I have been hanging out with Lea a lot (picture baby Kian in my arms, Lea on the computer, us talking and laughing) and getting to know her really well. So how cool was it when one day, Lea texted me to tell me she was bringing her mom (from outside the city) to class, and asked if she could bring her mom over to visit Kian and me afterwards. I was like, yes and yes!

I loved hearing from Marie how much she enjoyed her visit. She quoted bits and pieces of stories she heard from the day: how Greta was coping with recent deaths in her family, how different members of the group shared about sad times, and how Beatrice wrapped up by saying the most comforting thing: “After sad times, there are happy times.” The whole time Marie was talking, Lea was beaming with pride for her mom. And I loved it when later that day I went through the handwritten stories that Lea had handed to me, I saw one by Marie.

From real family, to friends who have become family, it’s so cool to feel so connected to so many amazing people in such a real way ;)

Marie Peterson
Snowman Babies

I was three, almost four, and my mom was just about to have a baby. I remember being very concerned that the new baby would change everything. At the same time, I was very excited to be a big sister. On the day it snowed and I was out in the yard playing and decided to be sure that my mom saw how grown I was, I built a snowman and used him to balance myself to stand on my head in the snow. Well, snowmen make terrible support and I ended up under a pile of snow. My mother rushed out and dug me out and all I could see when I looked up at her were her blue eyes and very big belly. I suddenly was full of awe and wonder. I no longer worried because I realized my mom would always be there for me and I would have to be there for my new baby “sister.”

Greta Adams

This writing class is one of my favorite places to be. Due to many family things – some good, some not so good, but all a part of life – I had a wonderful Labor Day with many family members in New Jersey. I returned to Philadelphia on September 5th.

After such a great Labor Day, I had to attend a funeral the next day, which was Friday, September 6th. The next day my sister had to go to the hospital and within twenty-four hours, my sister passed away.

My children took me to North Carolina. It was a Home Going Service and a family and friends reunion, at which time there was sadness and joy.

Beatrice Newkirk
A Sad, Sad Time

A sad time was when my son-in-law died. He died on my granddaughter’s birthday, August 15th. I had no way to comfort her. She kept asking me why I had no answer for her. Everyone at one time or another has a sad time. I had so many sad times. By losing seven brothers and one sister. Now it’s only me and my twin left. But we have our grand and great-grandkids. We know God has the last say. After sad times, there are happy times.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Louella (The Woman I Am)

The second Louella walks into our room, you can feel the room deepen in peace and thoughtfulness. She has attended our group for months now. She never speaks too much, or too loudly, but when she picks up that pen, the woman she is inside comes boldly alive. I remember how moved I was when Louella read these sentences out loud. It is such a privilege to hear her speak - so gentle in volume yet so loud in power.
Louella Coplon
The Woman I Am

The woman I am hides deep in me beneath the woman I seem to be.

She hides away from strangers and those who know her to be passing by.

She goes her way.  And they go their way.

For those who love me dearly, look beneath the woman I seem to be and see only me!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Joan (Stuttering)

Not all of us have speech impediments but all of us have struggles of some sort, things we can't quite do, at least not yet. No matter what our particular struggle is, I feel like Joan's story applies to all of us. No matter how impossible it may seem when we are going through it, if we keep trying, we can really overcome anything we put our mind to. I really believe that.

This story is amazing as is, in its tidy typed up form here on this blog. But you know what is even more amazing? If you can all travel with me back to moment when the story was first told. Imagine sitting at the table at our storytelling class, and hearing Joan read it out loud. Watch her eyes travel down to her freshly handwritten page and up to meet the eyes of her peers, and our volunteers and visitors around the table. Imagine her voice, strong and stutter-free, filling the entire room. And now imagine that very voice echoing between the lines of the typed text below.

Joan Bunting

When I was a child, I stuttered very bad.  I heard later when I was older that it could have been caused by my sisters and my older brother scaring me a lot.  I don’t know how true that is, but could there be some truth in it?

When I was older and attending elementary school, the teacher would call individuals to read.  What I would do is when someone else was reading, I would hold my breath so that if I was next, I would be able to start reading without stuttering.

There was a girl in my class named Barbara.  I used to feel so sorry for her because she stuttered much worse than me.  In Junior High School there was a boy in my class that stuttered terribly and the children would laugh at him.  I’d feel sorry for him too.  By the time I became a teenager, most of the stuttering had stopped.  The only time I stuttered was when I got very excited or angry.

The people that never experienced stuttering don’t realize what a struggle it is.

Well, I don’t stutter anymore, but I’ll tell you a person that used to stutter, you can hardly shut them up, I know.  People think I’m quiet, but don’t start me talking.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Millie (My Sister) and Norman (My Father)

It’s easy to take family for granted… until stories like these come along to remind us to stop in our busy lives to notice our loved ones with fresh eyes. Here’s Millie sharing about her sister, and Norman sharing about his father. Two stories shaped entirely out of love. Consider sharing this blog post with a family member today, as a way to tell them you appreciate them!

