Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Doors to a Million Worlds


As you may know from our recent Facebook and Twitter posts, ABC News came to interview my senior buds and me a couple of times this month. It was amazing because my buds were perfectly natural in front of the camera and were unfazed by the attention. We had to put together six tables to fit everyone (a common occurrence these days, yay!) and when everyone was done reading, Greta referred to the news team as our guests, telling them she hoped that they enjoyed the group experience just as she has for many years. I thought it was so cool she treated them no differently than high school students or family members who come to visit - they weren't our observers; they were one of us. Here are just some of stories that we got to share with our guests. In the interview, I said, “One hour a week, and it opens up doors to a million different worlds.” Here’s a little glimpse of what I meant:

Joan Bunting
Every Day

The best day of my life is every day. When I awake in the morning and see the bright sunshine, and yet the sun does not have to be shining. It could be raining, snowing, or just cloudy because it’s just another day to be alive.

I look forward to coming to the senior citizen center. I enjoy coming here so much. I have lots of fun and laughs. My favorite days here are Tuesdays (bible study), Thursdays (writing and storytelling group) and Fridays (mind aerobics, poetry, and line dancing). And, I enjoy playing a card game called, “Skip-Bo,” everyday. I especially enjoy storytelling time because of the great stories I hear.

I did not know being a senior citizen could be so much fun.

Mo McCooper
Uncle Tony

When we lived in the apartment over the bar which my parents bought when I was about 4 years old my Uncle Tommy and Aunt Nancy lived with us.  Aunt Nancy, my mom’s little sister, helped care for me while Mom helped run the restaurant part of the bar.

When the delivery trucks came I would try to wave at them and talk to them.  One day a man picked up a keg of beer under each arm and carried them down to the basement.  Later I was there when he asked my Dad and Mom if he could ask Nancy to be his wife.  They got an apartment in Philadelphia which we visited very often.  They were so happy together.  He became my Uncle Tony!

More later.

Frances Bryce
Decisions, Decisions

When my daughter was five years old, she was being disciplined for a small infraction. She said to me, “I’m going to tell my daddy that you wouldn’t let me go outside and play with my friends.” I said that it was okay to tell her father. A short time later, she said, “If I tell him, he will say ‘What did you do?’ and I will have to tell him that I broke your cup and saucer (one of my favorite collectibles) after you told me not to toss my ball in the dining room. So I am not going to tell him anything.” I did not tell her father how unhappy I was that I had lost one of my prized possessions. She made a wise decision and I reciprocated it.

Hattie Lee Ellerbe
It Takes a Village (Part 1)

Back in the early 1950’s, Strawberry Mansion started to become increasingly integrated. In 1956 my husband and I were happy to purchase a 6 room house on the 1900 block of North Patton Street. We had a three-year old daughter, Karen, and she was satisfied being an only child.

We were about the third family to integrate this block and out neighbors were not friendly. By 1960 most of the original neighbors had gone and we had become a sort of “close knit,” family oriented block. The 1900 Block was cut off by Berks St on the South side and Norris on the North side. Even back then it was joked that you had to have special permission to enter “Patton Street” . . . it just happened that way.

By 1960 our family had grown, Kevin in 1958 and Keith in 1960 . . . to be continued.

Norman Cain
Forgotten and Remembered School

My aunt died. She was my mother's best friend. They married brothers. My aunt will have a funeral in Philadelphia on Saturday and another funeral on Sunday in Pamplico South Carolina, where she was morn and raised. Since I am one of the oldest members of the Cain clan and somewhat revered in our family history, her children asked me what school my aunt had attended. My memory fooled me but after an hour or so on the internet, I was able not only to name the school (Pamplico Rosenwald), but produce pictures as well. My mother also attended this school. I can remember seeing this school which was not in operation when I visited Pamplico South Carolina each summer when I was a kid.

I am going to miss my aunt, but the picture of the school she and my mother attended and where they were basketball legends in the late twenties and early thirties will help keep their memories alive.

Greta Adams
It’s a Small World Isn’t It

My goddaughter Sandy and I went to church at 21st & Chestnut to share in an evening of poetry with some friends and I was surprised to see Norman – a member of this writing class – looking for the entrance to the church. He wanted to go in to enjoy the evening also. I talked to Norman as we looked for the entrance to the church. We joined with others. We found the entrance. We had a wonderful evening with the jazz and poetry. Norman and I knew the poet. I had an evening to remember.

Joe Garrison
Night at the Theatre

It has been a long time since I have been to any sort of concert, and I am a lover of classical music. The last time I was at a concert I was 19 in 1962, and I went to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academy of Music, but I also heard them at Mann Music Center.

