Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Millie (Beginning to Remember)

This may be the heaviest set of stories I have ever posted - and over the years I have posted some heavy ones. After every session for several weeks now, Millie and I stayed after class to chat about what she had written. Every week, I could see a greater strength and happiness in her eyes. The Thursday before last, she said something spontaneously which stuck with me (and will probably always stick with me), and this Thursday she wrote it down for me and let me take a picture, so we can both remember it, word for word, spoken in her voice.

After showing Millie this picture on my phone, we looked at each other and I cried tears of joy. The weight lifted by this picture is heavier than mountains.

If there is anything you would like me to pass onto Millie, please post it as a Facebook comment or send me a personal email at If you are going through any struggles, past or present, of your own, I hope that Millie’s stories offer you the motivation you have been waiting for, to confront your struggles in some way.

Millie Lilly

The cold and snow have limited my ability to get out as much as usual.  I am one of many who really struggle with the conditions.

A lot of my time was spent in cold climates.  When I was four and a half years old, my Air Force family moved to St. John’s Island, Newfoundland.  My older sister, younger brother, father, and pregnant mother lived in a house at the top of a hill.  We lived in the basement without a refrigerator.  The family who owned the house lived upstairs.  They had a son.

The wind blew off the frozen water bringing icy cold along with the sounds of the seals being clubbed to death in the early morning.  My father tells me the seals sounded just like babies crying.

I don’t think there was much thinking about the effects of hearing that crying on the adults or young children.

Newfoundland was a harsh place in many ways.  Some countries sent people they no longer wanted.  Surely some of those people did nothing to deserve it.

Millie Lilly
The Beginning

One of the hardest things about being far from S. Carolina was being away from my Grandmother. When she looked at me I could tell she loved me and I always felt safe with her.

St. John’s Island, Newfoundland was a long way from my nanny. I believe she would have seen something was going on that neither of my parents could see. My mother was pregnant with 3 children under the age of 6 years old. She didn’t have much time nor was she inclined to encourage her children to talk to her. My father was hungry for an older man to pay attention to him. The man who owned the house lived upstairs from our basement apartment and was more than willing to play the part of the older man in my father’s life.

Harold was his name. His wife and son Tommy – who was around eight – lived with him. They were from England. It turns out Newfoundland was a hot bed of pedophiles. People expelled from their country of origin…

Millie Lilly
Just Tell Someone

I sat on the ground playing so it must have been during the summer I turned five years old.  The ground would have been too cold any other time of the year.

A few feet away my father and Harold were talking.  They stood in front of the house Harold owned and my family lived in the basement apartment.  A police car siren could be heard going by.  Harold said to my father, “You don’t want the police to get you, do you Ken?”  “Oh no”, my father said, “you don’t want the police to get you.”

Harold had been telling me how if I told anyone what he was doing to me, the police would do worse things to me.  Even at five years old, I knew he was jerking me around, but I couldn’t hold on to it enough to figure out to get help.

Harold was always thinking of ways to drive home I couldn’t tell anyone.  He was afraid about my father and my sister who was a year and a half older.  He knew I didn’t have a voice with my mother.  He never worried about me telling her.  He would threaten me with telling her I had done something wrong whenever he wanted to force me to do something.  When the baby was born dead, he said more people would die if I told.

Millie Lilly
Beginning To Remember

I had no memory of what happened to me in Newfoundland until my early forties. I was almost 16 when we left Alaska for Grand Forks, North Dakota. I was a junior in high school and was sad about leaving friends and a place I felt I belonged. North Dakota was cold, with the extra added feature of wind that cut through you like a knife. Only small trees and soil that was dry and dusty. Potato land.
I remember standing in the living room listening to my mother crying and reading a letter that had taken a long time to catch up to us. It was from Harold’s wife, saying that he had died after an illness, and he had suffered much. I had no memory of the horrible things he had done to me.
Still, I thought: Good. Good. Good.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Norman (March Madness)

Think you’re the world’s biggest basketball fan? I don’t know… Norman may have you beat ;) Not yet a fan of the game? Look at basketball through Norman’s eyes and you might just start to fall in love with the sport! Happy March Madness, everyone!