Millie Lilly
My Sister Gloria

My sister Gloria is the person I am close to in my family. Three weeks ago she was operated on for breast cancer. The doctors said afterwards that they were concerned it went to her lymph nodes. We had to wait a week to find out. Her lymph nodes were clear but they had not gotten all the cancer. She was operated on again this morning. Her husband said that she was doing well in recovery. She should be home by now.

One thing I have found out is people want to tell you about their own experiences or of their Mother, friends, or sister. I don’t find it helpful to hear about other people’s experiences right now. I don’t want to be asked how she is doing. I will write about it.

Gloria kept our family together since my mother was killed at 11 a.m. in the morning when a 19-year old fell asleep at the wheel of his family’s business van. The day was sunny and the road straight. My parents had picked the safest route from my brother’s house in South Carolina to where they had moved in North Carolina.
I still miss my mother. I hope to have my sister for a while longer.

Norman Cain
Baseball, My Father and Action Speaks Louder than Words

My father was a quiet reserved man who never missed a days work. Before we awoke in the morning he would be at his job. He was a custodian at 30th Street Station. He would return in the evening, eat and immediately go to bed. While there was definitely love between us there was little interaction.

Sometimes actions speak louder than words. There were two small events that occurred between myself and my father that I will forever contain within my mind.

The first event occurred when I was around twelve. My father came home with two baseball gloves and took me to a nearby lot where we engaged in an extended lively game of catch. I never knew my father could play baseball. He was good. Each time the ball thudded against our glove it echoed love.

The second action between my father and I that spoke louder than words also had to do with baseball. This event took place when I was around 14 years old. One day we were both practicing with our respective teams at Belmont Plateau in Fairmont Park. I was with a youth baseball team and he played for a Penna Railroad  Team.

We did not know that our practices were at the same time. When we noticed each other we left our teams, walked towards one another and shook hands without uttering a word. Two events involving baseball between us spoke a multitude of words.

So actions do speak louder than words, especially when love is involved.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gogo (The Best Thing I Have Learned in My Life)

Once in a while don't you just feel like a big, bold, life-affirming 
story that sweeps you off your feet?

It would be cool if the tens and thousands of you reading could
 squeeze shoulder to shoulder around our physical table to hear our
 seniors tell their stories every week, but that's not half as cool as 
the fact that we are virtually doing that here. This blog is the most
 massive and inclusive table ever, where there is always room for one 

And so, with us all huddled together, I present to you this story by Gogo. It's one of those stories that I feel can touch us all and unite
 us as humans no matter how different our day-to-day lives are.

out loud. Living life to the absolute fullest. Yup, that's our Gogo.
 You feel it, right? The massive good vibes that she is spreading all 
around our table?

Gogo Jenny Williams
The Best Thing I Have Learned in My Life

It took many years and it seemed that I kept butting my head against hardened walls. I learned that you can begin again; you can forgive, turn around, pick up the pieces, and learn from your mistakes.

Bad decisions – I’ve made a few. Missed opportunities – yes, I’ve missed a few. Trusted the untrustworthy – yes I did. Experiencing encounters the 3rd and 4th kind made me a better human being – the so-called failures became stepping stones to my success, the backbone that enabled me to stand up and face life, not hide in a corner when it seemed that my world crumbled.

What a chain breaker. What a feeling of empowerment.

The process may be quite fragile. It might be missing people and components that were so very important to your life. But if you are still breathing, you can begin again.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

For Our Children

I’d love to dedicate this blog post to all our children – whether grown, young, newly born or those yet to be born ;)

Our seniors and my amazing team of volunteers recently surprised me with a collection of letters for my newborn son Kian. These words, lovingly handwritten and then lovingly typed, made me smile bigger and bigger, and then Norman’s letter, which I happened to read last, filled my eyes with happy tears:

“As you become older, you will hear stories about us from your mother. You will read our stories and see our pictures and videos on the internet.”

How awesome is it that my grandma inspired me to start this project to connect generations a few years ago, and suddenly this project, and the amazing community it has formed, and the evergrowing story collection that this community has built, has a superhuman (and yet so very, very human) power to help me start meaningful conversations with my own son?

For my fellow parents, I hope there is something in these letters that speaks to your children as well, and I hope that one day, your children
will cross paths with mine as they “read our seniors’ stories and see their pictures and videos on the internet”.

Thank you, seniors and team - I can’t wait to read all your letters and all your stories to Kian. I know he will treasure them forever.

Norman Cain
Dear Kian

Storytelling is one of the world’s oldest traditions and our group, The Best Day of My Life So Far writing and storytelling group (having been a part of your story) has agreed to dedicate this session 9/12/13 to honor your recent birth with words to welcome you to the world. We are members of your spiritual family and our written words to you will remain forever. As you become older, you will hear stories about us from your mother. You will read our stories and see our pictures and videos on the internet.

