Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Elliot (Real Wealth)

Hey, look! It's suddenly New Year's Eve!! As I reread my senior buds' recent stories to find just the right one for you, to wish you the happiest of all new years, Elliot's words jumped off the screen and took my breath away again, just as it did when I heard it for the first time in our storytelling group. Whatever this year brings you, with all its inevitable ups and downs, I wish that you too can find your way to real wealth. Have fun celebrating tonight, and wishing you a very, very wealthy 2015!

Elliot Doomes
Real Wealth

Thomas Carlyle said that, “The sum of a man’s life is in his experiences.” I have experienced the love of a mother, father, brother. I have even had the honor and pleasure of knowing my dearly beloved grandmother. I have witnessed the seed of my sperm come forth from a woman’s womb and become a living soul. I have never possessed silver or gold, but I have experienced real wealth. I am a wealthy man.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Norman, Frances, Jana, Rachel, Joan, Elliot, Mo, Brenda, Loretta, Joe (We are Family)

One of my favorite things to do every holiday season is to reread stories my senior buds have told through the years, and this year, "We are Family" is the message that I feel like they are sending to me. Like lyrics to a perfect song, I can’t get them out of my mind.

These words take me back to the summer of 2010. Months into our founding, inner city teens who visited our senior storytelling sessions began calling us their second family. They were on summer break but chose to spend time with us at the senior center, week after week, bringing more and more friends.

These particular teens happened to be living in and out of foster homes-they know what family means biologically but we are the only feeling of family they have ever experienced. Soon, story by story, seniors began calling our group their family too.

"We are like a family, or like a rainbow." Beatrice wrote, "I love all of you."

"Different ages, different races, man & woman – we are all the same living in this wonderful world! Like myself, I came from far, far away, miles and miles away – China. That is why I learn a lot here, from all these wonderful people. " Robert wrote. “I try to come to our meetings whenever I can.  I love everyone here.”

We are family–not just because we love one another, but because we love one another despite of and because of our apparent differences. We are family–not just because we can share about our memories, but also, as Elliot calls them, our “dreams and fears.” Hundreds of seniors have joined our group since then, and given us their hearts through thousands of stories, and this family feeling deepens with every single story.

Norman Cain
My Grandmother's Laundry Room

My grandmother's laundry room was not located in a finished, attractive basement. It had no shelves (containing detergents, bleaches, and fabric softeners) that hovered above a modern washer or dryer.

And when clothes were washed, there was no humming coming from a washing machine. Likewise, there was no humming coming from the dryer and there was no choice about the drying cycle. No hot. No warm. No delicate.

My grandmother's laundry room was located in the back of the family house, in-between the well and smoke house and chicken coop and cotton field. Instead of a washing machine, there was a big black cast iron pot filled with hot water that was mounted by fuel chopped wood. There was no detergent in the water, but rather home-made brown lye soap. The clothes were stirred with sturdy ax handles.

There was no modern dryer but there was a natural drier – the sun, which beamed down upon the clothes that hung absolutely dirt free from clothes lines.

My grandmother did not have a modern laundry room, but her wash was always 100% clean.

Frances Bryce
Old Age Is Gaining On Me

Woke up this morning – sore as could be
Slowly crawled out of bed
No fast movements these days for me
Could it be true – old age is gaining on me?

Walked up the stairs
Heard loud creaking
Maybe someone is at the door
Or a loose board on the floor
Perhaps someone on the radio speaking
It couldn't be my knees
Tell me, tell me please
Could it be true – old age is gaining on me?

Entered a room to get something, I know
Returned emptied handed
With nothing to show
Could it be true – old age is gaining on me?

Drove to the store to buy some bread
Retuned home with tissues and batteries instead
It seems to be true – old age is gaining on me!

From my name I awoke
Rested and refreshed as could be
Which day is it now?
Better check the paper to see
It's all so true – old age has finally caught up with me!

Jana Henry, Volunteer
To Feel Is To Live

I've been reading this book with a group of friends from my church. The book has been talking about dealing and recognizing your feelings. I never realized how much I don't verbalize how I truly feel. Many situations I avoid feeling. It's strange how you don't think you act a certain way and then you read something and it slaps you in your face. If there was ever a good slap in the face, it would be a slap that helps you to be a better person. As a writer, I often write stories. I write myself out of these stories. This I have realized this week is not very purposeful. If I am painting these beautiful stories on pages and not telling my own, I am cheating myself. I choose to feel. I choose to write out the good and the bad. If only for the simple reminder when I read these stories I know I felt that moment. I was there. I recognize that I lived my life and not just took a look at it.

Rachel Hampton, Volunteer
Finding Home

I made a new friend! Her name is Cat, and she is a friend of my boyfriend, Serge. I am always nervous to meet new people, because when I went to a different school I had a very hard time making friends – I was very lonely. That was a hard time in my life. I have more friends now, but then I worry about losing them. I worry, about the loss of friendship I see around me. People move around so much, they lose contact, with family even – it’s like we’re losing the talent to live in community with each other. I feel like – okay, I’m not very adventurous, but I just want to live in one place with a bunch of people I love and trust – I want to have a home. And the way society is set up now, that’s so hard to do. You leave to go to school, you follow whatever work you end up doing, you move and move again and you’re supposed to put all this energy into your work, it’s so hard to put energy into just paying attention to other people. A lot of the relationships I see around me are superficial as a result.

But I am determined not to live like that – I want the people in my life to be the most important part of my life. And I hope that if I focus on that, I’ll be able to find my own kind of happiness and love.

Joan Bunting
Was It Puppy Love? I Don’t Think So

I met Gerald Blake in 1949. My sister Doris and I had been living at a new location. From Mrs. Chamberlin Smith to Ms. Eunice Jackson. We were also reunited with three of our siblings: Bernice, Eugene and Paul.

We had been living there about a year when I met Gerald. We were both only nine years old but knew right away that we liked each other.

Gerald was gifted with a beautiful singing voice. He had the prettiest white teeth and was very shy (we both were). We never even kissed.

When Gerald was seventeen years old he joined the army. We would write letters to each other and sometimes write poems.

In one of his letters he asked me to marry him. I had not graduated from high school yet and told him that I was not ready to marry. His mother found out and stopped speaking to me.

When Gerald came home he married someone else. When his cousin Brenda married my brother Eugene, Gerald attended the wedding with his wife. Of course I felt jealous but I got over it.

Elliott Doomes
Dreams and Fears

I have recurring dreams about my visions, dreams where my vision is clear. But then I wake up and it’s the same. I live in fear now, because I can’t see on the right side. When someone’s walking behind me I stop and let them pass so I can see them. And I bump into things now. People try to help me, but I wave them off, because I don’t want to be helpless or useless. I worry about something happening to my other eye, so I didn’t let them operate on it. They messed up my eye and couldn’t tell me what went wrong, why I can’t see out of it now. That disappointed me – I don’t want to talk to doctors now, I’m so upset.

I still hope it will get better – a drowning man grasping at straws, but one day maybe I’ll get enough straws.

Mo McCooper
The Dark Side

Sometimes in the elementary school years, I would notice that some of my classmates’ mothers would look very tired when I was in their house after school. Sometimes some of them had black eyes. I never asked my friends how or why but we never stayed inside to play any games or read any comic books.

When I grew up, I was sometimes in a bar where their fathers drank. It was obvious they were not enjoying their shots and beers anymore but just killing time before going home. One man would start to softly sing, “I only want a buddy, not a sweetheart, for sweethearts always make me blue.” It was awful to hear him.

Brenda Scantlebury
Here Today

Today is the Best Day of My Life So Far: this week! I say that because, for the past two weeks, I’ve been working with little people again! I thought I was finished a couple years ago, when I was no longer working at the preschool that I had worked at for nineteen years.

I am in charge of several two year-olds. A set of twin boys --whew! Talk about energy! I am quite sure you can imagine. These twins remind me of my own, who are now grown men and have children of their own.

I left my class early today so that I could go to a doctor’s appointment and to also participate in my storytelling and writing class! I really miss my group of friends.
It is a pleasure to be in their company and also to hear all of the wonderful stories that they tell!


