Tuesday, March 26, 2013

NRHC: Welcome to Philadelphia!

Looks like our seniors aren't the only ones ready for a good time!

Next week is a big one for us, and we’re getting excited!

Our seniors will be the featured guests and keynote speakers at a major regional intergenerational conference: The 2013 Northeast Regional Honors Council (NRHC) Conference, co-hosted by La Salle University and held at the Society Hill Sheraton Hotel.

Over 400 students, faculty, administrators from different colleges and cities will be gathering in our City of Brotherly Love for the weekend. For the conference’s tradmark event on Friday, “City as Text,” attendees will be listening to our seniors' personal stories about Philadelphia’s past and present, while sharing their research on the city. Conference details can be found Here.

A big thank you to Rich, Pres, and everyone at La Salle, and Lori and the entire NRHC Executive Board, for inviting our seniors to participate in an event that means so much to your university and organization.

And a big welcome to all the honor students, faculty, administrators, who are on your way here!!! I think a few stories about Philadelphia are in order, don’t you? See you soon! Our seniors are REALLY looking forward to meeting you guys!

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
Patton Street Village   
As a young married couple, my husband and I moved to the 1900 block of North Patton Street.  We were among the first to integrate this block and were not very welcomed by our “other” neighbors.

It was October 1956 and we were in our early to mid twenties and had one three year old daughter, Karen.

As the years went by more young families had moved in and by the mid 1960s, we were all of “the darker persuasion”.  There were many, many children and everyone seemed happy and interested in each other’s welfare.

Our children played together and went to school and in some cases went to church together.

Parents didn’t just take their children on trips.  They would ask permission and take some of the neighbor’s children with them.
It wasn’t unusual for us to count an extra head or two at the dinner table because the children knew they were welcomed.  We even had the responsibility of taking neighbors’ children to and from school.

Now, we have at least four generations of children on our block and they have renamed our street “Patton Street Village”.

Our street is just one block long but the surrounding blocks love to participate in all the activities that we have.

I am so proud of Patton Street Village.

Mo McCooper   
The Strip

The area with 52nd St and Market St in the middle was known as the Strip. It had 5 movie theaters and the Horn and Hardart automatic restaurant. When you put in nickels, dimes, and quarters in the slots you could reach behind windows for bowls of incredibly delicious baked beans, home fried potatoes, macaroni and cheese, apple pie pumpkin pie and lemon meringue pie. Also ice cream and hot chocolate.

On Friday and Saturday nights there would be double features of older movies which didn’t play in the suburbs. This was before most people had television so it was worth taking the train to a station at 52nd St and Lancaster Avenue, walk down about 100 or 200 steps to the street and switch to the 52 trolley car to get to Market St. To us it was like going to Las Vegas today, but in 9th grade.

Joan Bunting
Growing Up on Opal Street

From the age of eight years old to the age of seventeen, I lived in a small street called Opal Street.  It’s spelled Opal as in the gem but it was always pronounced O-pal Street.

In the summer during vacation lots of children from surrounding neighborhoods would come to Opal Street to play.  During the morning through early afternoon we played wallball, three flies, step baseball, play fish, knuckles, jacks, marbles, deadman block, cowboys and Indians, double dutch, and we made our own scooters or the original skateboards.  We’d get a wooden crate, some old rollerskates, a hammer and nails and get to work. 

Every afternoon everyone would disappear and show up again around five or six o’clock after we’d taken a bath and had eaten our dinner.
Then the circle games would begin.  We played Down By the Green Apple Tree and Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar.

Sometimes the waterplug would be turned on as late as twelve and one o’clock at night.  The adults would be sitting on the steps watching the young people play.

We call or consider those the good old days, but today are good days as well.
I thank God for those wonderful times and wonderful memories.  Also thank God that He has kept us with these never forgotten memories.

Norman Cain
A Happy Baby Boomer

“I am glad that I was born when I was born.  I am glad that I was raised where I was raised.”

These were the sincere words of May Ann Holiday, my next door neighbor, classmate, and play sister.

Her testament (as baby boomer) echoed my sentiments exactly.  We were raised during a period where a surreal cohesiveness actually existed in the nation in a neighborhood where its occupants (Mary Ann and I resided) were poor but happier than fold with money today.

We made our toys; we were imaginative in our play activity; we created clubs; we told jokes, asked riddles, and recited bouncy chants.

And there was much more that we did… my mind, lately, has been focused on the group of guys that I associated with and the institutes that keep us busy.