You will know us like we know your mother and father. We are a spiritual family. Good luck. We love you. Welcome to the world and you are welcomed as a member to The Best Day of My Life storytelling and writing group.

Yours truly,

Maureen Roche, Volunteer

Dear Kian,

You have made your way into the great, big world. For many months, your parents, family, family friends, and lots of other people have awaited your arrival with great anticipation! The joy you bring is limitless and eternal. There are small miracles and big miracles that will come into your life all the time, if you keep your eyes open.

I want to share with you a recent, small miracle that happened just before you were brought into the world. This story begins 20 years ago, when I was 15 years old. I had a not-so-secret wish for a grey kitten with green eyes for my 16th birthday. I kept telling my mother and father in the hopes that they would bring me one. My boyfriend at the time surprised me for my birthday with a tiny black kitten with yellow eyes - the only kitten in the shelter. I loved her just the same.

20 years later, only a few days before your birth, my husband found a small kitten wandering in the road, sick and delirious from lack of nutrition. His eyes were closed from conjunctivitis. We didn’t know what to do. We were passing through a rural area on a Sunday evening on our way home. There was no one to call. We could not leave him to die. We took in the little kitten and named him Frankie, after Pope Francis and Saint Francis (both of whom love animals). He weighed 2 pounds. We fed him, bathed him, gave him medicine twice a day, and finally he opened his tiny, green eyes. When the dust and grime was washed away, we saw he was all grey, just like the cat I had dreamed of years ago.

A small miracle like you, Frankie, will be loved by his new family and friends. Know that you are special and uniquely worthy of love, respect and kindness. Share your love and your many gifts with those around you, and never forget that you too are a small miracle.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Meet Kian

Hi Readers - meet the brand new (and I mean brand new) member of the Best Day family...

I am happy to share that my beautiful son Kian Cooper was born last week! The birth went awesome, and the whole family is doing well! As I learn to be a mom ;) and keep a low profile here on the blog for the next weeks, my team will continue to work hard to keep up our weekly senior storytelling sessions, and to bring you stories through all our other platforms, so please be sure to stay connected with us through any (and preferably all!) of the following:

Besides delivering free, inspirational stories and tips you won’t find anywhere else, FB, Twitter, and our Story Letter is where we will reveal 2 exciting things our team is busy making for you:
(1) A keepsake storybook that will inspire you and loved ones of all ages
(2) A facilitator training guide that will allow anyone to start a Best Day senior storytelling group anywhere

Besides working on all of this, my team tells me that there's “STUFF” in the works that even I don't know about! Stay connected with us for a surprise from our seniors. Personally, I love surprises so I am stoked!

You can always still drop me a note on FB btw – I am available there to chat. OK, gotta go check on lil Kian now! I’ll be back, right here, with all you guys, super soon!!

Thanks for all your love and support, Benita

Saturday, August 24, 2013

How It Feels to Be Here

I realized something when I was talking with Lea the other day. The fabulous Lea as you know from recent blog posts co-facilitates our weekly storytelling sessions with me now and will serve as the lead facilitator once my baby arrives :) She is also my co-author for Best Day’s long awaited Facilitator Training Guide*. We were talking about what goes through my head when I am with our senior buds in class and when I write you all on this blog right here.

I realized that being at the class and vs. here at the blog stretches my emotions to opposite extremes. When I am facilitating and hanging with my buds, I feel pumped and on fire; when I am here blogging and reflecting, I feel calm and at peace. And the million of emotions between fire and peace, those I get to tap into when I look into different seniors’ stories – there’s always a story for every mood that I need.

I got thinking… there’s living by going through the motions, and then there’s being truly alive by being able to feel human. And that’s not just one feeling but a million mixed emotions. As the original facilitator and blogger for Best Day, I get to experience the full spectrum of that. I can’t tell you how lucky and grateful it feels to be “here” with you at Best Day in all its physical and digital forms.

* The Best Day team is currently selecting individuals and venues to receive advance copies of our Facilitator Training Guide, so you too can start a group in your neighborhood, and experience firsthand how wonderful it feels to be a facilitator and blogger. I am living proof – not only will you change seniors’ and younger listeners’ lives, your life will dramatically improve too. Email us at info@bestdayofmylifesofar.org or Facebook message us to find out more!

Norman Cain
The Best Day Of My Life So Far Website

This week I spent some time looking at the Best Day of My Life (So Far) website and was surprised to learn that I have been attending the class for 2 ¼ years. Time really flies. Everyone in the group was represented with pictures…individual and groups…in the videos…and, of course, with true life stories. The Best Day Of My Life (So Far) website is a beautiful and spiritual creation that represents the love of our group and it will be in the technological sphere forever.