P.S. I am Here Today --Amen.

Loretta Dotson
Fruitful Labor

I learned at a early age you work for what you want and need. In order to help out I would after school scrub steps and earn 25 cents. There was a couple from Germany struggling to learn English. I would for three days after school spend time teaching and tutoring them for $1.00 an hour plus they would give me a banana sandwich on buttered rye bread.

Ground beef was not expensive about $1.50 a lb. Long grain rice was 10 cents a lb. I would buy dinner about two nights a week. My mom and dad were proud of me for helping out. My older sister married and my older brother were in the service. It was no problem helping younger sister and brother with homework and assigning chores.

There were 10 of us and we were very close. Because of the responsibility patterns we grew up and it was easily transferred to our adult life. Some of our younger relatives haven’t quite seen in our way yet, but we’re hoping. When you work for something needed or wanted there is a sense of joy and pride. It might be something you cherish and plan to keep or it could be a gift for someone special. When you earn is it’s a keepsake in your heart.

Joe Garrison
My Dream

A few weeks ago, I wrote a story about how my meeting Benita in April 2010 made me comfortable and motivated me to keep coming to this writing class. A lot of memories of this class have stayed with me, even the birth of her baby, Kian.

About four months ago I was reading a Western novel and one of the characters was a nine-year-old boy called Keelan. Keelan is pretty close in sound to Kian. Then about a month ago, I had a dream that Benita’s little boy was eight years old, and was the leader of a junior detective agency.

I don’t remember the case he was involved in, but whatever it was, he solved it. I couldn’t wait to tell Benita about the dream, and she got a big charge out of it. He was about 4’11”, and was telling Benita all about the case he had solved. He was wearing jeans and a buckskin vest. I can’t see, so I can’t see colors and light in my dreams, but I can imagine textures and shapes. What’s funny is, in real life, Kian was only about eight months old, and was just starting to crawl. He definitely doesn’t know how to talk yet. But that dream felt real!

The reason I am writing down this story is that people you like can have a great influence on what you remember and dream about. I really believe that if something or someone is an important part of your life, it plays itself out in dreams.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Gift from the Heart: The Best Day of My Life So Far Storybook

“The words of these stories bring back the past, but more important than that, they fulfill our common need to be heard, to be listened to, to connect.”
- AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson

Here at Best Day, we believe that big things come in little packages. We believe that our seniors' stories are vehicles of inspiration, joy and love. That's why my team and I have poured our hearts and souls into sharing our seniors' hearts and souls in a new gift-ready format with you. In time for the holiday season, we are excited to announce that The Best Day of My Life So Far Storybook is now available on! Whether it's for a loved one whom you see every day, or a friend whom you have lost touch with for a while, this is a gift that will allow you to give a piece of your heart to them, and will warm their heart in the deepest way.

Click Here to pick up a few copies today!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Joan (What is Your Hidden Talent?)

Thanksgiving is around the corner, and I find myself rereading all of Joan’s recent stories to get myself into the mood! Even on ordinary days and bad days, she finds something to celebrate. Every day, she finds a reason to be thankful. Even in sad memories, she finds closure and an eventual joy. I see her thinking about it, looking for it, and always finding it. Joan asks us in her story, “What is Your Hidden Talent?” I feel like hers is not just drawing pictures. Her talent is finding and spreading joy.

Joan Bunting
What Is Your Hidden Talent?

As a little girl – age four or five – my sister Doris taught me how to color without going outside the lines, how to write my name and how to read. When I was in the second grade I was reading at third grade level. Doris also would draw pictures for me. She showed me how to draw stick figures. Doris had and still has artistic talents.

When I started working at the age of forty-three, I worked at a day car center as a teacher aide. One of my jobs was to draw pictures for the class. My lead teacher must have seen something that I didn’t know I had so she started asking me to draw bigger things.

The first large picture she asked me to draw was a Santa Clause part-way in a chimney. I told her I would do my best. I didn’t know whether I could do it or not. When I finished I was amazed. After that, I drew a large tiger that was hung on the wall.

When drawing on tee-shirts became popular, my co-workers asked me to draw on tee-shirts for them. All I could say was, “I’ll do my best.”

I was even doubly-amazed when I actually drew a hand holding five cards, a bingo card and other fascinating pictures. I even made a piñata for the children and filled it with candy.

One day I will bring some of the work I’ve done. I took pictures; I would have never guessed that I had such a beautiful hidden talent. What is your hidden talent?

Joan Bunting
Rain Rain Don’t Go Away?

Why do people let rainy days and Mondays get them down? Do you remember that song?

Today is a rainy day but I feel great. Rainy days have never stopped me from wanting to enjoy my day. When I was younger rainy days were for enjoying being with my husband and having fun with my children indoors. I love watching the rain drops fall, especially when it was coming down in sheets just like it did a few time this summer.

Mondays seem to give some people the blues. I believe that happens to people that have to start a new working week. But for me Mondays are the new beginning of new experiences, meeting new people and having new fun.

Whatever day it may be remember this: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” There are those who don’t wake up the next day.

Joan Bunting
Was It Puppy Love? I Don’t Think So

I met Gerald Blake in 1949. My sister Doris and I had been living at a new location. From Mrs. Chamberlin Smith to Ms. Eunice Jackson. We were also reunited with three of our siblings: Bernice, Eugene and Paul.

We had been living there about a year when I met Gerald. We were both only nine years old but knew right away that we liked each other.

Gerald was gifted with a beautiful singing voice. He had the prettiest white teeth and was very shy (we both were). We never even kissed.

When Gerald was seventeen years old he joined the army. We would write letters to each other and sometimes write poems.

In one of his letters he asked me to marry him. I had not graduated from high school yet and told him that I was not ready to marry. His mother found out and stopped speaking to me.

When Gerald came home he married someone else. When his cousin Brenda married my brother Eugene, Gerald attended the wedding with his wife. Of course I felt jealous but I got over it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Elliot and Frances (Lives Have Value)

This is a perfect world, when we see each other as people being a part of the whole. I feel like Elliot may be onto something here, do you? It’s a shame that people can view others as a threat without knowing who they are or getting to know them–whether it’s Frances’ example of young black men or other marginalized cultures.

My hope is that someone out there, and hey, it would be awesome if it happens to you, will read this pair of stories, and realize how terrible it feels to grow up marginalized and fearful of being viewed as a threat, and then realize that we each in our day-to-day lives have the power to scrub away a little of that imperfection in the world, just by understanding each other a little bit more.

Elliot Doomes
My Opinion

I get tired of hearing people say, "This is not a perfect world." There's nothing that we need that we can't find in this world that we live in. We have water, we have food, we have sunshine, we have shelter provided by the earth. For me, that makes the world perfect because we have everything we need.

The only imperfect thing about this world is the people in it. The people no longer see each other as people being a part of the whole. People look at the differences between people. We don't perceive each other as human beings sharing this perfect world. We don't think of other people as being a part of you, or a part of us, or a part of me. From human being to human being, what hurts me hurts you, so why do we want to inflict pain on each other?

Most people see differences in people from other nationalities. We all breathe, we all defecate, we all bleed, so where's the difference? Ignorance is the only word I can use. The differences come from our individual perceptions, which are based upon our own ignorance. If I don't communicate with you and you don’t communicate with me, we will never understand each other.

Most times if we understand each other, we will find that we both aspire to the same things. We all want to be happy. We all want to have freedom. We all want to love somebody. We all want to be loved by somebody. We all want to have a loving family. We all want to provide for our family. We all want our grandchildren to think we walk on water. Because they love me and we love them. You and I are the same. The differences are in our minds.

Frances Bryce
Live Have Value

The media that reported the death of a young black male in Ferguson, MO, unarmed, by a white officer caused an uprising between the police and the citizens in MO. We saw the frustration of people who often are marginalized in that and other cities.

The Inquirer published accounts of few Afro-American men about their experiences with officers that are supposed to protect them. This fact was driven home when the above incident happened. They recounted "the talk" that their parents gave them about how to survive in this atmosphere, it was not about the birds and bees. They warned their black males how to speak, move, and behave if they are encountered by police. They told their sons, nephews, and other black males that they are often viewed as a threat without knowing who they are or getting to know them.