Norman Cain
March Madness

I love sports and my favorite sport is basketball.
I’ve played basketball.
I’ve watched basketball.
I’ve read about basketball.
I’ve coached basketball.
I’ve kept score at basketball games.
I’ve operated the clock at basketball games.
I’ve organized basketball tournaments.
I’ve researched basketball.
I’ve written about basketball.
I’ve discussed basketball with my writing group bud, Big Mo.
I’ve debated basketball.
I’ve dreamt about basketball.
I’ve had misgivings about the present state of basketball.
I could go on and on about my history with basketball.
So I will say this last thing about basketball. It has to do with the present month.
March is on of my favorite months because of what has become widely known as March Madness: the annual prolonged collegiate basketball tournament whose purpose is to determine the best college basketball team in the nation.
Since basketball is my favorite sport, I will be totally engaged in March Madness and watching games on television.
And throughout those games I will revisit my varied association with the game called basketball.

Norman Cain
Good Luck at two Basketball Arenas

I have been attending Philadelphia area basketball competition at the professional and collegiate level for approximately 57 years. During that period, I was never seated in the better sections of the numerous basketball arenas in which I found myself.

Beginning in 1957, when I was 14, I started saving my money so that I would be able to see the Philadelphia Warriors, whose star was Wilt Chamberlain, play at the old Philadelphia Convention Center which was located in the vicinity of the Pennsylvania Hospital.

I would also attend collegiate basketball games at the University of Pennsylvania gymnasium, the Palestra, which was located in the vicinity of the 3300 block of Spruce Street. I would also go to Temple University’s gym at Broad and Columbia Avenue (Now Cecil B. Moore Av.) and watch the excellent teams that they sponsored during the era.

Throughout the years, I continued to attend collegiate basketball and professional games in both the Philadelphia areas and other sections of the United States. While I, in the majority of cases, found the games to be interesting and exciting, I always had the feeling that a little something was missing. Actually, I knew what was missing.
I was always seated in the low priced areas of the arenas. In many cases, I would be seated on the highest row. The players would virtually look like ants scurrying across a miniature playing space. I always wanted to be down front so I could see the action up close.

Recently that wish was granted to me on three occasions. Either the Basketball Genie, or the Basketball Fairy or the Benevolence of Fate or the united effort of each conspired to have me sit in front row seats: once at a professional basketball game and twice at collegiate basketball games.

This past December, a lifelong friend, Andy White, treated me to a Philadelphia 76ers game. We sat close to the floor. The tickets were $75.00. The players did not look like ants scurrying up a miniature floor; they looked like giants and the floor was not miniature in stature; it was gigantic.

In December, a Temple university alumnus named Ron saw me at the ticket window where I was about to purchase a bleacher level ticket to a women’s game featuring Temple and Villanova Universities. Ron offered me a free $35.00 front row seat. I readily accepted the offer and sincerely thanked him. But my luck didn’t stop there.
In January, Ron spotted me at the ticket office where I was about to purchase a cheap uppermost bleacher area ticket to a Temple and Memphis University basketball game, and again offered me a front row seat valued at $50.00. Again, I accepted the ticket. Again, I sincerely thanked him.

So, good fortune blessed me with something that I always wanted to experience: front row seats at a professional and collegiate basketball game. Although the 76ers lost to a team whose name escapes me and the Temple Women’s and Men’s teams went down in defeat, I was still happy to have had the Basketball Genie, or the Basketball Fairy, or the Benevolence of Fate or the united efforts of each conspire to have Andy and Ron make it possible for me to enjoy my 57 year old dream: front row seats at a professional and collegiate basketball game.

Norman Cain
I Feel Good

I am far away from being egotistical but there are times when compliments make me feel good. 

I felt good when my father said, “You are a man.”