Henrietta Faust
Thank You to the www

I must say thank you to the
www, for being a way that I can
Use to heal myself, a way that I
Can meditate, a place I can turn to,
A way to be human.
I say thank you www because I
Can go back to each frozen
Place-in-my-past, and with
God’s help, unfreeze each trauma
Each trauma that I could not
Deal with in the moment, because
I was busy surviving – I was too busy
Keeping a job in a world that said “No”.
The World Wide Web said, “Yes to all,” and “If you
Have it, bring it”. For that I
Thank the www. You who level all
Playing fields. With you the fear factor
Is gone. Thank you www for access to
Information. Are you reading me?
Then blog me back. Now healing starts

Loretta Gaither
Our Website

I enjoyed seeing our class’ website last week.  My stories were read out loud. It made me feel good because other people could hear about my thoughts through my writing.  I liked seeing all of our photos on “Facebook” because they help me remember the good times in class.  It was nice to see our happy faces including our deceased classmate, Arthur Murray.  It reminded me of all the things we have done together in this class.

Valerie Dolphin
A Guest’s Impression of the Writing Group

When I enter a room and every one applauds, I like it. I assume everyone does.  So my first impression of the writers group is one of acceptance and joy. A community of self assured writers. Though there is little sophistication here, there is plenty of raw joy.  Each person knows the other, and celebrates who they are. They know each other through the stories they write, the stories they have listened to. There are no rules here. One doesn’t even have to write, but nearly everyone does….who doesn’t want the applause…and more than the applause, who doesn’t want their story heard.  This is community. Wonderful, wonderful community. A place where all are known, all are celebrated.

Beatrice Newkirk
Our Special Class

Our special class is our writing class. We have so many things to be thankful for: just being able to be here, waking up this morning, being able to come to this class again. I can’t wait to hear our members’ stories. We have so much fun. Everyone is special.  We love getting together here and hearing every one’s story.  I can’t wait until next Thursday at one o’clock.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Norman (The Truce)

Today in class, we took a vote among ourselves, and decided to chill out and play hooky from our usual writing-and-reading routine.  And just talk. Free style. We started talking about junior high best friends, then about all of us girls (Hattie, Brenda, Joan, me) who grew up as semi-tomboys and ended up hanging with the boys, and then about girls and boys in general, and special friends in our lives in general. It was really nice. The weather outside was sunny but breezy, and so was our conversation. 

When I got back home to my laptop, and browsed through our seniors’ recent stories to see what to post today, I couldn’t help myself. An easy, breezy preteen story of course! Bow ribbons and stick balls may sound vintage, but I’m placing a bet right here and now that Norman’s story about how preteen boys and girls act towards each other will never go out of style!

Norman Cain
The Truce

During the adolescent stages of my life, the boys and girls in my neighborhood led separate lives.

The girls had their plaids, bow ribbons, ankle length dresses, and patent leather shoes while the boys had short hair cuts, dungarees, chip tooth, black eyes, and well worn brogan shoes.

The girls had their jacks, hop scotch, jumpy ropes, hand clapping games, and passion for dressy paper dolls while boys had marbles, yo-yo’s, stick balls, Wayans and well hidden wrenches that were used to turn on the fire hydrant as quickly as the police could turn them off.

The adolescent boys and girls simply led different lives. They avoided one another like a deadly plaque and encounters would often bring forth an overly emphasized “ugggh.”

There, however, were periods when co-existence was tolerated creating snowmen and taking to the streets with sleds; birthday parties consisting of games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, musical chairs, “and would you believe it” spin the bottle were times for unity between the boys and the girls.

When there was a neighborhood outing chaperoned by older kids or adults there was no problems between the boys and girls. We knew better then to act out on ferry rides to Camden, New Jersey or trips to Citizen’s Bank to see the Phillies against the Dodgers.

Occasionally, we would call a truce and create a club. We would elect a President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary conducted meetings for two or three weeks, decide to have a luncheon that would consist of bologna and cheese sandwiches, kool aide, potato chips and cookies. Always after the party, the club would unofficially be discontinued with the option of continuing again at a later date.

We would then go back to our separate lives, a phenomenon that would continue until our pre-teens when we would discover each other and then for the rest of our lives our lives would no longer be separate.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Millie (A Closeness to Each Other)

Hope you all have been enjoying the summer! I love the heat and sun personally even with my now as-large-as-possible belly ;) Well, today we've got a treat for you more refreshing than ice cream! Millie is taking us to icy Alaska where she grew up.

June 20 was the first time Millie came to class, and I will never forget what she said, “This is the first time I am here, and I can tell I have landed in a very good place.”

She is now a dedicated member of our class, always one of the first to show up before each session, and always offering the warmest, most genuine greeting to every new senior and younger visitor who steps foot into our room.

And with that, two stories from Millie's childhood in icy Alaska to warm our hearts.

Millie Lilly
A Closeness to Each Other

When I was 12½ my family moved from S.C. to Fairbanks, Alaska. My older sister and my younger brother were part of an Air Force family that had seen some hard and violent times. In some ways, the move to such difficult weather conditions gave us siblings a new start. After a year in Fairbanks, we were transferred to a base an hour west where all the children were of Air Force parents. There was always a difference between students from the civilians and the Air Force children. The base was isolated with extreme cold, ice and snow and we felt a kinship and closeness to each other.