One writer had a very positive experience early in his life with a detective who befriended him, when his mother was attacked. So he thought all policemen everywhere were like the detective. Sadly, later he read and witnessed several incidences that showed the brutality when black and Puerto kids were harassed for no reason.

I remember overhearing my father talk to my brother about the treatment that young males are subjected to. At 14 years of age, I had to explain to my son why I refused to buy a utility knife because I was aware that if he had an encounter with another kid, the utility knife could be considered a weapon. I tried to explain how he may be viewed. He didn't understand at that time. Later, when he was older at Christmas, his stocking contained a utility knife. I'm sure it wasn't appreciated as much, but at least his wish was fulfilled.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Janet (I Never Forgot Mr. Riceie)

It’s the week after Halloween… who’s got candy on their minds, on their kitchen counters, and in their bellies?? Well, Janet’s got just the story for us!

Can’t you just smell and taste it all as Janet takes us around Mr. Riceie’s store? Root beer Jawbreakers, Cracker Jacks, Squill Nuts, Orange Slices, Mint Jewel Ups, Peanut Chews, Apple Sticks, Bubble Gum, Turkish Taffys, Peppermints, round and on sticks, Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddy's.

But of course, here at Best Day, even a story about something as silly as candy is really a wrapper of great, important things. This is really a tribute to a great man, a reflection of a changing city, a small but unforgettable slice of a beautiful childhood. So let’s all go back with Janet, and hang out for a little while on Mr. Riceie’s red leather tops and silver bottom stools.

Janet Armour
I Never Forgot Mr. Riceie

Temple College has a football field. The field is located in the 2100 block of North 11th Street in Phila.

The football field covers the whole area, from 11th Street over to 10th Street, Diamond Street to Susquehanna Ave.

The 2100 block of North 11th Street was once filled with three story row homes. The homes were heated with coal. As the years passed by, those homes, most of them were turned into rental apartments.

Diamond, Less, and Goldberg were the owners. The rent was very reasonable. People moved in and stayed. Behind 11th Street was a street called One Knock. Two-story brick row homes line the block.

Each corner had some kind of business. One corner had a Chinese take out. One corner had a bar. The block was quiet even with the bar open daily.

The music coming from the bar that played from the juke box was low. The bar was open 6 days a week til midnight.

10th Street from Diamond to Susquehanna Ave. consistuted of a large factory. The bottom floors manufactured suit cases. The loading docks were wide ones on Diamond Street. There was one on One Knowck Street near Susquehanna Ave.

The factory was destroyed by a fire that burned out of control.

Temple paid for and took over the area. The houses were torn down. The football field was created.

Before the football field came about, the happy times I remember the most was my trip to Mr. Riceie's store. The store was on the corner of 11th and Susquehanna Ave. I loved on 11th Street. My address was 2109. It was my grandmother's first floor apartment. When my grandmother gave me a penny or dime, I went to Mr. Riceie's store.

Mr Riceie owned a three-story store front.

It was during the 1950s – my childhood. Mr Riceie was someone who cared about people. It was a time I traveled alone down my block.

The store was extra clean. The door was always open. When you entered the store, he greeted you with a bright smile. You walked on white and black marble tile floors, no spots anywhere in site. You sat on red leather tops with silver bottom stools.

The counter top was white tile. There were napkin holders and straws.

Mr. Riceie sold coconut pies. He made coffee and hot tea. There were tables and wooden chairs with red and white covers. He sold different types of sandwiches. You could order white bread or rye, even a round roll. Whatever you wanted your sandwich on, he had it.

He made banana splits and milk shakes. Mr Riceie had a milk shake machine. He sold large and small milkshakes. He sold ice cream sundaes with cherries.

Mr. Riceie had a soda case filled with different types of sodas. The sodas were imbedded in an ice case box. He had root beer, Coke, grape, and cream sodas.

What I remember the most about Mr. Riceie's store – it was his candy counter. The candy counter was made of dark brown wood and glass. The wood would shine. The glass was so clean like it wasn't there at all.

The front of the glass counter displayed the candy. The prices were a dime, a nickel, or a penny. He had six shelves filled with many types of candy. Root beer Jaw Breakers, candy popcorn called Cracker Jack's with a prize in each box, Squill Nuts, Orange Slices, Mint Jewel Ups, Peanut Chews, Apple Sticks, Bubble Gum, Turkish Taffys, Peppermints, round and on sticks, Sugar babies and Sugar Daddy's which was made with caramel. He sold these white sheets of paper with candy stuck on it and I called them paper candy. I'm not fooling you, Mr Riceie had these treats for sale in his store.

I remember that I always ordered the prize bag. I ordered the other candy, but the prize bag came first.

The prize bag was a 4 ounce brown paper bag filled to the top with different types of candy. He sold the prize bag for one penny. I still remember the store and Mr. Riceie to this day.

Mr. Riceie was a short man. He always had a smile on his face. He wore black glasses. He wore a clean white shirt with a bowtie. He wore black pants and neatly shined black shoes. He had a wife and children. Everybody called Mr. Riceie, Mr. Riceie.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Loretta D (I Got This)

You know what makes someone cool in my book? Someone who can look life in the eye, with all the good, the bad, the ugly, the uncertain, the scary, and say, I got this. And mean it. This would make Loretta, my new senior bud, the coolest of the cool.

She has been with us for a month now, but the imprint she’s made on the group makes me feel like I have known her for so much longer. I will never forget the first time she came. When Frances, my senior bud who calls out the reading order each week, asked who wanted to read first, Loretta raised her hand. Needless to say, she fit right into the group and has not missed a session since, radiating more and more courage and optimism every time. “I got this” isn’t just the title of her story; it’s her true spirit through and through. I like that style of living. To me, it's awesome.

Loretta Dolson
I Got This

The more we experience life's changes, the more we should enjoy what we have. There's been great times, there's been terrible times. But thank God the great times overtook the bad times.

When we know or believe our container is half-full, not half-empty, we are believing all is not so bad. I have this fear that dark clouds are rumored to have silver linings so we shall wait and see. Being optimistic is my way of coping with many things and it works.

Just knowing and believing the best is yet to come keeps your spirits up and you can fare any situation.

I just smile and think to myself, I got this.

When I hear sad news or bad news, I say to myself, I got this. So as we experience all types of situations, some welcoming, some annoying, just smile, take a deep breath and say, I got this. I have to make the best of all situations so I can continue stating, "I got this".

(I ended up in a different direction than what I thought I would write about. With pen in hand, here, I started feeling very optimistic, and this story came out. The title is, "I Got This.")

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Norman (The Good Youth)

And now, here’s my bud Norman, bravely yet gently “grabbing us by the hand” on a walk through Philadelphia with two very different stories, showing us the soul and humanity that can be found even in the rougher city streets.

Norman Cain
The Good Youth

While I often find myself engaged in a conversation about today's wayward youth, I rarely have discussions about some of their positive deeds.

Last Saturday night, I had a positive experience with a young lady.

This experience started at approximately 11 p.m. when we departed the Number 64 bust at 28th and Grey's Ferry Avenue. Because of a detour, we had to walk five extra blocks to our destination: 27th and Reed Streets.

I do not have to tell anyone how dangerous the streets of Philadelphia are at 11 p.m.

We decided to walk together. During our journey, the young lady expressed her concerns about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. I was impressed.

When we reached the corner of 29th and Reed Streets, the young lady exemplified the positive traits that we do not associate with young people of today.

A huge crowd milled around two young men who were arguing. My instinct was to usher the young lady out of the danger zone, but before I could react, she grabbed me by the hand and guided me across the street; thereby, showing respect for an elder, a dying tradition.

The positive encounter that I had with the young lady, that I have written about, strengthened my belief in the inherit goodness in the majority of our youth.

Norman Cain
Excerpt From The Great Neighborhood Debate

Note: this is not an anti-Islamic excerpt; it is a coming of age observation.

But that's what we kids were always looking for: excitement. And my street, Olive Street, was a place to come if you wanted excitement and I'll tell you why. It was a small narrow, out of the way, alley-looking street with small brick row houses. It was a dead end street. It was a hidden street where people from other neighborhoods came to do dirty stuff or just hang out.