Nowadays, I have a neighbor who is sprightly! She is a woman who is always inviting me to events, and I keep refusing her. But, this is because she wanted to have a romantic relationship with me because she used to know my old love Deborah so she felt like she had a right to me; I had to keep reminding her that she’s Diane, not Deborah.

But, since she invited me to a classical music concert, I actually accepted this time. I got to hear classical Russian music at a piano recital in Chestnut Hill College. It was great to hear live classical music, and I’m a fan of Russian music anyway. After the concert, I got to meet with the pianist from the recital! I remember his last name was Benson, and we had a very lively discussion about classical music, comparing our favorite artists and performances. Mr. Benson also had CDs available, but I unfortunately was not able to buy one.

And you know, if Diane had any tickets to anymore concerts or Russian piano recitals, or any cultural event, I would go! I don’t have any romantic interest in her, but you could say I have a love affair with culture.

Gogo Jenny Williams
Recognizing The Power of Love

This week I watched a blind young man refuse help that he surely needed. I understood somewhat because as I’m growing older and hopefully wiser, my heart went out to him; not in pity, but in love. My powers are defining my power to walk. I cannot jump out of bed, I slowly roll out. Me who rolled down hills faster than my children. Yes, I needed help now. Crossing the street, dressing, going places. One morning my brother came to take me to a store that had wonderful sales. To my surprise I couldn’t walk down the aisle without breathing hard. My head and my hands began to shake – I couldn’t go on, someone get me a chair. How frustrating. I can’t go on. I heard myself say, that was my waking call. Take it easy, my brother said, ask and receive help.

This is a great lesson in receiving help not just for you – sometimes for the person who gets an opportunity to help.

Brenda Scantlebury
The Most Important Thing I Want My Grandchildren and Family To Know – God Is Love And He Loves Each One Of Us

In these days and times there is a lot of upheaval, strife and turmoil in the world. The values and moral standards that once were a part of family life seem to have been lost and have fallen by the wayside.

There was a song popular some years ago called “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” by the artist Tina Turner. This song conveys that someone who had high hopes was disappointed by love. We, as individuals, need that very thing called love! The moral values that we once lived by are built upon that very virtue: love.

The most important thing that I want my grandchildren and my descendants to know is that I love them, that love is not only necessary, but is also a virtue. But Love is a person, a being, a deity, the creator of the universe whom we call God! He is Love. He loves each and every one of us.

That is what love has to do with it!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Elliot (What I Remember)

“When I was a child we were poor, but who knew?”  I have never heard words that are as delicate and as strong. I have never heard words that bear the magnitude of life’s struggles with so much grace, humor and love. When Elliot read these words out loud, squinting at his handwritten paper through his glasses, each word steadily appearing after the previous one like a hill climb, the room went quiet for a second in awe of the beautiful thought that was just shared. And then, my senior buds around the table repeated the sentence like lyrics to a new, favorite song, and let out in unison the sweetest laugh.
Elliott Doomes
What I Remember

When I was a child we were poor, but who knew? We had everything we needed. We had food, clothes, and shelter.

What I remember most is the fun we had playing. Swimming, basketball, baseball and a game you don’t see anymore called kick the can.

I remember Sunday dinners. When the whole family sat around the table after grace. We ate together as a family.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Frances (To Sleep or Not to Sleep)

In the previous blog post, we heard from Joan. One of the friends whom Joan has brought recently is Frances. Yup, another line dancer!! Some seniors need a few months to open up; some seniors take a seat at our table and stories immediately pour from their hearts, candid and raw. Frances not only opened up the first day she joined us, but said she wouldn’t mind reading first in our reading order. (Beatrice, Millie, or Hazel runs our reading order every week, and they always ask who wants to read first… but usually the newbies don’t raise their hands!) The moment Frances raised her hand to read, the first time she ever joined, her smile big and carefree – that’s the mental snapshot that always flashes across my mind now, when I see Frances every week, and it’s the most candid and beautiful snapshot.

Frances Bryer
To Sleep or Not to Sleep

I looked in the mirror one morning as I usually do; but this morning was different from the one before or at least it was different for me. I saw staring back at me a different face. Lines that had never shown themselves before. I took a second glance the mirror repeated the image. The woman had been transformed or at least her face had been overnighted into the same face the recognized as her late mother.