Millie Lilly
Alaska, How Cold Was It?

My brother, sister, and I delivered movie flyers to houses on the base.  Every week we delivered, we got one pass to the movie house that was open three days a week.  My sister and I also babysat for 50 cents an hour.

I had been in Alaska for a couple of winters and had learned how to dress in layers, being careful to make sure skin was covered as much as possible, tucking pants into two pair of sock, wrapping plenty of scarves around my neck.

Parka zipped tight with the fur-trimmed hood pulled over the wool hat, flyers tucked into my pocket, I left the house, a half a block later my eyelashes froze together.  I returned home, telling my brother how cold it was.  He said, “We don’t have to deliver when it is more than 20 degrees below”.  It was 42 degrees below.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lea’s Quartet: Beatrice, Hattie, Joe, Gogo

In the last blog post, Lea reflected on four stories that have personally impacted her. Here’s Lea’s story quartet that I hope you will find moving too. For me, rereading them with Lea’s insight casts a fresh glow on all these stories, beyond what I had realized before.

I love it when volunteers and readers tell me which stories have moved them over the years, because depending on what you are going through at that particular moment in time in your particular life, it’s always a different set of stories for everyone. And even within the same stories, the life lessons we each draw out are different. And so, in that way, each story is really embedded with a million life lessons, a million gifts – they transform into something totally unique and custom, just for you, just for me.

I remember a conversation I had with Madi, our teen outreach officer, about how to make stories relevant to teens. I asked her, who joined us when she was 15 and is now 18 and college bound, whether we should come up with a followup question for each story, and she said no. She told me Best Day stories are like art, the freedom of interpretation is part of what makes them special. That freedom is partly what attract teens to visit our seniors, read our blog, connect with us on social media, come to our events, and that freedom we hope will be what attracts teens to crack open in inspirational storybook for all ages that our volunteers – with Madi being one of the leads – are busy compiling behind the scenes.

And so, I invite you to savor the meaning that Lea has so beautifully drawn for us from these stories, while finding new meaning of your own!

Beatrice Newkirk
Living Life to the Fullest

Living life without pain.  We all feel some kind of pain.  We have to take it one day at a time.  Everyone has the time to do what is right.

We are all here for a reason.  Time waits for no one.  Everyday is a blessing.

When we complain, someone is worse than you.  So we take it one day at a time.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
4. 4.2013
A Day to Remember When I was Four

My mother was bathing me in the large tin tub on the kitchen table one Saturday night.  I must have been thinking about my civil rights….. the Emancipation and all that stuff….. I was named after my maternal grandmother “Hattie”, so they called me “Little Hattie”.  I wore these funny looking black patent leather high top shoes.

Well, this Saturday I had had it.  I told my mother “I don’t want to be called ‘Little Hattie’ and I am sick and tired of these high top shoes”.  

So, it was written… so it was done…. I was “Hattie” with the regular string up low shoes.

Joe Garrison
The Thing that I Miss

I was born and raised in Philadelphia and things have changed a lot, but the one thing I really miss is the trolley rides.  I had an uncle who used to take me all over the city on trolley rides. I would say I was between four and six, but when my uncle took me on the rides, I noticed little intricacies about the trolleys. I remember they were big, heavy, massive vehicles and when they passed they would vibrate the streets and sidewalk. I remember getting on the trolley, and there were two conductors at each end and when you paid they would ring a bell like a cash register. The seats used to be made of wood, like big wooden benches. Even when I was a teenager, I still had a fascination with trolleys. My friend and I would go on Route 23 and stay on for the whole route just to have something to do. I used to live near a trolley line, and I would feel the vibrations of the train and that’s how you know the trolley was coming. I get that same feeling in the subway or the elevated train, and it’s basically a glorified trolley.

Buses are okay, but they’re not the same. It’s basically a glorified, really big car. It’s not the same as the thrill of riding a trolley car. Throughout the years, the one thing I will miss about Philadelphia is the trolley.

Gogo Jenny Williams
My Best Days Are Now

I meet people daily who are overwhelmed with the complexities of life in the 21st century. People are rushing around like a colony of ants without the intent and purpose of ants. Ants know where they are going. What’s wrong with me? I sometimes wonder. Aha, that’s my predicament, wonderment, the excitement of the moment. Each day is a new day, when I wake up it does not yet appear where it will go.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Honoring Lea

True, I founded Best Day, but in the bigger scheme of things, it’s more like Best Day found me. This project reminds me every day how well it fits its name: the best day of MY life so far.

One of these living reminders is my volunteer team, and today I'd like to honor a special member of that group, Lea Peterson. If you’re a Facebook fan of ours, you have probably been seeing her in our class pictures. (If not, ahh! - let’s get connected HERE so you don’t miss out on more pics!) An avid runner and basketball player, she is the one who exudes athleticism and energy in person and pics – perfect match for the skyhigh energy of our seniors… and me!