At first to see those Nation of Islam guys walk pass the street was exciting, but after a while, it wasn't because they would give evil looks to the teenagers who would be dancing at the mouth of the street. The music came from a piccolo that was on top of a platform in front of a wooden long wide strong and narrow shotgun building, which was right next to a kind of large granite barbecue place that sold delicious barbecue sandwiches. The Islam guys didn’t like the restaurant and talked about pork, like I said, real bad.

Another exciting thing on the street was seeing the guys that played dice on the big lot on the left hand side at the end of the street being chased by police. They would be funny. They would be running through the street, like a heard of spooked cattle in one of the cowboy pictures that we saw each Saturday in the neighborhood movie house. Bills would be stuck in their pumping fists, and one of them would always have a firm grip on an opened bottle of cheap red wine.

The girls did not mind them messing up their hop scotch games and the boys didn't mind them messing up their marble games, because they could always pick up the loose change. One day, those Islam guys had the nerve to go up on the ot and preach to the crap shooters. Me and Bobby, who was my best friend, got excited. We thought that there was going to be a fight, but that didn't happen, because after a lot of arguing, the Muslim guys left.

They passed by the gang boys, but didn't say nothing to them because they knew that all those guys wanted was a fight. I mean the gang guys would fight for no reason at all and they would definitely cause excitement when they engaged in a "fair one" which meant a fair fight. They would have everybody out there looking at them and "awing" when they threw swift left hooks and straight jabs and ducked bobbed and weaved in the nick of time. Sometimes the girls or the boys or a combination of the girls and boys would harmonize. The sounds they made would go through you real sweet. We would become excited when we knew they were about to do their doo wop thing.

For a while, there wasn't too much excitement on the street. We forgot all about the Muslim guys and turned our attention to the guys dressed like cowboys and riding those pretty horses on our street and laughed when Mr. Simon, the drunk, told his corny jokes in that funny voice of his. And on Sundays, we would go around the corner to watch the Fairmount Braves, semi-pro baseball team get off their brand new touring bus. The team would be dressed in their pretty red and white uniforms. They looked sharp as they headed into the little Belmont bar that sponsored them – it was the same bar that had exciting trips for the neighborhood kids. So we forgot about the Muslim guys for a while.

The day I dreaded, Sunday, came and more people showed up for the duel then I expected. Salmon, the funny drunkard lounged in a raggedy kitchen chair, a quart of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer at his side, and on his lap, a transistor radio that had hazy reception of a baseball game between the Phillies and the negroes beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. A group of crap shooters stood in front of the lot that was there.

"Special Vegas Casino" decked out in two-toned shoes, tailored three-piece suits, crisp shirts, with golden bones for the collars and golden links for the cuffs. Wide brim hats set rakishly upon their heads.

Young boys with splintered over-the-hill baseball bats held together by weathered black tape, stood besides girls with Shirley temple hair-do's, frilly socks, and long protruding dresses. Besides them were the local territorial gang, adorned to the man with the yellow and blue reversible jackets with their name "Fabulous Kings" emblazoned on the back.

Then a guy all dressed from head to toe in cowboy clothes and riding a large white, prancing stallion showed up and rode slowly down the street, hesitating briefly several times to let children stare in admiration. Suddenly, the loud roar of a motorcycle was heard at the mouth of the street. This caused the horse to neigh and rear up on its hind legs. The children squealed with delight. The action reminded them of a cowboy movie. Around that time, a couple of members of the Fairmount Giants baseball team came on the scene, all dressed up in their red and white uniforms. You could smell Sunday dinner – fried chicken, yams and lima beans – coming out of one of the houses.

And you also got a whiff of cheap perfume on the women and Old Spice cologne on the men. Some of the little girls held dandelions to their noses. Every non-and-then somebody brushed up against somebody but nobody got mad. The water ice man happened to come by pushing his cart. Within an instant, he was surrounded by a crowd who waited impatiently for him to shave a huge block of ice with a metal instrument, place the shavings in a paper cone cup and pour thick flavoring into it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hazel (Oldies Dances)

Lately, Hazel has got us all on our feet, dancing before and after every session!! I think we can host our own “So You Think You Can Dance” Senior Edition with the mad skills we are developing in our storytelling group. Actually, here's an idea… we are raising funds to host a series of pop up storytelling events as you know… what if for our group's version of the event we wrap up the main storytelling segment with an oldies dance party? Ok, I am going to have to ask Hazel about this idea and keep you guys posted… this is gonna be FUN!!!

Donate here by Oct 31 if you want to hear some good stories and dance the Suzie Q, the Slap, or maybe even the Chicken ;)

Hazel Nurse
Popular Old Dances

Recently, one morning, there was an article in the news stating that an “Oldies Dance Party” will be held at a Senior Center.

This enabled me to roll the years back to try to remember the name of some dances. In order to refresh my memory, I found that time was an element.

As I proceeded to tidy up every room, the first dance I recalled was the one my dad taught us: the “two-step.” Then next the “Tap,” the “Mooch,” the “Slide,” and the “Twist.” However, a few hours later “The Continental” and the “Rug Cutting” popped up in my mind.

I decided to make a list and before nightfall I had jotted down eighteen old dances. As I am writing them down now, more came to my mind.

Oldies Dances

1.    The Two Step
2.    Tap
3.    Dolow
4.    Mooch
5.    Slide
6.    Twist
7.    Continental
8.    Rug-cut
9.    Waltz
10.    Tango
11.    Charleston
12.    Suzie Q
13.    Bump
14.    Hucklebuck
15.    Ease on Down
16.    Lindy-hop
17.    Boogie Woogie
18.    The Bop
19.    Bunny Hop
20.    Dirty Dig
21.    Slap
22.    Sand
23.    Pony
24.    Camel Walk
25.    Chicken

Hazel Nurse
Popular Old Dances

After telling my son about the number of old dances that we named last week, he added a few more.

This challenge to remember old dances didn't end there either – when my brother came up with a decades old one called "Truckin."

Along with contributions from our story-telling and writing group last Thursday, I counted a total of fifty-five different, fun provoking former dances that hopefully may be revised some day.

1.    The Two Step
2.    Tap
3.    Dolow
4.    Mooch
5.    Slide
6.    Twist
7.    Continental
8.    Rug-cut
9.    Waltz
10.    Tango
11.    Charleston
12.    Suzie-Q
13.    Bump
14.    Hucklebuck
15.    Ease on Down
16.    Lindy-hop
17.    Boogie Woogie
18.    The Bop
19.    Bunny Hop
20.    Dirty Dig
21.    Slap
22.    Sand
23.    Pony
24.    Camel Walk
25.    Chicken (Funky)
26.    Hokey Pokey
27.    Alley Cat
28.    Humpty
29.    Shotgun
30.    Funky Broadway
31.    Funky Penguin
32.    Jingle Jump
33.    Square Dance
34.    Eighty-one
35.    Stroll
36.    Mambo
37.    Slow Dance
38.    Pony
39.    Itch
40.    Hustle
41.    Fly
42.    Jitterbug
43.    Sand
44.    Limbo Stick
45.    Freak
46.    Tarantella
47.    Hora
48.    Watusi
49.    Cross Fire
50.    Mashed Potato
51.    Jerk
52.    Monkey
53.    Walking the Dog
54.    Trucking
55.    Locomotion

Dance teacher – Clorice Price

Friday, October 3, 2014

Caitlin and Joe (My Body is Leaving but My Mind Will Still Be Here)

As you guys may know from our Facebook and Twitter posts, our facilitator Caitlin has been accepted to University of Essex’s playwriting program. To quote Joan our senior bud, sad for us to see her go but we’re SO HAPPY for her!! We had an early celebration months ago, and last weekend we sent her off officially. This Thursday we had another great session but it was definitely not the same without the irreplaceable, awesome through-and-through Caitlin… but here’s what’s really cool: we came up with a way for her to be there in spirit. Every session she would text us 3 sentences summarizing her week abroad. And she kicked off our new tiny tradition with these 3. Ha!!