I felt good when my mother told me that I did an excellent job as the emcee for a family reunion.

I felt good when my uncle (a South Carolina Farmer) who I worked with told me that I was dedicated.

I feel good when the neighborhood guys in their forties call me Coach.  I had them as a champion basketball team when they were 15.

Norman Cain
Forced Cooperation

As seniors we can recall way back years of hard knocks, years when we made our own toys, years when we engaged in communal games, years when hard labor was the rub and years when cooperation was a given.  There were no short cuts.  There was no “me, me, me” but “us, us, us.”  Now it seems that the concept of group has been overtaken by the concept of individualism. 

That fact makes many seniors angry.  It certainly made a Philadelphia icon angry recently.  That icon was Sonny Hill.  He is the Godfather of Philadelphia basketball (he’s in the Basketball Hall of Fame and has maintained a summer basketball league for college, middle school, and high school players for over 30 years).  He is a no non-sense guy.  On Monday night he did something that I had never seen before during a basketball game.  He became angry with the players not cooperating with one another and trying to be fancy, so he kicked the teams off the floor.  The guys playing the next game played hard and together, they got the message.  The way we always played is the best.  It brought back memories of yesteryear’s spirit of cooperation.

I know things have changed in the way society thinks today, but I wish there was more cooperation.  I certainly miss it.  That is why I try to cooperate with people as much as I possibly can.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hattie (See What My Mother Wrote)

Lately very sad things are turning into very heartwarming things. I wrote a blog post featuring Hattie's stories on February 18th. I didn't know that later that day, her son Keith (gentleman in the suit and tie in the photo above), who had a perfect bill of health, would suddenly pass away from a heart attack. Hattie was in class last Thursday for the first time since that had happened. She told me at his memorial (attended by 2000 people, which speaks to what a difference he had made on this earth), Keith's secretary told her that he was an avid follower of this very blog. Every time I post one of Hattie's stories, he would tell his secretary, "Vicki, see what my mother wrote!" Hattie had never met Vicki before and this was what Vicki made sure to tell her. Hattie knew Keith had checked out the blog years ago, but didn’t know he kept coming back.

Hattie told our group all this with a deep smile that, even if it’s just for a moment, seemed to wipe away her pain. When Hattie first walked into the room, I was surprised to see her back so soon after Keith’s passing; when she told us all this, it made sense. I am glad that being in our group and having her stories here on this blog can give her this kind of comfort. I am glad that seeing his mom’s stories gave at least one man moments of inspiration and joy, even if it’s in a lifetime that was cut way too short.

Here is the blog post that I posted the day Keith passed away. I wonder if he had time to read it that day.

Here is a story that Hattie wrote back in 2010. Keith dropped some major hints for his mom to write a story about him, so she did and asked me to post it right away ;)

Vicki, if you are reading this now, thank you for sharing what you shared with Hattie. I think it gave her more comfort that you and I could ever imagine.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Caitlin (Surprise!)

I have thought long and hard about when to share this with you, and feel like now is the right time. I thought I was going to be sharing bad news, but I was wrong, what I get to share is one of the happiest unfolding of events that I have ever experienced – even though it began with a sad start.

Beatrice’s health declined rapidly at the end of last year, and finally she had to stop coming to the group. I was devastated at first. As you all know from all the posts I have written of her over the years, I am very, very close with her. But then… well, leave it to our senior buds to turn something sad into something amazing!!! Hint: Youtube, Facebook, visits, texts, phone calls, and of course, stories… every communication medium under the sun came into play on this. And just to be super clear – the initial use of Youtube was the seniors’ idea, not mine or any other facilitator’s. That’s right!! And to tell you about it, I have enlisted the help of one of our loyal, amazing facilitators, Caitlin. Around here, as Beatrice always says, we are special because we are like a family.
Caitlin Cieri