This year, Lea will be completing her degree in Therapeutic Recreation at Temple University. As you read below, we met through a mass email of all "places". I noticed the spunk and confidence in her voice right away and took her under my wing.

Among many hats (including Tweeting – connect with us on Twitter too if you haven’t yet!), Lea co-facilitates my beloved senior class with me. Because I saw how thoroughly she “gets” Best Day’s spirit and methodology, I offered her one of the most important jobs I have ever offered anyone: co-authoring Best Day’s long awaited Facilitator Training Guide. Many of you have written in over the years, asking me to spill my “secrets” of how to start a Best Day group. The Training Guide is my answer, and I can’t be happier to be mentoring Lea and getting her spunk and confidence infused into my message to you.

And now, meet Lea, my friend, co-facilitator, co-author, and shining mentee. Check back soon – in the next blog post, we will feature four senior stories that has especially inspired Lea.

(Want to nominate your local senior center to receive an advance copy of our training guide? Email us at info@bestdayofmylifesofar.org or message us on Facebook!)

Lea Peterson

Being a part of The Best Day Of My Life So Far has been an honor, to say the least. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many great souls! The volunteers and seniors are truly some of the best people. I felt like a part of the family immediately.

Every week as I go to the Senior Center, do tasks behind the scenes, or tell someone about where I go each Thursday at 1pm, I think to myself, “I am so so so glad that I emailed a professional listserv in search of an internship – Benita personally replied to my mass-email, we spoke with on the phone (I still remember that first conversation!), and I got started doing my part for TBDOMLSF. I began with helping in the social media department’s Twitter account.

My role quickly grew to so much more. The first session I attended really hit home. Everything I was doing behind the scenes came full circle. I have definitely found something that is totally “me”. Since the first time I attended class on February 28, 2013, I have heard amazing stories. I would like to highlight 4 in particular.

Beatrice Newkirk’s stories are always heartfelt, mostly quick and to the point but say so much. She wrote one titled, “Living Life to the Fullest”. I remember this story because I was fairly new to class and this was the first story I heard that sent such a strong message. It was surprising to me that her story was so open and deep, I really just thought, “Wow, this is a great group. They really trust one another and feel comfortable being themselves.” After hearing her story, I wanted to bring everyone from my own generation to listen. Everyone needs to hear these stories.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe’s “A Day To Remember When I Was Four” sent laughs throughout the room. I recall her tone and voice while she was reading, watching her face as she ended the story. It was a priceless moment. Another short story, but it was very impressing that she remembered this day. I barely remember my first two years of high school, and I was 14 and 15 years old! Not 4! After class this day I left thinking, I cannot wait for next week to hear more stories about their younger years. To hear more about how they grew up in the city that I live in today is so eye-opening.

“The Thing That I Miss” by Joe Garrison was a favorite by the group that day. As he read about the trolley, I looked around the table and saw remembrance and recognition that took each senior back to the days of the trolley vibrations. It was like they all related about the Philadelphia trolley. At that moment, I was in love with the friendships they have formed from Best Day.

Gogo Jenny Williams’s “My Best Days Are Now” has been my favorite title so far. To me the impact this group has made in her life shines with this title. This story was an “aha” moment for me that Thursday. She wrote about ants and purpose, and how each day is a mystery. Before I came to class that day I had been eating outside on my stoop. I had dropped some crumbs and noticed a tiny ant grab the huge (in comparison) crumb! I thought how remarkable that they can carry so much weight – what a strong creature. It was coincidental that she wrote about ants that day. I related to her story very well.

As the substitute facilitator for Benita this fall while she is on maternity leave, I will have many more stories to hear and friendships to make. I was more than honored when she felt I would be a good fit to fill in for her with this original group of amazing seniors – which has become the inspiration and model for additional groups worldwide. Little did I know when I first began in January as a social media officer that this huge, exciting responsibility would offer itself to me.

In order for me to be prepared and comfortable as a facilitator, Benita has been sharing her secrets with me. I journaled, we talked, and she told me all about how her mind works and why she does or doesn't do certain things as a facilitator.

I was again honored when Benita asked me to take on a related role that both lead to and result from my own "facilitator training" – the making of our Training Guide book. Being a part of something so life-changing and now being able to put it into words on paper for others to read and implement is, again, something I could have never imagined happening when I sent that first mass-email.

To sum it all up, I can't wait for the seniors to teach me even more every week this fall. I cannot thank Benita and the seniors and other volunteers enough for my experiences so far and my experiences to come!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Thank You to My Favorite Party People

To my fave senior buds:

Just want to write a note to publicly thank you for your mad party skills!!! Last week, when I walked into the room, and saw the full room decorated with food, cake, party décor, cards, I couldn’t believe it. Last year, you surprised me with an amazing birthday party, and this year you surprised me with an amazing baby shower. You did it again – you totally got me! When my fellow "young seniors" Lea, Caitlin, Madi told me it really was all of you, not they, who initiated it and pulled it all off, I thought it was so awesome. They are as proud of you as I am. I can’t even explain how loved I feel.