1. Everyone has nothing but good things to say about my teacher.

2. I finally finished unpacking.

3. I saw a play that was performed in a giant aluminum whale.

The last session she spent with us, she gave us all permanent smiles with the story below. I thought I would share that one with you along with two stories by Joe. Joe and Caitlin share a special bond–because he can’t see, every week he tells her his story verbally. They sit face to face off to the side of the room, away from the table where other seniors are huddled, writing. She writes it down for him word for word, and then reads it out loud for him when his turn to share comes along.

Caitlin, you’re definitely still here with us. No doubt about it. “See you” via text next Thursday ;)

Caitlin Cieri
My Body is Leaving but My Mind Will Still Be Here

I want to write this huge, beautiful tribute to all the regulars of the Philadelphia Senior Center Best Day of My Life So Far group. I’ll be leaving for a yearlong study aborad program in England on Saturday and everyone here deserves a well-written sendoff, except I am having trouble figuring out where to start. I guess the best way to do this is by saying I miss everyone. That’s the gist of what I want to write and the point I want to get to by the time this is over.

I started in 2012 when Donnell whom I worked with invited me to the group during our lunch hour. I treated it like he was the regular helping seniors with their stories, but then I ended up being the regular ghostwriter catching him up on all the things he missed.

I regularly wrote for Joe and Loretta and a few seniors I only saw once, and it was hard to pass that role on to the other volunteers, Rachel or Jana or even Benita. It felt too much like my thing. But I know Jana and Rachel and Benita and whoever else is going to ghostwrite are great writers and transcribers. Besides, that’s not the only thing I’m going to miss.

I’m going to miss seeing Norman in the computer room, typing and retuning his story before bringing it in on freshly printed paper. I’m going to miss having Hattie, Frances and Millie determining the reading order with authority and efficiency. I won’t be able to take surprise phone calls from Beatrice, record Gogo, Hattie and Joan’s spur-of-the moment stories, or make sure Elizabeth signs the attendance sheet when she come rolling in on her scooter. It’ll be hard to make sure Greta comes to performances by the Philadelphia Young Playwrights (another group I am a part of which is how I first met Donnell) and all but impossible to accept Mo’s offer for coffee across the pond. I’m going to miss all of those seniors, plus the ones who only show up occasionally, and especially the ones who can’t come anymore.

I am going to keep in touch. I’ll send texts, videos, and the occasional story. I’ll keep up with the website, the upcoming Story Pop Up event series, emails form volunteers, and baby Kian’s pictures from Benita, of course. I will definitely come in person during the holidays. But I am not going to be here in person, not with any regularity. I am going to have an entire year where Best Day isn’t who I am at the moment.

But this city is full of thousands of seniors and volunteers, and one of Best Day’s goals is to find those people who want and need to be a part of this group. The outreach is only going to get larger with the Story Pop Up project, and there are going to be a lot of new people who can say, “The Best Day of My Life SO Far is a part of who I am right now.” And in these last few days before I leave, I’m glad to have worked with the volunteers who have been able to say this for years and will be able to say this for a very long time. I’ll miss you.

Joe Garrison
More Misheard Lyrics

*The following is a conversation overheard between senior Joe Garrison and facilitator Caitlin Cieri.

J: I’ve got another misheard lyric for you.
C: Cool! You know I love those.
J: You know that song by Celine Dion from Titanic. It sounds like she’s singing, “I believe that the hot dogs go on!” I can just imagine those hot dogs sinking away!
C: Yeah! I can just see a bunch of hot dogs jumping and slithering away and Celine’s like, “No! Don’t go hot dogs! I’m still hungry!”
J: And you remember Neil Diamond’s song “Reverend Blue-Jeans?” And Elton John in “Kiki Dee?” I always thought he sang, “I’ve got your heart in a sock.”

Joe Garrison
More Observances about the Cinema

There’s something I’ve been thinking of, these observances of what I’ve seen over the years in movies and television. Most of them believe it or not are from Western movies. I love other films too, but the Westerns seem to have the most clichés. The scenes I think are the most senseless, the most non-sensical, are the ones where two guys are sitting in a saloon. One guy would offer to buy the other guy a drink. He refuses, then the first guy says, “What are you, too good to drink with me?” And sometimes a gun fight starts. But these films, they’ll have gunfights over anything. Another one is how at the beginning of the movie the girl always mistakes the hero for a bandit or a lowlife and at the end of the movie she’ll apologize. He’ll always say: “Forget it.” Forget it, every time, no matter how badly he’s been mistreated. That’s not how it works in real life. I know that’s not how it works in real life! If someone feels mistreated and other people think they can fix it all by saying “sorry” they’re gonna stay upset for a while.

The reason why I’m writing this is to show that we really haven’t come that far. You still see these clichés in Westerns today! And there’s even worse clichés about us seniors on television and in the cinema! This just goes to show you that just because you see something on the screen doesn’t mean it’s right.   

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What Our Story Pop Up Campaign Means to Me

September 2009, in a borrowed room in the basement
Lifelong friends I made along the way, young and old
September 2014, Best Day of My Life So Far groups across the country
And a new storybook and plans for an event series
Exactly 5 years ago yesterday, Best Day started in a basement.

No, not a meeting room or classroom in a basement. Vicky, the director at Philadelphia Senior Center at the time, wanted to give me a chance to try out the idea of "a senior storytelling group with a blog" but told me that there was no room or budget. I told her, "No prob, I don't need a budget, I will bring in pen and paper, and I can just borrow a staff's office for just an hour a week–we can make the group's meeting time lunchtime to make this work." And so, Jay started leaving his office unlocked for me every Thursday 1pm when he stepped out for lunch, and every week between these Thursday sessions I would reflect right here on this blog about the stories I heard and my personal experience.

The office even housed a mechanical closet so you would hear loud mechanical noise throughout the sessions. It wasn't exactly in top condition–since then, the whole basement has been gutted and renovated. But you know what, the seniors and I didn't care about the conditions of the room. We were so happy. The borrowed basement office and this blog were our oasis.

I want to paint a picture of how we started because I want to show you the true measure of what our Story Pop Up Campaign means to me.

If you are a Best Day Facebook and Twitter fan, and a Story Letter subscriber (a) you are the best!!, and (b) you know that yesterday in celebration of our 5th anniversary, we launched our Story Pop Up Campaign. The goal of the campaign is to bring our seniors stories' out in the open, for more people to enjoy. Now that we have groups, venues and volunteers all across the country, we are launching this campaign to print and distribute 100 copies of our brand new storybook for use in 10 unique storytelling events.

Picture A, 5 years ago: just four seniors and me in that noisy basement office.

Picture B, a reality that will happen with your help: armed with storybooks, Best Day seniors all around the country stepping outside traditional settings and into the open, entering with dignity and purpose places where seniors’ voices aren’t typically heard. Passerbys, friends, family, people in the neighborhood like you and me, gathering around, just to listen.

The road that we have been traveling together via this blog, from A to B, is why this campaign means so much to me.

Make a donation and share our campaign page, so we can continue this amazing journey!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mo (The Dragons - A Message for American Women)

“Hopefully this story will kindle a flame in American Women of all ages… to demand that gender should no longer determine the degree of HUMAN RIGHTS and opportunities available to all Americans. Ladies we need your talents.”

From the father of four daughters and one son, Mo delivers a moving tribute to Little League Baseball pitcher Mo’ne Davis and the Taney Dragons, and a passionate manifesto for women all across America. I share Mo’s hope that this story will be read by women everywhere, and I hope a dad or mom may even read this out loud to their little girl, especially that little girl with a fire in her eyes who may be sitting in the bleachers when she should really be on the field–and you know I don’t just mean a baseball field ;) Girls, it’s game time. The world is ready to watch us play ball. I am ready to play, are you?

Mo McCooper
The Dragons

Our grammar school (1st to 8th grades), was Roman Catholic and co-educational. Some of the girls played street baseball with us. A tennis ball and your fist or a broomstick was used. At the town playground and the public school playground some girls played real baseball, basketball and touch football with us. A few could have played on the school teams ahead of some boys but it was never talked about.

