Friday, May 24, 2013

Mo and Gogo (Tea Cigarettes and Sex)


The topic of parenting comes up sometimes in conversations with my senior buds, now that I am expecting. But it’s not what you would expect. No one is bombarding me with advice on how they did it. Their restraint makes them so cool, because honestly no one is more qualified to speak – most of them have so many children with Beatrice topping things off at twelve!

Instead, they recall with childlike wonder (Mo and Gogo’s eyes glimmered like children’s when they read these stories out loud) memories of how their parents raised them, subtle things their parents did or said that somehow stuck. There is so much humor, so much gravity, so much respect, so much silliness, all mixed into these little moments.

Cheers to parents! And your endlessly wonderful attempts to teach life’s tougher lessons to the little ones ;)

Mo McCooper
Tea Cigarettes

Some of the guys were smoking after school with the older guys. My dad and mom both smoked but my dad was still teaching me to box and told me to watch the older guys playing basketball at the playground and tell him the difference between the smokers and non-smokers. After a week or so I told him how the smokers quit after a few games, while the non-smokers played much longer. Plus, some of the smokers were coughing and spitting against the fences surrounding the basketball courts. The ugly kinds of yellow and green spit were so disgusting I wondered how they ever got a girlfriend or kept one. Dad then told me that cigarettes won’t stunt your growth but would take away stamina which I should look up in the dictionary. When I did, I understood why the smokers were playing less games and getting tired sooner.

Gogo Jenny Williams
They Sang about Sex

This morning I woke up with some thoughts of the past, songs that I heard in the movies, songs I heard in the hit parade – no, not the hip hop parade.  My mother was very watchful when it came to songs.  Today I know what my mama knew that I didn’t know then.  If I could be with you one hour tonight, I’d be anything but blue, if I could be with you.  Ray Charles making grunting sounds with the music was fun to dance to.  I didn’t know.  Birds do it.  Bees do it.  Let’s fall in love.  So many songs came flooding back to my mind.  I got such a chuckle remembering my watchful mama covering her babies against the wicked songs that would lead us astray.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ellis (My New Life)

This story moved Ellis to tears, unstoppable tears, as he was reading it out loud. It’s a tender release of some very deep pain. And it means so much that he is willing to share all of this with “his storytelling friends” in class, as well as all of us here, online.

I feel like I should share something here. As you may know, my training is in architecture, not social work or psychology, and back when I first started Best Day, I had to learn how to handle these especially emotional moments that occasionally happen in class. I used to get really upset that I couldn’t instantly fix all of my senior buddies’ lives. Sometimes after class I would stay in the room, reread their stories, and cry.

But then I learned. A few seniors, especially Little Mo and Arthur (two of our core seniors, both of whom have, sadly, passed away) could always sense it when I was upset. Without making a big deal of it, they would stay after class and tell me, “Just do you thing, just guide our group to write stories. And life’s struggles will fix themselves. The stories will get us there.”

And they were right. Time after time, senior after senior, their predictions came true. Hundreds of seniors have shared our table since, and what they said works every time. And this time, when Ellis shared his story, I noticed how strong I now felt inside, and I looked around the senior buds sitting with me and noticed how strong they all look. We feel his pain but our strength, when united, is much stronger than the pain.

It was after reading out loud, after Loretta (who walks with a cane and has also struggled with – and conquered – homelessness issues herself) literally ran over mid-story to hug Ellis from the back, saying, “We all love you”, it was after shedding his last tear, that Ellis came up with his story title: My New Life.

Could it be that telling a story, the genuine kind, the Best Day kind, is to say, “I trust you”?

Could it be that listening to a story TOGETHER, the genuine way, the Best Day way, is to say, “We all love you”?

Maybe that’s what Little Mo and Arthur were trying to teach me.

PS. For those of you who have been reading for a while, you know that a couple years ago, Ellis’ former student – who now lives in West Africa – surprised us with a note to say hi to Ellis, his favorite teacher of all time. You can reread that blog post Here. Ellis is now hoping to get reconnected not only with Watson and the rest of his 6th grade  students. If some of you are reading this, drop us a note and we’d be happy to pass it onto your 6th grade teacher.

Ellis Zelmanoff
My New Life

I am in a very happy mood on the whole today.  I am on the verge of regaining my own apartment and moving out of a boarding house in the Overlook section of Philadelphia. 

What I hate, I hate being the only white person on the 31 bus.  It gives me the creeps even though I have nothing against black people, I lovingly go to the Jewish Y on Haverford Ave and City Line Ave, where I met two great friends Eddie and Riven.  Eddie helps look me up with Social Services in the community and Riven has generously given me food, clothes, a haircut and an application for Section 8 housing.  He is a Jewish Orthodox man and I love him like he is my substitute father.  Eddie is a middle aged black man who is the head trainer at the Y and is in charge of helping people with physical and mental disabilities.  I have a combination of both kinds of disabilities but I am rapidly recovering 2-year depression which was furthered after I was thrown out on the street by an apartment building at 19th and Sansom.  I put in a stint at a shelter on Vine Street, Cape May, Rio Grande, and 22nd and Market Street after being driven to the streets of Center City by a cruel social worker named Owen.

I am in a much more positive mood these days than I was 6 months to a year ago.  Each day I look forward to living a new day in my life with more enthusiasm than I have ever shown in my 65 years of life.  I am back together with my sister and I’m helping taking care of her at her apartment at 22nd and Market which is frequented by a beautiful turquoise cat named Samantha who gives me much love and devotion each day.  The last two days Samantha sits in my lap and I petted her profusely. 

I am glad to be back in the class with all my storytelling friends.

I would like some help from Benita (by posting this story on our writing class’ website) in getting in re-touch with my former 6th grade student named Watson Buddinger (in 6th grade in Camden NJ, who is now located in West Africa and found me on our website).  I would also like to get in touch with other students in Camden and Lakewood, NJ.  In Camden: Sharon Ray, Alisha, Joe S., Brian Holden, Wanda Cooper.  In Lakewood: Steven Fredlander, Jeff Vogel, and Ira Berger.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Joan (Mothers)

Today my senior buds deemed me eligible for my first Mother’s Day! As a first-time mom-to-be, I can’t be more honored. It’s a funny and new feeling… to be let into this fancy club!

As I type this sentence on my laptop now, which is incidentally on my lap against my getting-pretty-round belly, oh yes the baby decided to start kicking.

Motherhood is a true miracle. And Joan’s story is one moving reminder of that. Well, six reminders of that ;)

Joan Bunting

Mother’s Day is one of the most earned holidays there is, besides Veteran’s Day. Being a mother is the most wonderful thing that could happen to a woman.

For a while I had the belief that I could not have children. I overheard my foster mother tell one of her friends, the doctor had told her after I had an operation that I would not be able to bear children.

What happened was that at age twelve, I had my appendix removed. Two months later at age thirteen I had an infection, which caused a pus bag to develop and I had to have it removed. (I came very close to dying.)

The intern at the hospital that night gave me the wrong medication, which I threw as soon as I got home. He also gave my foster mother the wrong directions, as to what to do after I went home. I ended up going back to the hospital later that morning.

I don’t know which doctor told my foster mother I couldn’t have children, if she was told at all.

Well, was I surprised years later when I became pregnant the first time, and even more so after the second time. By the time it happened again four more times I realized that maybe my foster mother misunderstood.

The Lord has blessed me six times with six wonderful children.

God is sooo… Good. Happy Mother’s Day!

Sometimes it seems hard but it’s all worth it in the end.

When you teach your children the good things and the right things in life, and just do the best you can, they will become a blessing to you.