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 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 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.