Our basketball court in the basement had six feet high baskets, which we practiced on but no league games were allowed. We played our home games at another school in another town. The girls team played league games on our basement stone floors with 6 feet baskets. Girls rules meant some players didn’t play offense and never shot the ball.

Most girls married soon after high school and after they had a kid never worked again. A few went to college and a few became nuns. During World War II many women went to work: the Bell Telephone Company hired many women. After the war we heard many women were told they were taking jobs from men.

The recent success of the Taney Dragons Little League Baseball Team included lots of praise and publicity for Mo’ne Davis who pitched or played first base. As the team won playoff games and traveled to Williamsport, PA, where the better teams in the United States would eventually play those from other countries in the Little League World Series more and more fan support grew in the Philadelphia area. Having a girl starring and mostly pitching brought national publicity and support. The Taney Dragons eventually lost but their multicultural and urban story grew nationally. Mo’ne Davis threw out the first ball at a Los Angeles Badgers major league game.

Hopefully this story will kindle a flame in American Women of all ages, whom I heard possess over 50% of the population and wealth in this country, to vote at the higher percentages and demand that gender should no longer determine the degree of HUMAN RIGHTS and opportunities available to all Americans. Ladies we need your talents.

Hip Hip Hooray to the Taney Dragons, and especially Mo’ne Davis. Thanks to Elaine, Sally, and all the other young ladies from back in the day who were cheering for us during games even though some of them should have been playing.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Powerful Testimonial and a Heartfelt Thankyou

An older adult writes and speaks, and a young person transcribes the heartfelt words into typed text. It’s a beautiful partnership across time.

The words of these stories bring back the past, but more important than that, they fulfill our common human need to be heard, to be listened to, to connect. This inspired program, represented so movingly in this storybook, provides a safe environment for older adults to tell their stories, and the benefits are myriad. Knowing that their memories will live forever means so much to the older participants, and we’ve seen them flourish as a result; and for the young adult scribes, every session is an opportunity that teaches about giving and sharing and connecting, and how being of service is enriching on so many levels.

Long live the words of these Best Day stories, and may the voices represented know that someone out there is listening.

- Lisa Marsh Ryerson, AARP Foundation President

A personal word of encouragement from just the right person can make the earth quiver and make our seniors truly realize the power of their voices. This testimonial, which I just received, from AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson, has done just that. The timing was perfect–my weekly session with my senior buds was the next day. I couldn't wait to surprise them.

"She is what you'd call 'a big deal'," Norman says, nodding with pride. "This is kind of like…" Norman, a veteran, places his hand on his heart, "a giant badge of honor."

On behalf of senior storytellers and young volunteers in growing Best Day groups across the country, some of the original members of our original group made this little video to say thank you. Lisa, a word from you just means so much. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you also to the entire AARP Mentor Up Team, especially Aiyshen and Lina, for connecting us with Lisa.

Readers: if you caught the word, "Storybook," yup, you heard/read right! We will be launching our first ever storybook at the end of this month, on our 5th Anniversary… and that's not the only thing we will be announcing…. Want the scoop? Get it first on Facebook/ Twitter/ our Story Letter. I can't wait to surprise… you :)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Defending Dr. Martin Luther King

The same day Frances told her story, “Conditioning” which was shared in the previous blog post, Norman told one about civil rights, too. It was a coincidence. Coincidence, or maybe there’s something in the air. Norman had told one on the same topic the week before, and got us all thinking. The way history books tell about civil rights is big and ceremonial; the way my senior buds tell about it is personal and complicated. I appreciate their point of view so much, because for me at least, the personal and complicated is so much more relatable, so much more timeless, so much more real.

Norman Cain
Defending and Respecting Dr. Martin Luther King

During the fall of 1967, when I was a cadet at the United States Army military police school at Fort Gordon, Georgia, at least 70% of the training consisted of classroom instruction.

One day, a 2nd L.t., who was teach a civics class told the class: "Martin Luther King is a communist, an enemy of the United States of America.

Believing that he was not aware who Reverend King was and what he stood for, I immediately arose from my desk, stood at attention, and sharply saluted the L.t. Then I began to speak.

"Sir, with all due respect," I said, "Reverend King is not a communist. He is just trying to get the rights that the Negroes are entitled to."

No one said anything. There was silence. After a while, the L.t. proceeding with his lecture. I assume that my statement had been respected.

Several days after the preceding incident, I was assigned to Kitchen Patrol or K.P. Now this was unusual because I had already served my required one time on K.P. I surmised that the company was short-handed, I was wrong. My being assigned to extra K.P. wasn't just for a day.

I was assigned to K.P. for ten straight days. I was awakened at 4:30am. I reported to the kitchen at 6am. I peeled potatoes, and sliced onions, shucked corn, and made salads, washed dishes and mopped floors and did a variety of other tedious tasks until at least 9pm. For sixteen hours a day, I had to toil unmercifully. And if that was not enough, I had to endure the harassment of the mess sergeants.

For ten days, I missed military police training. My superious refused to give me make-up work for my missed classes. It never dawned upon me that saying Dr. Martin Luther King was not a communist was the cause of the dilemma that I was experiencing.

I was dismissed from my K.P. duties the day of the final examination. Although I had missed ten days of instruction, I felt that I had, at least, barely passed the test. However, I was mistaken. I was informed that out of the 300 cadets in my class, I had ranked 298 on the final exam.

I had flunked out of military police school. I was devastated. I did not know what the future held for me. I was worried. Several days after the test, I was informed that the company commander wanted to see me. I had something else to worry about.

Attempting to maintain my composure, I entered the company office. Inwardly shaking, I faced and saluted the captain, a tall lean wirily individual who was quite the dandy. His boots were brilliantly shined and his pants were sharply tailored and pressed. He, unlike the other personnel, wore a battle helmet and carried a swagger stick (tip down). He drove throughout the post in a red convertible that always contained an attractive blond. He was meticulous, not vain. He was likable, a trait that most commissioned and non-commissioned officers lacked.

"Private Cain" he barked in an unfamiliar hostile voice. "Are you trying some trick?" He stared me down. I could read anger in his eyes. This was not the likable and cool company commander that I had grown to know.

"No sir." I answered, wondering what he meant by assuming that I was trying to be tricky.

"You got the second lowest score on the final examination." By his tone I knew he wanted a verbal response.

"Yes sir" was all I could think of to say. I was literally shaken up inside.

"I think you are trying some kind of trick and I am going to get to the bottom of what you are trying to do." He said, "When you first got here, I recruited you for officer's training school, explained to you that there were too few black officers in the Army. You said that you were going to sign up, but you didn't. I didn't give you a command but I thought we had a gentlemen's agreement. What do you have to say for yourself?"

"Sir," I said, "When the recruiting officer opened the door and saw me, he slammed the door in my face."

The captain's stern look softened for a second. "What about this low test score of yours?" he asked. "You finished college, was in graduate school part-time, taught school and was accepted by the Peace Corp. How could you flunk the final examination?"

"Sir, I did not go to classes for ten straight days."

"What, why?" he asked. By the tone of his voice I could tell he was astonished.

"I was on K.P. for ten days." I answered.

"You were on K.P. for ten days?"


At that point, the captain called for the first sergeant, who was directly responsible for the "day-to-day" activities of the recruits to come into the main office. When he arrived, the captain directed him to stand at attention.

The captain began to spiel x-rated language to the first sergeant. He definitely let the sergeant known that he had been irresponsible in the performance of his duties. Finally, the captain dismissed the first sergeant. He then told me that I still had to respect the first sergeant, and he assured me that I would be sent to another company for three weeks and thereby, be able to fulfill graduation requirements. He sincerely wished me luck.

When I completed the three additional weeks, I was told that I had received the second highest grade on the final examination. Perhaps I never flunked the first examination. Perhaps I had received the highest score in the class on the second examination. Only the army personnel involved knew.

By troubles, which started when I proclaimed that Reverend Martin Luther King was not a communist did not end with my graduating from the military police academy. Seemingly, my pay records mysteriously disappeared and for my first six months in Panama, my permanent duty station, I was not paid.

