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!