Monday, April 29, 2013

Philadelphia Born and Raised

As you all know, Philly has been on our seniors’ minds this month, as inspired by conversations with visiting college students from different cities. Check out photos of our lunch and writing workshop and our formal presentation on Facebook!

Not only did our seniors have a blast telling spontaneous stories about Philly to a conference hall full of young listeners, their memories continued to flow during the weeks to follow –

… about the streets they used to run up and down... “laughing as we attempted to reach our goal near the end, with the sun shining down on our legs”

… about the trolleys they used to ride... “and when you paid the conducters would ring a bell like a cash register”

… about the neighbors they used to know... “we were just like extended family members, we cared”

Can't you all see it? Can't you hear it? Smell it, even? Not just Philadelphia I mean. I mean pieces of our seniors’ childhoods – the everyday pieces that matter – can't you just feel it all coming back to life?

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.

Norman Cain
My Philadelphia

My father was a traveling man and I inherited his love for the road from him. Because I was able to be surrounded by nature’s oceans, country, cities and the jungles of Panama, I know that Philadelphia was just another place on the map of the world . . . or so I thought. I promised myself when I was very young that I would not let my last sunset catch me there . . . or so I thought.

My father worked for the Panama Railroad, therefore he was able to receive free train tickets to major railway hubs like New York or Washington and discount rates to places like New Haven and Richmond. Consequently, my family often took excursions to the forenamed citied on the weekends. Also my sister and I would spend the last week of September on my grandparent’s tobacco and cotton farms in Florence County, SC.

Beginning my junior year in high-school, I worked for three summers at the Joseph and Betty Harlam Camp (a reform Jewish venue) in Kunkletown, PA – the Pocono Mountains.  Between 1961 and 1965 I was a student at Bluefield State College in Bluefield, West Virginia. I was in Philadelphia between September 1964 and July 1965. Thus I was drafted in the Army and served as a Military Policeman and member of my battalion’s basketball team.

I returned to the US in July of 1965. When July of 1966 arrived, it was a special occasion, actually the first time in 25 years that I spent a full year in Philadelphia. It was an adventure to explore the city of my birth but after a while I longed for the road. Therefore, throughout the years I spent three years in Atlanta and seventeen years in Ocean City, MD. My mind was made up to not spend the rest of my life in Philadelphia.

But I’m still here. What does that tell me?

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
The Tenderloin

There has been quite a change in communities over the past years (1938 – Present)

I grew up in what was called “The Tenderloin.” This area was also called just plain 8th and Vine. We had schools, nursery school (The Deaconess Home), churches, hospitals, markets, clothing stores…everything…you name it.

The neighbors were just like extended family members. We looked out for each other. We cared.

Today you may not know your next door neighbor and don’t even care to meet them.

But I still love my hometown. 

Hazel Nurse
Where I Belong

Is there any section of the city where I feel most at home or belong?

Only fifty or more years ago, yes, yes, my family and I entered West Philadelphia!

Really, we were located about five blocks from the library, a couple of blocks from the Bryant School and guess what?? SEPTA was a mere half block away!!

Do I have any choice? Of course not!

To add frosting to the cake, we were block busters, having been the fifth Black family out of forty different homes to move here. Nothing new to me, as a former Civil Rights college advocate. At the present Rowan University, formerly Glassboro Teachers’, we were segregated as freshman dorms, but integrated as seniors.

A poster discovered by the Dean saying “Colored Floor – No Whites Allowed” was the catalyst.

Vernelle Lyles

This is my first day to be involved in a class that has given me permission to write an assignment about my life. At this point, my mind wanders back to yesterday – the yesterdays when I was funny and energetic. I recall the days I played with my sister and friends in a small street in North Philadelphia. We loved to run up and down the narrow street, laughing as we attempted to reach our goals near the end of the area. I can recall the sun shining down on us as our legs made moments of happiness, taking us to our playful destinations. At some point our family urged us to enter our home and the family affairs that kept us close to each other. I recall lingering over my dinner so I could delay becoming engrossed in homework which was one of the most important events of the evening. My mother and grandfather gave my sister and I attention as we struggled with our multiplication tables and finally placed our eyes on reading our elementary literature.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hazel (Power) - A Dedication to Boston

Every so often, moments come by to sweep us off our feet to remind us of the magnitude of life. Last week was one of those moments, stretched out over the course of a week in Boston, the city I called home for 4 years. Through tragedy, and the triumph over tragedy, we all witnessed the power of the human spirit. I was reminded of a sentence Hazel shared in a story: "Don't underestimate the power of the human spirit."

Originally we shared the story Here in September 2010, but it's got to be shared again. I feel like this story may help us heal. Boston, today we dedicate this story to you.


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.

Coming up next, a full collection of stories about another special city, Philadelphia - inspired by recent conversations that our seniors had with college students around the country.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Caitlin (A Volunteer's Reflections)

Super stoked because sitting in front of me is a stack of comment 
cards from last Friday's college honors conference that one of the
 conference chairs hand delivered to me (thanks Rich!) in time to show
 my senior buds today in class in a few hours. Our senior buds are gonna love seeing these.... stay tuned for videos and blog posts with seniors’ stories from the day, and seniors’ reactions to your comments!!