There are so many things I want to thank you for.

The sweetest of the thought.

The genius of self-organizing secret after-class meetings to plan everything out and self-delegate tasks ;)

The sheer might of the physical labor you put into this – how did you carry that giant cake, all the beverages, the serving cart complete with cake-cutting supplies, cups, utensils, up the elevator, down the windy hallways, all the way to our classroom?!

Our class is all about stories, but yet so much more – the friendship that I have gained with each and all of you is what I am most grateful for. You are the ones who make every day the best day of my life so far. Our lives.

Love, Benita

Hazel Nurse
Best Days and Years

This class of unusually fine members has always been an inspiration for me.  In fact, I can now call it a journey because, if you remember, two years ago I announced the arrival of twins right here in this class.

After thinking it over, and looking back because the twins were two years old on June 2nd, you must be my wonderful writing and storytelling family.

The unforgettable experiences engineered by our gracious and talented leader, Benita, and a host of others, are just wheels for our train of good thoughts, such as her young co-facilitators and assistants Caitlin, Lea, Madi, Donnell, Dee, and Jill, and our faithful senior co-leader Beatrice.  We have a much appreciated way to express our thoughts. These are not only the “Best Days of Our Lives” but “The Best Years of Our Lives” too!!

Beatrice Newkirk
Every Thursday

Every Thursday is when we come together to our writing class. We meet every Thursday at 1 o’clock in our class. There is so much love and respect. I can’t wait to hear new stories. We even hear about our teacher, Benita, expecting a baby. That is good news! We in the class wish her all the luck.

My family was so happy to hear the news. She surprised us all. Being a mother is the greatest gift. A child that is part of man and wife. Oh what joy it will be.

Beatrice Newkirk
The Best Time of My Life So Far

I have so much to be thankful for. First for God letting me be here up to 79 years.  Second for letting me be a mother, grandmother, and a great grandmother.  Third for me having 12 kids and teaching them to know right from wrong.  You have to raise kids but let them know who is the boss.  Teach them what I taught them.  Raising kids is a full time job.

Whether you have one of three or 12.  It takes lots of patience and love.  But most of all discipline.  You can’t let the kids raise you.  You are supposed to love and help and show understanding.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Joe (Vera)

I am privileged to have heard thousands of senior stories in the my youngish years, each story exhilarating in its own way, but never before had my jaw dropped as wide open as it did when I heard Caitlin read this story out loud for Joe. Madi, who has grown up with us since she was 15 and visits every week every summer break, was sitting at the opposite side of the room and she looked like a mirror image of me. We just looked at each other and mouthed omg, omg through the entire story, unable to contain our happiness for Joe. Needless to say, the split second after Caitlin finished, the crowd went wild. At the end of class, when the transportation staff came to walk Joe to the van, Norman slipped out and said, "Hey, Congratulations!" I just happened to be at the classroom door and heard him. All of it, the speechless, wild, classy cheers, are the soundtracks that I will keep alongside this better-than-Hollywood story.

Joe Garrison

It’s been a long time, it seems like it’s been a while since I wrote about how lonely and depressed I’ve been five years ago.  But for six months, I’ve been secretly romancing a young lady by the name of Vera.  A friend of mine introduced her to me, and I’m glad she did.  She was looking for someone to take care of her.  She’s really serious about wanting to be someone’s wife.  And, I’m all for that, we both have the same goal.  We’re hoping to get married by early next year, and we really just enjoy being with each other.

She’s made me realize that a person can still be happy no matter how much they’ve been through, and I really believe that regardless of a person’s age, love can still happen.  I feel as if I’m proving that today.  I feel like I’m on top of the world with Vera.  I’ll never forget about Deborah.  It took me a while to heal from her death but recently I realized that Deborah was, and Vera is.  I don’t make any comparisons.  They’re two completely different people.  Deborah was yesterday, and Vera is today, and I think Deborah would want me to be happy with her.  She fills the void in my life, and she looks out for my best interests, and she’s a very loving and affectionate person.  That’s what I’ve needed for a long time.  It’s great to feel as if you really have something to look forward to, even in everyday life, to have someone that fills the empty spaces.

Deborah, I hope you’re having a great time up there, and I hope you’ve found someone who makes you feel as wonderful as I did with you.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Brenda (Po People's Fun)

Sometimes, when the weather is gorgeous out, you just gotta have a little story like this to make your day even better. Love of life, love of people. Who knew such massive things can radiate from two little paragraphs?

Well, it’s time for me to get up from this laptop and take a walk (incidentally I AM heading over to the senior center to see my senior buds for this week’s class now!)… to see what fun things I spot along the way. You know it - I will be imagining Brenda by my side, saying “Look! Look!”

Brenda Scantlebury
Po People’s Fun

Years ago and even today, folks whose income level is not the best, they look for ways to have fun or entertain themselves. Now that the weather has changed leaning from warm to hot, they're outdoors more. I was passing through a neighborhood in the greater northeast of Philadelphia, I saw people gathered in a cul-de-sac drinking beer and having fun. Another area I saw people playing cards, checkers and dominoes. Some neighbors were engrossed in conversation talking about sports and politics.