The next day on the bus a much younger woman offered me her seat and remarked that I reminded her of her grandmother. If she had said her mother, the impact would have been less. That night when I was preparing for bed, I had second thoughts about going to sleep, because my new me had happen overnight, or at least that’s when I noticed the beginning of my present self happen overnight, so I give fair warning, be careful when you go to sleep. The aging process run in high speed when you sleep. I am careful about beauty sleep.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Joan (Past Memories)

In all the years that I have known Joan, she has always been a positive person – it’s just who she is at her very core – but lately she is just glowing with an I-want-what-she-has radiance. She walks in and the room shines. She is making friends left and right not just in our group but everywhere she goes, and is constantly inviting friends to join us. She even took up line dancing earlier this year, so yeah now we have a good showing of line dancers in our writing group (pretty awesome, right?) She was a foster child, which I would imagine is not an easy start to life, and in earlier blog posts, she shared that she struggled with stuttering – but she rose above all of that and chooses to be radiant. Don’t you want what she has too? The ability to rise above anything life throws at you and be radiant?

Well lucky us, she’s bottled up a little of that for us – through her stories ;) Here are a few bottles that I thought would be fun to share!

Joan Bunting
Past Memories

Today I met a lady named Mabel. I didn’t ask her last name, and after I had left from the lunch room I had to hurry back before she left to ask her last name. While we were eating, someone started playing music from the fifties. Well that’s all I needed. While eating, I began to sing along even though I was taught as a child never to sing at the table. I love music and can’t seem to help myself. The music that was being played was from my teenage years.  

Mabel and I started discussing how the songs from back then were songs of love and the current songs are so different. And how what some people consider love in reality is “How can I say it?” Oh I know, lust. We also discussed the dances around that time for instance. She mentioned “Walking the Floor,” a dance I never learned how to do and talked about “The Slop” (one of my favorites).

I lived on a small street called Opal. I can’t remember whose radio would be playing but we teenagers from around that area would be dancing and having a good time.

When a boy would ask me to do the slop with him I would, but then he would start doing “The Split,” and maybe stand on the stoop and jump over my head, I would calmly let him know that I wasn’t dancing to show him up or anything, but dancing because that’s what I enjoyed doing. The truth of the matter was that I didn’t, or couldn’t, do all that fancy dancing anyway.

I hope that I will meet up with Mabel again. I invited her to our storytelling and writing group, also to our poetry group. Hopefully she’ll come to one or both groups.

Joan Bunting
Taking a Stand

In the year 1954, I was fourteen years.  In December of that same year, I turned fifteen years old.

My foster sister, Ethel Lee, was about five or six years old.  Her mother, Nancy, came to visit her daughter every week.  My siblings and I only got to see our mother daily when we would sneak and go see her.

One day we had a snow day; we didn’t have school.  So when I asked could I go play in the snow with my friends, I was told I couldn’t because Ethel’s mother didn’t want Ethel to catch a cold.

Well I thought that was so unfair, so I took it upon myself to go out anyway—I had a ball.  I stayed for a long time.

After I had my fun I went inside, my fingers were so cold and achy.  My foster mother told me to stick my fingers in a bottle of alcohol. 

I couldn’t, they were swollen. Sure I had a ball, but I also had to pay the consequences.

I still believe that I was right for standing up for fairness.

Joan Bunting
My Sister Doris

My sister Doris is older than me but she taught me much. By the time I started first grade, I actually knew how to write my name, I knew my alphabet, and I could read a little. I still can recite lots of nursery rhymes she read to me. I was skipped from 2B to 3A. That’s how well I could read, and I was not at all bad at arithmetic.

Most of the time she was the one that had to comb my hair. She always did a good job, but she would plait my hair so tight that I would get sores on my scalp.

Doris and I were always together in the three foster homes. We’re still very close. There’s never a birthday or Christmas that passes without our sending one another a card.

We have another sister, Bernice, and two brothers, Eugene and Paul, but I believe Doris and I are the closest.

One day after we had been united with Bernice, Eugene and Paul, and Doris left for school (junior high), my sister Bernice said to my brother Eugene, “Let’s get Joan.” They didn’t like the idea of always being protective of me. They teased me because they saw me as being “proper” – not only in my manners, but also (and especially) in my speech. The only thing they did to me was to say mean things, because they knew if they hit me, Doris would get them.

There were eight of us but only the five youngest are still here. I am the youngest girl and next to the baby. To Doris I’ll always be her baby sister.

Joan Bunting
My Motto

The one motto I’ve always tried to live by is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  Have you ever been called out of your name?  Or teased because of your size?  Or looked down on because you were a foster child? Or bullied in any way?  Well, I have and it hurt.  But, because of that I treat everyone the way we as human beings should be treated.  In doing so, you won’t embarrass or hurt anyone’s feelings.

We all know how it feels to be embarrassed and how it feels to have your feelings hurt.

I’ve taught my children the same way.  I’m not sure whether they all live by that motto, but I sure hope and pray they do. 

Life is so much happier when we treat one another with love and kindness.

God bless you everyone!