Our major path was 43rd street in West Philadelphia, between Lancaster Ave (a vast business area) and Haverford Ave (Where Drexel University had a huge field).

There were three movies on Lancaster Avenue, my church was a block south on Aspen Street, and there was a YMCA a half block away… then there was a pharmacy on Fairmount Avenue where you could get floats and ice cream sodas mixed up by white coat soda jerks.

A block away – on the borders of Haverford Avenue, there was Saint Ingatius Catholic Church where we played softball, attended bingo games, dances, and skating parties.

We would sneak over the Drexel University football stadium wall on Haverford on Sundays and would have 22 guys pound each almost to death… in a good way.

So like Mary Ann, I am happy that I was born a baby-boomer and I am happy I was raised in the Mill Creek section of West Philly.

Aileen Jefferson
A New Perception of the Earth / Philadelphia

Is this the same green tree I saw yesterday when I went to bed? Is this the same blue sky I saw when I closed my eyes? Is this the same azure expanse that said goodnight to me? It can’t be the same moonshine that resided in the atmosphere, but as I gaze at my surroundings I believe it is. 

Oh happiness! I am in Philadelphia but it is a new Philly. I hear new bird song. I’m listening to a wealth of new sounds or vibrations. A feeling of excitement; where am I? A new abode, new sensations with the same charming harmony. My own peaceful sanctuary achieved by my own wit and industry.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

John (How I Met Carmella)

Could be Bruno Mars crooning “Just the Way You Are” on my computer right now, or the nice morning walk I had with my husband this morning, somehow I just have a great urge to post a small reminder of love and life today.

We call them the happy couple. Carmella walks John to class.  Depending on the mood of the day, sometimes our volunteers or visitors write for John as Carmella writes her own stories, sometimes Carmella writes for him. I am sure John can sense it even though he can’t see – Carmella is all smiles every time she is by his side. Carmella and John have been coming to class ever since the beginning of the year.

Love shared by the group, love between best friends, love between ongoing members and new visitors, love between siblings, love between mother and daughter, love between young and old, and now the love between our happy couple – mix that altogether real good and that, and more, is the amount of love that we feel at our table every single week.

To borrow a few words from Bruno Mars... and I know this sounds cheesy but I mean it… When our seniors smile, the whole world stops and stares for a while. They’re amazing just the way they are.

John Martino
How I Met Carmella

Believe it or not, I met Carmella at a senior center in August 1979.  That’s 33 years ago.  Her mother and my father belong to that center.  At that time, they had dancing on Monday nights.  Her mother went up to my father and asked him if I was going out with anyone, I wasn’t at that time.  Her mother arranged with me to meet her daughter at the center for another dance.  It was casual so I didn’t have to dress up, I wasn’t too nervous but I think she was; she told me that later. 

She and her mother arrived before my father and I did.  As we were walking in, her mother told me to sit with her and her daughter at their table.  After the dance, Carmella and I dated for a year and three months.  Then we got engaged.  Two months after that, we got married. I was 37.  It’s a nice memory thinking back about all of that.  I can’t believe all these years have passed since.  We have a lot of fun together still and 33 years later, here we still are – at the senior center!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Gloria, Gogo, Norman, Beatrice (A Group Like Ours)

I feel like one of the loveliest parts of this project is that at every given moment in time, it is both larger than life and can be 
tucked right inside each of our hearts.

Pen. Paper. 1 hour a week. 1 table. And suddenly something big and
 beautiful started growing, and the bigger it gets, the more precious it becomes.

This is a big year for Best Day, as we gear up towards our national
 expansion. Our seniors and regular younger attendees have been writing braver stories than ever before: What advice can we give to others around the country who want to start a group like ours?

And to me, these stories are in some ways the most precious. The most tuckable. Words we can keep with us in our hearts and backpockets forever and forever.


For more Best Day advice and “secrets” email us at info@bestdayofmylifesofar.org to tell us what you'd like to know! Your questions will be instrumental in helping us create our first ever Training Guide, so you too can use storytelling to connect with others in your life. To get up to date progress on our guide, check out Facebook and Twitter.


Gloria Washington, Regular Attendee
And Daughter of Aileen Washington, Senior
Our Advice to Others

Everyone has a voice and every voice is equally important in our circle.