Before I update you on the latest events at our group, I’ll need to give you a little bit of history. Beatrice Newkirk has been with our group for an incredibly long time. Even before she first started coming, her twin sister Bernice was one of the four seniors who attended our first session in 2009. Soon after that, Beatrice and Bernice became Best Day regulars, coming with a new story or poem every single week. Unfortunately, Bernice fell ill and had to move into a nursing home. Beatrice continued attending in Bernice’s stead and started taking on more and more tasks as the group grew. She called out the reading order, she collected the seniors’ writings, she welcomed new seniors and guests, and she even rallied the group into throwing a surprise party for Benita’s baby. Recently, Beatrice has not been feeling well and has been absent from the group for a few months. A couple weeks ago, our seniors decided to cheer her up with an impromptu video greeting.

When we posted it on Facebook, her daughter Renee commented almost immediately:
Beatrice herself did one better. Since she lives in Lebanon with another daughter and can’t come back to Best Day until she gets better, she decided she’d surprise her friends in the group with a telephone call. She set it up with Benita. Then Rachel (who recently joined us as a facilitator), Benita and I texted each other surreptitiously to make sure we got all the details right. We even invited the Senior Center’s Director, Julie Allen-Nelson, and Beatrice’s close friend Mrs. Constance “Bess” White (who had never been to a Best Day session before) to watch the action unfold. We made that fateful call at 1:20 P.M.
Unfortunately, we got the answering machine the first time. So we tried again, only to get a busy signal. Finally, Beatrice picked up on the third call. All of the seniors exploded with delight and the opportunity to talk to their old friend after so long. In fact, this was actually the first time Rachel and Beatrice had actually talked together, and they both got along swimmingly. Beatrice even recited a poem she had recently written:

Beatrice Newkirk
In God’s Hands

We are in God’s Hands, here where we stand
Because of Him we are here
He shows us He cares
In God’s hand is every way,
He helps us make our day
He hears our cries, and He hears our pleas,
He knows where we want to be
In God’s hands big and strong
Help us to do no wrong
In God’s hands he holds us up
Giving us love from loving cup

Next, we read some of her stories aloud from this very blog! Norman was especially excited to have me read “Our Advice to Others” while Beatrice was on the line.

Beatrice Newkirk
Our Advice for Others

We are special because we are like a family. We are made up of different people. We feel close to each other. We learn from others.

Coming back every week is a blessing. Being away, we can’t wait until the next time.

I feel comfortable when I hear from other members. And I can’t wait to see new people and hear their stories.

We care and respect everyone. Everyone is welcome to our class.

The kind of person having a class like our writing class has to have experience and has to have been through something. That is our teacher Benita.

My daughter and family get a kick out of our class. They see our stories on the internet and sometimes it relates to them.

Our class is special because we are like a family.

The good news is that Beatrice is feeling much better and hopes to be back to the group one day. In the meantime, everyone here will continue to spread the Best Day spirit by writing about their lives, and writing about the lives of our close friends and family. After seeing all the time everyone took to catch up with Beatrice and recreate the group through the phone lines, I like to think we’re a little of both.

And before I forget, we videotaped the whole phone call! Take a look and leave us your thoughts on Facebook!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Elizabeth (The Best Thing)


And there it was. The first story that Elizabeth wrote in our group, the first time she ever joined. She rides in with her scooter every single week now, with a smile that stops all traffic and dries all tears, bursting with excitement to just be there and listen and share. She is a scootin’, livin’ embodiment of pure joy.

Elizabeth Mallory
The Best Thing

My husband proposed to me about a week after my 17th birthday. He asked me to marry him the first day we met; we were married 10 days later. A friend of David’s told him about me when they were in the army in Korea. No we were not in love, but liked each other. David fell in love with my life story and wanted to be a part of it. At this point in my life I had no family except Aunt Ella who cared for me. I had a job – I worked in PA but soon needed to find a new home.

This story began on a rainy March when I was left by my mother on a doorstep and told I was not wanted. I was eight years old with 9 cavities in my teeth, lice in my hair and a small bag of raggedy clothes. I knew that this was the best thing that had happened in my life so far.