I survived by depleting the $400.00 I had saved in Philadelphia's Continental Bank. To say the least, my experience in military school was prejudiced to core. It was initiated by my defending Dr. Martin Luther King, something I have no regrets for doing something I will always do; He gave his live for his dream of unity and freedom.

(To Be Continued)

Norman Cain
Defending and Respecting Dr. Martin Luther King (Part 2)

In 1965, I defended Dr. Kin's honor, when as a cadet in the military police academy in Fort Gordon, Georgia, I corrected an officer who said that Dr. King was a community. I never regretted the dire consequence the Army gave me for defending Dr. King's name.

Ten years after the Fort Gordon affair (1975), when I was living in Atlanta, Georgia, an incident occurred that prompted me to respect the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. The incident in question began one spring night when I injured my left wrist, which I assumed was sprained.

When I arrived at Grady memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta, four doctors attended to me. Because I had been employed as a surgical and orthopedic orderly at the Middlesex hospital in Middletown, Conn, years earlier, I had knowledge of orthopedic procedures.

I felt that only two (not four) doctors were needed to attend to me. After looking at my wrist, the doctors huddled, conferred and then returned to me. One doctor yanked my wrist. My entire left arm was set in a cask.

I had the feeling that the four doctors had conspired to experiment on my wrist. Like, I said I had worked as an orthopedic orderly. I had often held appendages in certain positions when doctors placed plaster on patients. I remained in Grady Memorial hospital for a week.

After being discharged from the hospital, my arm itched constantly, but I was unable to scratch because of the cask that covered it. I couldn't work. I had to worry about eating and paying the rent on the efficiency that I was renting. I went to the Unemployment office to file a claim, but was told that I didn't qualify for benefits; because those on unemployment compensation were required to seek employment and if an ailment or physical situation would prevent one from being hired by a prospective employer, unemployment compensation was out of the question. I was told, however, than an overdue Philadelphia claim that I had initiated months earlier would be activated. I accepted the disheartening/good news without an argument; however my calmness soon evaporated.

When I was on my way out of the Unemployment office, I overheard the case worker who had interviewed me tell a co-worker my situation. They laughed. How can people, especially those who held a position to help others, be so insensitive? I lost it, I read the culprits the "Riot Act." They called for security. I was not in the position to remain in the office, so I left.

What was I to do? In addition to being broke and hungry, I was worried about paying my rent and could not scratch the constant itching of my arm because it was covered with the plastered cask. That night, I decided to go to the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King to meditate. When I arrived, no one was there. I sat on a concrete bench which was in front of a pool. Dr. King's tomb (which set behind an eternal flame) was located in the center of the pool.

The inscription on the base of the tomb read: "The eternal flame symbolizes the continuing effort to realize Dr. King's ideals for the 'Beloved Community' which requires lasting personal commitment that cannot weaken when faced with obstacles."

I could not be weakened because of the obstacle that I found myself in. I could have gotten enough money for a decent meal to quench my hunger, for resting at the bottom of the pool were an array of coins that visitors had thrown in for "Good Luck." But, I could not weaken when faced with obstacles.

Although I was broke and hungry, I did  not think about wading in the pool and confiscating some of the coins. I stayed at the tomb for two or more hours. My mind was clear. It was not burdened by my problems.  It was the realm of a spiritual Peace. I had never experienced the feeling of serenity that had overcome me at Dr. King's tomb. That night, I developed a plan that I instantly knew would solve my problem.

I knew that men were not given welfare in Atlanta in 1975; however, the day after the night that I had meditated at Dr. King's tomb, I went to the welfare office anyway. I was interviewed by a nice caseworker who showed sympathy. She told me that unemployment caseworkers should have sent me to see her and while men did  not get welfare in Atlanta, she was going to make an exception in my case.

She game the some paperwork and instructed me to go to the welfare office in my district. Ironically, I was sent to an office that was named after Dr. King's name – and which was located within a block of his tomb.

When I arrived at my destination, I was greeted by another nice caseworker who not only informed me that my first check and food stamps would arrive within a week, but gave me enough money to purchase a meal as well. Things were looking up, but there was still another obstacle facing me.

A month after receiving my welfare grant, I reported to the hospital to have my cast removed. The same four doctors that were present when the cast was placed on my arm were present. As the cast was being removed from my arm, I intensely studied each of their faces. When the cast was removed, I saw that they were deeply disappointed. Their experiment (at my expense) had failed. They did not give me an appointment to have the pins removed from my wrist. They just left the room without uttering a word.

I spent the next month constantly going to the hospital to have the pins removed from my wrist. I was always given the "run-around". I chose not to return to Philadelphia for the operation. I did not have insurance and the Philadelphia General Hospital, which had been a public hospital, was closed. Finally I was given an appointment to have the pins removed from my arm.

When I entered the operating room, I immediately felt at ease, for the orthopedic surgeon and his two scrub nurses projected an aura of peace. I was not put to sleep during the procedure; I was, rather, heavily sedated. During the operation, I had a heartwarming conversation with the young doctor. He was from Brooklyn, New York, was familiar with Philadelphia landmarks, and spoke fondly of Foo Foo's Steak shop, that at the time, was located at 52nd and Locust Street.

Several weeks after my operation, I received my long overdue unemployment checks and returned to Philadelphia. I truly believed that if I had taken money from the pool that housed Dr. King's tomb, my ordeal in Atlanta would have been prolonged. Taking money from his tomb would have made me a grave robber.

I will always respect and defend the legacy of Doctor Martin Luther King.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Frances (Conditioning)

With some stories, even before I am done hearing them for the first time, even as my senior buds are just beginning to read out loud the first few sentences, I know that I would remember them vividly, forever, I know that their significance is so great that I can never completely wrap my mind around them, I know that their significance is only going to get greater over time. This story by Frances is one of them. “The signs have been removed from the doors but they have yet to be removed from the mind.”
Frances Bryce

In 1965, I was living in Phila, PA, and went to visit my father who lived in a small town in South Carolina. I accompanied my father for his annual checkup to his doctor’s office. Two waiting rooms were still in use; one had been used excessively for white patients – the other for colored people. The outlines for the signs were still visible over the doors.

The large room was paneled with checkered red and mint green. Baskets of flowers and plants aligned the tables and the cabinets. A beautiful fern plant cascaded over the receptionist’s desk. The latest editions of Life, Family, Ladies’ Home Journal and Parents’ Magazines were neatly lined on a table. Bright lights illuminated the room. There were plenty of comfortable seats. This room was formally available to white patients only.

The other waiting room was small and windowless, dimly lit, and painted a drab gray. Ten dog-eared copies of Life and Ebony magazines sprawled out on the table. Draught-backed chairs lined the wall. This room had been the waiting room for the colored patients.

I entered the cheerful room, my father hesitated, and then reluctantly followed. I was not too surprised to see that most of the colored patients gravitated to the room that they had been required to use before desegregation.

My father said, “This room is nice.”

“Dad, you have never been to this room before?”
“No, Baby, I just always used our waiting room.” He thought for a while and then spoke again. “You know I never thought about using this room.”

I reached out for his hand and patted it gently. I spoke to no one in particular. “The signs have been removed from the doors but they have yet to be removed from the mind.” We picked up a magazine to read and waited to see his doctor.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Joan (The Blessing of Knowing Who Your Parents Are)

On the first Thursday of every month, my senior buds, co-facilitators and I have a tradition–we put down our pens and notebooks and hop on the computers to check out the recent and not-so-recent stories they have told, and to see what Facebook and Twitter comments you all have submitted. Well, THIS week, because we (shh...) just soft-launched our new website which serves as a portal that connects our growing groups across the country, our seniors thought it would be cool to browse the new website and read the stories from our satellite groups. We are so proud of all our little brothers and sisters that we made them a little Youtube video to cheer them on. We really think of our own group as a supertight immediate family, and every group that is starting is like an immediate family of their own. And altogether, we are one big diverse extended family, all spread out but united at the click of a button. We are officially launching our new website to the general public with the next issue of our seasonal Story Letter which you can sign up for HERE. But since you are a close friend of our fam ;) go right ahead and SNEAK A PEEK HERE and tell us what you think on Facebook and Twitter!