And now, to share her memory of the event, is 22-year-old Caitlin, who volunteers as our writing class (and event) assistant every week, and also as our editorial assistant behind the scenes. Caitlin is also an intern at our buddying org Philadelphia Young Playwrights. Thanks Caitlin for all that you do!

Caitlin Cieri
A Volunteer’s Reflections

I have not had a lot of experience working with seniors throughout my life. I loved my own grandparents who were bright and active, but senior centers and retirement homes always seemed dismal to me. I had wrongly assumed that the only people who went there were those who resigned themselves to dying in their old age. But Best Day of My Life (So Far) encourages seniors to keep living and writing, and they return each week with the zeal of someone who still has a lot of life left.

As a recent 22-year-old college graduate who regrets not writing down my own grandmother’s stories while she was still around, last Friday I was delighted to see the interest of college students everywhere in the stories of Best Day, at the 2013 Regional Honors Conference cohosted by Northeast Regional Honors Council and La Salle University.

Keeping in the spirit of the day’s seminar, the history of Philadelphia, the entire van of seniors reminisced about the city as we drove from Broad Street’s thriving theatres to the brick-lain streets of the Old City. Upon our arrival, the seminar’s hosts (Preston, Richard, Heather and Lori) and six LaSalle students escorted us into the hotel for a refreshing, light lunch. They were even kind enough to play waiters and waitresses for Best Day’s writers.

During the meal, we had discussions about the senior’s lives and backstories to prep them for their performance. I myself have volunteered at Best Day since October, regularly attending the workshops and ghostwriting for participants with extra needs. Even so, I didn’t know that Hattie loved cooking or that Brenda was a former preschool teacher until that day! After the coffee and cookies, the students passed out papers and pens, members of our group chose cards from a basket and wrote from one of three prompts provided on each card. As the students went around making sure everybody had their papers and any assistance needed, Best Day’s resident photographer “Medium Mo,” and I took picture after picture of the seniors crafting their stories.

When the last few minutes were up, seniors and “young seniors” alike made mad dashes to the restrooms before Lori introduced us. A grand total of eleven seniors spoke before a room filled with 400 students, administrators and faculty about the multiple changes Philadelphia went through. Zoos were refurbished, an area called the Tenderloin was made into a highway, and one reader and her roommate took residence in a newly integrated college dormitory. In fact, Hazel even had pictures of her and her classmate, in a dorm surrounded by white collegiates, and passed them around the entire conference room (much to Benita’s distress!) Kristin was also kind enough to both write down Loretta’s story, and to read it aloud to her fellow Explorers. And Norman, one of Best Day’s biggest advocates, mentioned that when he was younger, he thought he would always be “too cool for senior centers.” After the story, Norman was good enough to give shout-outs to everyone; to Benita, to LaSalle, to “Medium Mo,” to all the young visitors who come to our weekly class (some 10 years old and younger), even to me and my internship at Philadelphia Young Playwrights!

All in all, this conference was one of Best Day’s best days! Everyone went home with a complimentary mug (that could double as a fashionable pen holder), a smile on their face, and the warm feeling that comes from sharing your life with strangers and knowing that they listened.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Brenda and Beatrice (The Best Days of OUR Lives So Far)

The question is... ARE YOU READY FOR US :) ? Can't wait to rock the stage tomorrow in front of 400 college students and faculty from different cities, at the 2013 Northeast Regional Honors Council Conference, co-hosted by La Salle University!!

To  see other events that we've hosted and participated in over the years, check out our Event Listing page! Thank you to all of you who have reached out to us to participate in your events or donated venues and snacks ;) so we can host our own. We love huddling around our weekly writing table, and we love hanging out with you all 24/7 here on the blog, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, but nothing - absolutely nothing - compares to hitting the stage and seeing a whole auditorium of young listening faces... and hearing our seniors' voices and confidence magnify.

Brenda Scantlebury
Transgenerational Views of Philadelphia

Today we’re focusing on our presence tomorrow, Friday April 5, at the 2013 Conference of the Northeast Regional Honors Council.

There will be students from various cities touring the city of Philadelphia to do research of our city’s past and present. Their observations and studies will be shared with the seniors from our storytelling and writing class.

This exchange should spark discovery and memory from both the students and seniors. These conversations can produce a transgenerational connection that will help the older and younger ones.

Beatrice Newkirk
The Best Days of Our Lives So Far

Our writing class is a beginning not an end. We started off small and are reaching out big. It is because of our teacher Mrs. Benita Cooper. We have learned so much from her. Being around her is special. She lights up the room.

We have visitors who are here too. We enjoy having them here. Everyone is welcome to our class. We also have new members who have joined our class.

We are going on a trip Friday (tomorrow). I know everything will be alright. We all work together.