Last week, Thursday, as I was at my granddaughter's prom sendoff, when I stood on the porch I saw a large multitude of people cheering. They roared with praise, ooh'ed and ahh'ed when both my granddaughter and grandson made their grand exit to go to the prom. I was so excited! They each had their own exit song. The music proceeded them leaving and continued until midnight as we danced, laughed, cheered and had fun! The event turned into a big party!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Norman (My Vacation to Georgia and Mississippi)

Last month, Norman "played hooky" from class to see his family in Mississippi and Georgia. First vacay in eight years, can you imagine? I love it when our seniors play hooky for good reasons BTW!!

I don't know what's sweeter - the anticipation he showed in the story he wrote before he went, the contentment he showed in the story he wrote when he got back, the loud "Welcome back!!!!" cheers he got from the group, or this precious "family picture" of Norman surrounded by pictures of his daughter, granddaughter, niece and her fiancé, and great niece…

Or, this story that Mo wrote in honor of Norman, in his absence ;)

Mo McCooper
Thank you for Norman
Thanks for inviting Norman into our class.

After he became a regular member, he told me that (prior to joining) he had been so irritated by the attitude and behavior of the young people in Philadelphia that when he saw a few of them entering our room among the seniors, he lost his curiosity about our group.
Norman was using the computer in a nearby room, when a friend convinced him to try one class and when he did, Norman not only enjoyed the stories and good humor of the seniors, but was happily surprised by the courtesy and talents of the students and other young visitors coming to our writing class.
Norman and I have become good friends, and enjoy many conversations, mostly about various opponents and teammates over the years in the local basketball world. Thanks partially to the enthusiasm and added perspective of the younger folks, we also discuss some history and cultural influences.

(Click Here to read more about Norman’s self confessed pre-judgment of young people prior to joining our group.)

Norman Cain
My Trip to Mississippi

I will be absent for the next two sessions of The Best Day of My Life (so far) because I will be going to a suburb of Jackson, Mississippi for two weeks to see my daughter and her family (especially a four year old granddaughter named Genesis that I have not physically seen). I’m looking forward to the trip which will start on Monday, May 13th and extend to May 24th.  I will be going by bus.  The trip will take approximately 30 hours…which I do not mind because I love to see various parts of the country.  If I can arrange it, I will also visit Atlanta to see my sister.  I’m looking forward to seeing my family as well as the barbecue that will be in abundance.  I will miss the two sessions and the guys, but will return with a story of what happened during my vacation. 

Norman Cain
My Vacation to Georgia and Mississippi

Between May 13 and May 29, 2013, I was blessed with an over-due vacation. It was my first extended trip in eight years.

I was fortunate enough to visit relatives in Jackson, Mississippi and Atlanta, Georgia respectively. I was able to feel the intensity of spirituality, taste succulent barbecue, hear the songs of the early morning birds, and see the marvelous wonders of nature…its trees, rivers, flowers.

The first leg of my journey was in Brandon, Mississippi, a suburb of Jackson where I was reunited with my daughter, her husband, and her two-year-old child that I saw for the first time.

My daughter’s mother and two sisters as well as a niece from their clan also live in the vicinity. They all made me welcome and I was especially happy to have the opportunity to spend the days with Margaret, the matriarch of the family. We had not been a couple in 36 years but have remained friends. She had been sick for several years and our reunion was dually therapeutic.

While in Mississippi I attended two church services. The first was at a Mormon Church that was hosting a Gospel Concert. The choir count was 100 strong and overwhelmingly Caucasian, but surprisingly echoed a top echelon Afro-American ensemble. It was directed by none other than Gladys Knight. Yes, she is a devout Mormon. She did sing one solo so that we could hear her beautiful voice, however the emphasis was placed on her astounding choir. She leaded well and her oratorical skills matched her singing skills.

The second visit to a church – which was Baptist and my daughter’s home church – was small, had a great yesteryear choir, old-fashioned preaching, and featured prayers that honored its graduates from kindergarten through college. It was a heartwarming experience for me.

On the 27th of May, I arrived in Atlanta, Georgia with my sister. There I was reunited with her daughter, grandmother, great-granddaughters, and grandson. My sister showed me the house where many of Tyler Perry’s productions were filmed. She would point out the people that she knows personally that appeared in them. Tyler Perry believes in using locals in his productions.

In summation, I can say that I was disappointed that the news straight through highways prevented me from seeing the scenic country and small towns that were a given phenomena years ago. But that is progress.

And progress has changed the complexities of its cities from Norman Rockwell quaint to microcosms of New York, miniature skyscrapers stretched into the sky. Also it seemed that the farms have increasingly been replaced by the likes of McDonalds, Rite Aide, and Family Dollar.

It was a good trip, one that I’m looking forward to repeating soon.