What kind of person does it take to facilitate a group like this…
(MOST IMPORTANT) They can’t be a pedophile and didactic.
They can’t assume they are smarter or better than the group.
They must make no assumptions because of race, speaking style, or outward appearances.
They must not try to lead, only gently guide.  Senior citizens are very independent (often) and opinionated.  Do no treat them like pets or children, or the class will revolt.
Often the participants are savvier in way than the facilitator.  MUST BE a Democratic collaborative process!!

Gogo Jenny Williams
Our Advice to Others

Anyone can sit around a table and tell stories. But our group is about more than just stories. There is a real interest in the people in the class. There’s a feeling of partnering among the group. You feel that you matter. There’s such excitement in sharing with the group. We’re in the same page in coming together.

Initially, I was a little unsure of what to expect, because I’m new here at the center. My best friend introduced me to the class. I fit right in.

We’re nudged to stay focused. So there is structure.

We encourage each other. I’m encouraged to write after I leave the structure of this setting.

It takes a special person to be able to lead a group like this. A person inspired to use their God given talent to meet the challenges of a diverse group of people. The ability to listen, the art of making each person a part of the group.

There’s a change in me. Now I’m waking up from a deep sleep called procrastination.

I’ve told my family they are quite pleased that I’m online. My stories are getting read.

Norman Cain
Our Advice to Others

Our group is a meeting of the minds. It gives participants a vehicle that reveres storytelling – a given – that has been with us since the beginning of time. Hearing stories from around the world. I look forward to that. When I first came to the group, I was nervous. The feeling faded rapidly because the group was sincere and personal. During our hour of class we chat for 10 minutes, write for 15 minutes and begin to read. Sometimes conversations about various subjects ensue. At the end of class we take pictures and shoot videos.

Our program differs from other senior programs because it’s a democracy. While the final voice is that of Benita, there is no hierarchy. Anyone facilitating such a group needs the following qualifications:
    •    People person
    •    Organization
    •    Adept in Public Relations
    •    Dedication
    •    A facilitator must mediate projects, both long and immediate goals, and be prepared to meet continually possible funding.

This program has helped me tremendously. It is the first organization that I have been a part of in over 50 years. Even loners need talk that they can feel comfortable around. I now look forward to being around this group of people. The fact that our stories are being told world-wide via the web site makes me feel great because it is a way of dispelling myths across cultures and people whose age range varies.

Beatrice Newkirk
Our Advice for Others

We are special because we are like a family. We are made up of different people. We feel close to each other. We learn from others.

Coming back every week is a blessing. Being away, we can’t wait until the next time.

I feel comfortable when I hear from other members. And I can’t wait to see new people and hear their stories.

We care and respect everyone. Everyone is welcome to our class.

The kind of person having a class like our writing class has to have experience and has to have been through something. That is our teacher Benita.

My daughter and family get a kick out of our class. They see our stories on the internet and sometimes it relates to them.

Our class is special because we are like a family.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Joan (The Most Beautiful Sights I've Ever Seen)

Last week, after “the announcement”, after the screaming and crying for joy, after Hattie said (direct quote) “Help me up on to the table... I need to dance!!” after we took our sweet time to go crazy, we calmed down and our senior buds resumed their usual routine of writing quietly and reading their stories out loud, one by one.  This probably doesn’t come as a surprise – there were quite a few pregnancy and childbirth memories shared around the table ;)

After reading, after the “calming down”, we needless to say went a little crazy again, telling even more baby stories off the top of our heads. After reading the truly beautiful story below, Joan started telling a whole other story altogether. Back in the day there was no way to google pregnancy symptoms, so Joan had no idea what she was experiencing… thought she had a hangover until her mom told her!

As I write this, I see our seniors helping each other up on to the table, dancing between super silly and super sentimental. Can’t you see it too? Don’t you love it too?

Joan Bunting
The most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen

I have six children, two boys and four girls.  Henry 55 years old, Harold 53, Rose 49, Joanne 48 Joyce 46 and Teresa 45.

The most beautiful sight is when each of my little bundles of joy were first placed in my arms.  The next beautiful sight was when they smiled at me for the very first time.  The next time is when they called me Mommy, their first steps, and their very first attempt to put a sentence together.

Now they’re all grown up and have their own families.

I love my children very much and am very proud of each and every one of them.

They look after me now.  I’m not saying I see them every day, but they do call to check up on me to see if everything is all right. My daughters make sure I’m not in need of anything.

I still reminisce about how it felt the first time they were placed in my arms.

At another time, I’ll tell you about my grandchildren and my ever growing great grands.

God has blessed me in abundance.