But first, a recent story by Joan about her family.

Joan Bunting
The Blessing of Knowing Who Your Parents Are

Some of you know that I was brought up in foster homes. Me being next to the youngest of eight children was only two years old when we were placed.

The oldest and the youngest with two middle children were in one home and the next to the oldest and the oldest and my sister Doris and I was placed in the other homes. We were placed in three separate homes for reasons I told in other stories.

The second home we were placed in was not far from where my maternal mother lived. The older siblings always knew where our mother lived and my oldest brother always knew where to find our father. Theodore Jr. was always running away from our foster mother we called Mom. He would steal money and hide it in his shoe.

Back then in the 1940s the heel of your shoe was removable and that’s where he’d hide the stolen money. He would then go to Southwest Philadelphia to where our father was. When the authorities would catch up with him, they would put him away. They first sent him to a correctional institution. Theodore finally ran away from there. Being that he was at least seventeen years of age, they let him go. At the age of eighteen we were considered old enough to leave our foster parents. Bertha, next to the oldest of us all knew where our mother lived, just a few blocks from us.

On Sunday mornings when we would go to Sunday School, Bertha would ask my sister Doris and I if we would want to go see  Mother – and of course we’d say yes. We’d see Mother and be so glad to see her and she’d be happy to see us.

My mother and father had separated because I was told by my mother that when I lived with her after I graduated high school, Daddy was very intelligent and had good jobs but Daddy liked to gamble. On pay day he’d come home broke. Mother got tired of seeing the older children going to school not dressed as well as they should have been.

All of us children always knew who our parents were. After we were all on our own and I lived with my mother we would gather together and someone would tell Theodore to go get Daddy. He would come back with him and four of us would start singing. We were harmonious together. Theodore would sing lead, Eugene base, Bernice sang soprano, Phoebe sang soprano also and I sang tenor.

As my sister and I were on our way to the Royal Movie House, who did we see waiting hand-in-hand coming toward us? Mother and Daddy. That was when I was still in a foster home and quite young.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rachel (Reflections and Stories)

One of the volunteers I get to work with directly is Rachel, and what’s really cool is I get to work with her in more ways than one. Rachel is a pre-med creative writing major at Bryn Mawr College, age 22, and as you may guess from her major, yup it’s true, she is a perfect combo of smart and soulful, she sports a giant thinking cap and carries a giant heart. On Thursdays, I facilitate our group with her (that’s the official way of saying we get to hang out with our lovely senior buds and hear their stories and sometimes join in with our own); on the other days, I email and text with her to plan out our Story Letters, which she coordinates.

Our Story Letters are seasonal emails containing curated stories from our groups nationwide, all sharing an inspirational theme – our way of bringing some sunshine into your inbox! (Rachel and our team are hard at work on the next issue, which is coming out in a few weeks! In case you aren’t signed up yet, you can do it Here.)

As you can imagine, the conversations that I have had with Rachel span the practical (passing out pens and paper and handouts) and the visionary (the universe of Best Day groups that is forming), the silly (Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” videos) and philosophical (isolation being not just a senior problem). Rachel just has a beautiful, soulful, moving way of seeing the world. I think that every time I hear one of her stories, I think that often when I see a text from her, and I definitely thought that when she emailed me her reflections below a few days ago. Thank you Rachel – for being you!!

Rachel Hampton

I've been volunteering with Best Day for six months now. It seems like such a short amount of time - for how comfortable I feel in this community, for how much I care about everyone here, for the deep peace I feel every time I come into class. Through Best Day, I've learned how powerful a connection can become when two people simply decide to listen to each other. For me, that's the lesson of our group - if you go into an interaction with a person committed not only to respecting their story, but also to trusting them with your story, that interaction can always be a beautiful, worthwhile moment. I look forward to staying with Best Day and helping to build a huge network of people who get to create and experience those wonderful moments of trust together - a strong community that helps us all to live our lives fully and bravely.

Rachel Hampton
First Best Day

I just wanted to say that – I am so excited to meet everyone!  I love to write, but I’ve never really written stories with a group of people before.  I’m a little nervous – okay, I’m very nervous which is why I’m wearing my dinosaur sweatshirt that my brother Alex bought me for Christmas – the dinosaur makes feel brave because he’s so funny looking but he’s still roaring loudly.
I hope that we can all have fun writing together and that I can remember everyone’s names – Greta the glamorous singer, Joe who loves Jazz, Norman the one-man publisher, Sylvia who is so elegant and just as new as I am, Hazel with her wonderful smile, Joan who explained the class so well, Hattie who is so quick to marshal us all to help Beatrice, Brenda with her great hat pin, and Benita, Lea and Caitlin, who are so full of love and good ideas – this is all I know about you all right now, but I’m so excited to get to know everyone and listen to everyone’s stories.

Rachel Hampton
Children’s Zoo

I’ve been thinking about my birthday – I’m not sure why, it’s still months away – but I’ve been wondering I’m going to do this year. I usually don’t do much. I was very little one time when my mother brought me and some of my friends to the zoo. One of my friends was this boy named Brian, who was smarter than me and so I was always mad at him. But this day he convinced me to run away from everyone else with him and go to the part of the zoo that had a slide.

When my mother finally found us, I remember that she wasn’t very mad at me, which I thought was weird. I was glad she wasn’t mad, but the rest of that birthday was really bad. I thought one of my friends had stolen money from me, and I screamed at her. I was very dramatic. I remember my mother leaning over to one of the other mothers and saying, “Maybe we should have just left them at the zoo.”

Rachel Hampton
Telling Sadness

I really like my poetry class this semester.  We’ve been listening to the blues – to Paul Robeson and Mississippi John Hurt.  My oldest brother loves the blues, but I’ve never really listened to them before.  I’ve never heard anything like them.  Nothing so sad, and nothing that’s so tough beneath all that sadness.  Blues singers are sad, but they’re cheerful beneath it – determined to tell their story.  That’s the best thing for sadness I think – telling it.

I grew up in a family that’s from rural Oklahoma – we don’t really tell our sadness, which is hard sometimes.  But I think we’re getting better at it.  It’s a hard thing to learn.

Rachel Hampton
Fever Days

Yesterday, my poetry class came into Philly to go to a museum, the Barnes. I was starting to get sick, but I wanted to go so I went anyway. At first, this seemed like not my best idea. As I was looking around the museum, I started to get a fever, which was kind of funny because the paintings looked really vivid. But then we were walking around in the cold and my fever got higher and higher. My friends took care of me and got me food and then got me to the train. I felt very loved and also kind of awesome because I realized that even if I was sick I could still get around and have a good day. I feel like people are really afraid of sickness - we feel like if someone’s sick they should hide away and just be completely immobile and medicate themselves until they can’t feel anything - and all of that stuff is definitely necessary and can make us feel better. But, it’s also possible to live with sickness, with pain - and I think that’s something we don’t really like to think about anymore. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because my dad’s sick a lot and I’m sick a lot too, and it’s hard to live with that. But I think we can learn how.

Rachel Hampton
Going Outside

I haven’t been outside for a long time. I mean, I’ve gone outside to get to places, obviously, but I haven’t gone to the beach or to go hiking or anything like that for a while, because I’, usually in school or working. I used to go camping with my dad, when I was little. He likes to camp on this pieces of land in Maine that was very barren, no trees. But near a river and a forest. But one year we hadn’t gone back in a while and we went to visit and it was overgrown with new baby trees. We got there at night and we didn’t even recognize it. I remember feeling my way through the trees, all the sticky pine needles grabbing at me, tripping on roots. I was little and I thought a giant forest had sprung up overnight. In the morning, through, we could see it was all new growth. We went exploring. There were blueberry bushes, emptied of their berries because foxes had found them. Foxes have their very particular wet-fur smell and it was everywhere. They were living right under our noses. There were birds everywhere and all kinds of planes and even some wildcat and deer footprints/ I remember my father was so happy. I couldn’t really understand what was happening and was not impressed that a forest hadn’t just sprung up – but it was moving in. The forest was returning, to a place that humans had made barren with logging and mining. It was really a very beautiful thing. Next time, I’ll write about the day which a tent fell on me.